Lockdown Economy Nepal in E-commerce Industry with Nikita Acharya
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Sujan Lal Manandhar
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview hosted by Sujan Lal Manandhar, we meet Nikita Acharya, the Co-Founder of UG Bazaar, which is an e-commerce business in Nepal. It is also a social e-commerce platform where users can do more than just browsing and buying products. We talked about the problems UG Bazaar faced during the lockdown. It is a company that was registered during the lockdown. So, the first problem they faced was registering their business itself as the offices were closed. The second problem was hiring a team to run the company since a lot of people had left Kathmandu valley and gone back to their native place. There were issues in logistics as well because it was difficult finding vendors during that time. The instructions regarding delivery of goods were unclear from the government. It was not clear whether they were allowed to run their company and deliver their products to their customers during the lockdown. They came up with a few solutions. They started selling things the customers demanded such as daily essentials. They pulled staff from their other brands to form a team and started to work from home. An association was formed with a joint effort with other online businesses. They asked the government for clear policies. In the coming months, UG Bazaar will focus on the automobile category on their website. They will market and sell to people outside Kathmandu Valley.
Could you introduce us to UG Bazaar?
Nikita: UG Bazaar is the third venture that I started in 2020. UG Bazaar is an e-commerce platform. We provide an open platform for vendors to sell their products. Apart from that, we have also made the platform open for customers who want to sell second-hand products. UG Bazaar has more features than simply buying and selling products. You can also connect with other users and interact or send gifts to them. Consumers can create fun activities such as quizzes to engage other users. That is why UG Bazaar is not only an e-commerce website but a social e-commerce platform.
What are the problems that you faced during the lockdown?
Nikita: Starting an organization is already a big challenge and starting one during the lockdown is even more difficult. The first problem was registering the company itself. We had to wait a while because most government offices were also closed during the time. The second problem was finding the right people because most of the youth population had left Kathmandu Valley and gone back to their native place. Hence, there were very few people applying for new jobs or switching jobs. Our existing team members could not come to the office, which was another major problem. We had to work from home for a long period of time. Since we are an e-commerce platform it was also difficult for us to board new vendors. A lot them were either shut down or did not want to start anything new. The demand of the customers was also completely different. They wanted daily essentials rather than anything else. So we started selling daily essentials such as groceries (especially vegetables). The logistics was a hassle because the price of vegetables changed every day. We were unaware of that and managing something new was a challenge. One of the biggest hurdles was delivering the products. Even the government was unsure if online business should have been operating or not at the time. They were okay with us delivering the products but whenever we did, we faced issues with the traffic police. If you have kept up with the news, you might know a lot of founders of online businesses were taken into custody due to this miscommunication. There was a lack of proper instructions. We were not sure if we should continue operating because a lot of our delivery personnel would be stopped by the traffic police. It happened almost every day. The odd/even rule (traffic rule where vehicles with odd license plate numbers could drive only on odd dates and even plates on even dates) caused a hindrance as well.
What strategies did you adopt to solve the problems that you faced? What worked and what did not?
Nikita: Firstly, since we already had teams for our other brands (Urban Girl and UG Cakes) we pulled some employees from there. We also did find some new employees during the lockdown. But the number of people was not as per our expectation. We launched our app as well during the lockdown which made working from home easier. As it was difficult to bring in new vendors, for the first one and half months of the lockdown, we worked on our website. The IT-related activities were faster than we expected. That was a positive thing we can take back from the lockdown. To combat the challenges on the delivery end, we worked with other online businesses to build an association (it is yet to be registered). We had common problems so we needed common solutions. We had to raise our voice collectively and ask for permission (from the government) to deliver the products within a system so that we would not face the same issues again. We had to make sure the government, the traffic police and the companies were on the same page. There was one thing we tried that did not work. Every e-commerce platform was selling the same products (daily essentials). Being a bakery company (originally), I would not want to do that again because you have to be updated about the price every day since it fluctuates. We did it because the customers were demanding it and we needed to sustain as well. However, it was not our core business. Our customers also wanted more bakery items than vegetables from us. Hence, we sold vegetables for a month and then we stopped that.
What interactions did you have with your customers during the lockdown?
Nikita: We wanted to keep our customers engaged even when we were not operating. There can be very long term effects if you lose your connection with your customers. As I mentioned earlier, we supplied what the customers wanted (daily essentials) for a while. Then, when we launched UG Bazaar, we ran a promotion campaign with discounts and other offers which were very fruitful for us. The ranking of our website improved significantly. The number of people visiting our website is still increasing day by day. We are providing a wide variety of products at a very good price on our website.
How did you approach the lockdown differently from your competitors?
Nikita: Again, a lot of us were selling the same products but we sell a lot more products that other websites might not. We sell everything from bakery items to automobiles. People can review recently launched automobiles and book them for a test ride/drive. We are focusing a lot on the automobile segment. We also provide same-day delivery inside the valley for bakery items. That is why a lot of consumers prefer us.
How is your business performing now? And what is the outlook for the coming months?
Nikita: I would say UG Bazaar is doing better than my expectation. I have been in this industry for about a decade now. People are getting more habituated with online shopping. They are looking for online alternatives. The e-commerce industry is booming. If we keep providing quality products, I am sure people will continue buying online. Right now our major market segment is Kathmandu valley. Our target for 2021 is to market and sell to people outside the valley.
What help do you need in your organization?
Nikita: We are a self-sustained company. But an e-commerce business cannot grow without investment so we are looking for investors. We are not just looking for people with funds but someone who also aligns with our company vision. And we are looking for experts from the online business industry for mentorship.
About the guest
Nikita Acharya is the Co-Founder of UG Bazaar, CEO/Co-Founder of Urban Girl and the Co-Founder of UG Cakes. She was listed in Forbes 30 under 30 Asia in 2020.