Bangladesh- India economic relations

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E-commerce from India


Chandrima Banerjee, September 20, 2020: The Times of India

Bangladesh doesn’t have Amazon, eBay or Flipkart. But it does have Facebook, and a neighbour that’s big on e-commerce — India. So, buyers and sellers have come up with a creative workaround.

A potential buyer shares a link from an e-commerce site in India with a resourceful seller in Bangladesh, who “sets up” the delivery at an Indian store in a border town. These “Amazon shops” hold the product for a small fee until it is picked up. “It’s easier when there’s a bulk order,” a seller from Dhaka told TOI. The ecosystem is on Facebook, where groups that call themselves some variant of Amazon or Flipkart are set up by sellers. Most are based in Dhaka, Gopalpur and Gopalganj. A World Bank report last year had documented the setup, noting that “informal cross-border e-commerce between these countries is thriving.” Not so, anymore.

“I can’t resume services now,” a seller who runs one such page from Dhaka told TOI. “Not before the end of the year at least.” Within Bangladesh, commercial logistics has always been seen as a problem. The pandemic compounded them. Sellers now face two problems — getting products from India into Bangladesh, and then getting them to buyers within Bangladesh. Delivery charges have gone up. That means buyers have fewer options but have to pay more.

Usually, these groups would operate in two ways. The easiest was to stock up on popular products — usually a manageable inventory of 50-60 items — from India and post photos in the group. Buyers can then “claim” what they like, pay online and get them delivered. The other was to actually take orders. This followed a set of pre-established rules — share a link to the product, send your address, pay online and then wait until the seller has enough orders to warrant a visit to India.

But now, a seller, in response to a question by a buyer on a group, said no India order will be taken this year. Though the cross-border “Amazon store” arrangement is not entirely a legal one, a seller told TOI that “people would just travel to India and back with stuff in their luggage. It was really easy. No tax, nothing”. He added: “But now, it’s near impossible with the regulations … I understood that paying taxes, I would never be able to match the market prices here.” Courier services, too, have had to slow down. “Our foreign services have been irregular. There is no one to take Indian orders today, for instance,” a representative of the courier service told TOI from Gopalganj.

It’s not that Bangladesh doesn’t have its own home-grown sites. Since 2013, when the government lifted restrictions on the use of international credit cards for online purchases, things have been easier. But the range of products is limited and because of a nascent online payment system, deals fall through.

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