Afifa, a 16-year-old student living in Uttara, did not know of the art of price haggling in the Nurjahan market - a popular retail market located opposite Dhaka College. She was pleasantly surprised when a shop assistant bought her an item for one-fifth of the asking price.
Anyone who shops regularly in these markets knows that the Tk2,000 asking price can be negotiated down to Tk400-500 if someone bargains in the right manner. But it takes a little practice to fine-tune that 'right manner' or technique.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world last year, a startup named 'Shophopper' was born in Dhaka that addresses this particular informality of haggling which is commonplace in the majority of the marketplaces in Bangladesh.
A welcome bypass
The startup began its journey with four brave shop hoppers willing to go to the market with proper protection and assist others to shop at the local markets but from the comfort of their homes.
Shophopper's services are offered to anyone looking to shop directly from any market in Dhaka city, be it household items, grocery or unstitched clothing items.
Hisham Khan and his team started the business as a social service for people who rely on shopping from local markets such as Kawran Bazar, New Market, Gulshan DCC markets and Nilkhet.
"We are marrying the benefits of both online and offline [means of shopping]. For Bangladeshi customers and especially people who are not digital natives or have trust issues with online shops, it can be a useful alternative to directly going to markets or relying entirely on online sellers," says Hisham.
Hisham Khan is an IBA graduate with a finance major. Before starting Shophopper, he worked in different corporate sectors, including Unilever and LR Global Bangladesh.
How does it work?
Since the Shophopper app has not been built yet, customers can reach out via Shophopper's website, WhatsApp, Facebook, or even their official phone number to avail of the service and share their shopping needs.
Shophopper customer care then gives them a time slot and assigns a shop hopper, who then connects with the customer over Messenger or WhatsApp and starts sending pictures and videos of the products available in multiple shops based on the customer's needs.
Once the customer confirms the product, s/he will have to either bKash directly to the seller or choose cash on delivery option for the product they just purchased.
The billing for the Shophopper service is done by calculating hourly service fees and delivery fees. No product commission is added to the total value. Instead, shop hoppers try to get the lowest price from the seller.
Ideally, the per-hour shopping service fee ranges from Tk100-200, depending on the complexity of the requirements. It also offers free returns if the seller agrees to the term prior to the purchase of the product from the markets.
Shophopper is an ingenious solution when your shopping needs undivided attention that you cannot give.
Market responses, reality and customer's reviews
When it comes to women's fashion and their kids' items, women are fastidious. That presented Shophopper with a niche customer group in need of undivided shopping attention.
Male shoppers, however, are substantially nonchalant if a product is unavailable in the market. In that case, they would usually purchase a close alternative.
On the other hand, getting the products at the lowest price is a top priority for both parties, thus Shophoppers browse and search in different malls and markets to source the right product at the best price for their customer.
According to Hisham, seeing is believing and direct communication is the key.
"Facebook pages and online marketplaces do not always feel reliable in quality and price, as most resellers source from different importers and wholesalers.
I used the Shophopper service to directly shop from Suvastu and Dhanmondi Hawkers market. I could buy unstitched kameez and sarees at a lower price than at online stores, and it also gave me peace of mind because I could talk to the sellers in the market," said Sarah Afreen, one of Shophopper's early customers.
Sarah is not alone.
When e-commerce marketplaces have the same highly edited pictures at different prices, it gets confusing for a person to choose the best product. And this is where Shophopper gives the opportunity for customers to bargain and also to see what is new in a shop or market.
Aklima Jahan, a working mother, was searching for some household and kid items and did not have time or the patience to search online.
She found out about Shophopper service through a friend, and she instantly loved the idea that she could just send a voice recording detailing her shopping needs, and someone else would do the rest for her. "It is much easier to just talk to one person than to inbox all the sellers on Facebook," she added.
However, not all the customers have good experience with Shophopper.
Musharrat Amin Maisha, a final year student at the University of Dhaka tried to buy some books from Nilkhet through Shophopper. In her observation, the response from the Shophopper team was not very quick and up to mark.
"When I placed the order, they said they could deliver the books after a few days. But later on, they did not respond and I did not receive the books I had ordered," Maisha said.
Not your average shopper
Shophopper is a reliable solution when it comes to group calls, a large number of requests and special requirements. For example, it has helped brides and grooms to do their wedding shopping via video calls.
Group shopping purchases are usually uncommon given the options customers have, but Shophopper recognises this as one of its own unique features.
During Covid-19 lockdown periods, all sellers faced critical challenges, as did many other local sellers and hawkers at Nurjahan market and the New Market area.
Shophopper service has been warmly welcomed by the sellers because they can also directly talk to the online customers; Shophopper is not another reseller buying from them and selling online but the middleman facilitating the purchase between the offline sellers and online customers.
Sellers from local markets are active on WhatsApp but do not have the time or the means to successfully sell through f-commerce and e-commerce as directly or as successfully as this startup can.
Shophopper also promotes the offline shop's collections through their services and pages while being on a shopping call with a customer.
At present, Shophopper has a team of 11 people. The business has a stable daily order base with an average order size of Tk5,000. Its return rate is only around 1-2 percent.
The evaluation of the service is done by talking to the customers after the sale. Customers usually inbox them to share if they liked the service.
Most of the orders come from Dhaka. Some regional entrepreneurs have also used Shophopper's service to buy from wholesalers to sell on their online pages.
Moreover, they have also catered to customers living abroad - where Shophopper bought products, based on the customers' requirements, from Aarong and New Market and then shipped it to them via DHL.
In the future, Shophopper aims to become a live shopping channel of the dynamic and hyperlocal retail markets of Asia, onboarding thousands of the local shops and wholesale markets of Asia and taking them online.