Busi­ness Em­pow­er­ing small busi­nesses via e-com­merce Bar­lolo.com

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - 8 THOMP­SON CHAU [email protected]­times.com

POOR road in­fras­truc­ture and ram­pant il­licit trade have long pre­vented small busi­nesses in Myan­mar from reach­ing out to the wider con­sumer mar­ket. But an e-com­merce start-up is de­ter­mined to break these bar­ri­ers and pro­mote eco­nomic in­clu­sion by pro­vid­ing an on­line plat­form for those sell­ers and mer­chants. In other words, it is to make e-com­merce work for the many, not the few.

Bar­lolo.com (Bar­lolo) is a Yan­gon-head­quar­tered on­line mar­ket­place which al­lows in­di­vid­u­als and busi­ness own­ers in Myan­mar to buy and sell items in an easy and ef­fi­cient man­ner. In par­tic­u­lar, it fo­cuses on cre­at­ing a plat­form which works for small mer­chants in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and those liv­ing in sec­ond and third tier cities. The com­pany’s mis­sion is about con­nect­ing mer­chants with buy­ers across the coun­try by tech­nol­ogy, em­pow­er­ing lo­cal mer­chants to ex­tend their reach and pro­mot­ing in­clu­sive growth. This vi­sion strikes a chord with the gov­ern­ment’s lat­est pri­or­i­ties, as the com­merce min­istry re­cently com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing ecom­merce as a means to boost trade and cre­ate jobs.

In down­town Yan­gon, The Myan­mar Times talked to U Min Min, Bar­lolo’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, who was con­fi­dent about Myan­mar’s mar­ket de­mand.

“Ac­cord­ing to Nielsen, Myan­mar’s re­tail in­dus­try is cur­rently val­ued at be­tween US$10-12 bil­lion, roughly 15 per­cent of the coun­try’s GDP. There are ap­prox­i­mately 250,000 re­tail out­lets in the coun­try, with gro­cery, con­ve­nience, fab­ric, phar­macy, and fash­ion ac­count­ing for 45pc of to­tal re­tail stores. Re­tail mar­ket re­mains highly frag­mented with mod­ern re­tail con­tribut­ing ap­prox­i­mately 10pc, and the lead­ing mod­ern re­tail group con­tribut­ing less than 5pc of the to­tal re­tail mar­ket,” he said.

The busi­ness­man also cited a 2016 Deloitte study which found that, while cur­rent pref­er­ence to pur­chase on­line take up less than 1pc of con­sumers, that is rapidly chang­ing as e-com­merce plat­forms ex­tend its reach and as users en­gage “in so­cial-com­merce among their friends”.

For the many U Min Min said the ma­jor­ity of the mer­chants in this coun­try be­long to mid­dle-class non-landowner. For these peo­ple, high rent, lo­gis­tics bar­ri­ers and dif­fi­cul­ties in col­lect­ing pay­ment present key bar­ri­ers to do­ing busi­ness.

“The mer­chants we reach out to are mostly low-mid­dle in­come earn­ers and are non-landown­ers. For them to even start a busi­ness or a shop, they are in­hib­ited by ex­ces­sive ad­vance rent pay­ment, poor in­ven­tory man­age­ment skills, lack of qual­ity de­liv­ery ven­dors and poor pay­ment col­lec­tion op­tions,” Ma Yusett, Bar­lolo’s head of op­er­a­tions.

By har­ness­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, the com­pany aims to pro­vide a so­lu­tion for these marginalised play­ers and en­sure that no one is left be­hind in the coun­try’s broader eco­nomic growth. Its buy­ers in­clude di­rect con­sumers, small re­tail­ers, and even whole­salers, es­pe­cially in out­skirts of ur­ban cen­tres as well as sec­ond or third tier cities.

“Our team wants to level the play­ing field by us­ing tech­nol­ogy to of­fer sell­ers a plat­form that eas­ily show­cases and sells their prod­ucts na­tion­wide, break­ing the bar­rier in do­ing busi­ness. Bar­lolo.com hopes to en­able mer­chants across the coun­try by of­fer­ing an on­line plat­form to show­case their prod­ucts to buy­ers na­tion­wide and also fa­cil­i­tates de­liv­ery and pay­ment so­lu­tions through trusted ven­dors,” U Min Min con­tin­ued. This can have an enor­mous im­pact on the lo­cal small and medium-sized en­ter­prises (SMES), which form the back­bone of Myan­mar’s econ­omy.

Ed­u­ca­tion - par­tic­u­larly dig­i­tal lit­er­acy - is a core part of the start-up.

“In the past year, we have grown our mer­chant net­work sig­nif­i­cantly since the ini­tial launch. Our team reaches out to lo­cal mer­chants to ed­u­cate them on gen­eral us­age of In­ter­net and as­sist them in show­cas­ing their prod­ucts on our plat­form.”

The COO stressed that his firm is com­mit­ted to pro­mot­ing en­trepreneur­ship and job cre­ation by lead­ing the lo­cal trend in con­sumer-to-con­sumer dig­i­tal sales, al­low­ing “any­one

“We are strong be­liev­ers of the po­ten­tial ahead. A proper level of gov­ern­ment sup­port and avoid­ing over-reg­u­la­tion will be key to sec­tor’s de­vel­op­ment. As we have seen in the case of mo­bile pay­ment of­fer­ings, reg­u­la­tory lim­i­ta­tions ul­ti­mately af­fect ac­ces­si­bil­ity and op­por­tu­nity for small mer­chants.”

Apart from lo­gis­tics, what is the big­gest worry for small play­ers in this e-com­merce sec­tor?

“Our big­gest con­cern would be the po­ten­tial in­creased in­flux of un­taxed il­le­gally im­ported prod­ucts. Well-es­tab­lished Chi­nese e-com­merce lead­ers have ag­gres­sively set up pres­ence in neigh­bour­ing ASEAN coun­tries to fur­ther im­prove sales for Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors. We be­lieve con­sumers ben­e­fit from im­proved prod­uct va­ri­ety and se­lec­tion through cross-bor­der trade, but un­taxed il­le­gal im­ports harm the liveli­hood of lo­cal mer­chants,” U Min Min com­mented. Il­le­gal traders are able to sell goods at much cheaper prices than lo­cally man­u­fac­tured or legally im­ported prod­ucts. This trend also threat­ens the de­vel­op­ment of the lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing

‘Our team wants to level the play­ing field by us­ing tech­nol­ogy to of­fer sell­ers a plat­form that eas­ily show­cases and sells their prod­ucts na­tion­wide, break­ing the bar­rier in do­ing busi­ness.’

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