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Shopbox.lk – A Novel Ecommerce Experience

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Himal Kotelawala

Himal Kotelawala

Staff Writer

You are a budding entrepreneur who specialises in fashion for geeks. Geek is the new black and you want to reach anyone who may be looking to buy your latest Captain America t-shirt. You do some market research and learn that your target demographics spend a lot of time online. So you decide the best place to sell your t-shirts and accessories is on the internet. What do you do? You take steps to set up an online store. And it dawns on you, sooner rather than later, easier said than done…

Setting up a website with e-commerce functionality and mobile optimisation, essential for an online business, is going to cost you a small fortune. And that’s not counting maintenance costs, or bank deposits and annual fees for secure payment gateways. You can forget about figuring out code or sorting out secure server hosting and all that complex technical mumbo jumbo, because, honestly, who’s got the time? You’ve got a business to run.

What are you going to do? Hire a dedicated team of experts to run your website (which would naturally mean adding salaries, benefits, bonuses and EPF to your growing list of worries)? Of course not. That’s precious time, effort and money that you’d much rather put into improving your catalogue – and rightly so. But, you remind yourself, it’s 2015, and you can’t afford to stay offline. If you’re serious about taking your fledgling business to the next level, or indeed if you wish to make any real strides at all, you have to take it online. There is simply no other way. “What do I do?” you ask once again in desperation.

Fortunately for you, the answer, which just so happens to be an all-encompassing solution to all your entrepreneurial worries, is just a click away. ShopBox.lk is an online e-commerce store builder that will help you build and run your own online store at an affordable price, on the go, allowing you to put your money and energy into other aspects of your business such as marketing, production quality and the like. A sizeable weight off your shoulders.

Broadlink's store on ShopBox.lk

Broadlink’s store on ShopBox.lk

ShopBox CEO Mohamed Farthab Feisal tells us that the idea is to provide you with the right tools you will need to steer your own ship in the all too murky waters of the interwebs like a pro.

“Build a store, and run it as your own business. We provide you with a platform including a backend and a dashboard. Everything is online and at your disposal. The entire platform is designed in such a way you are empowered to build your own website,” he says.

ShopBox also takes the time to educate and train their merchants on the process and benefits of building your own e-commerce website. In any case, as Chief Marketing Officer Robert Sandrasagara assures us, setting up shop and running a website on this platform is not nearly as complicated as you would imagine.

“ShopBox is made to be so easy that if you can use Facebook, you can use our platform without breaking a sweat,” he says.

A bold claim, which we decided to put to the test. The sign-up process is fairly simple and straightforward and the dashboard, once you get in, is quite similar in appearance to a regular WordPress blog. There are helpful links to Google Analytics setup and XML sitemap submissions and overall, anyone who knows their way around everyday internet use can figure it out in no time.

According to Robert, before ShopBox began its operations about eight months ago, aspiring entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka had three options: 1) set up a physical store limited to customers from the vicinity of its geographic location, 2) build your own website in an attempt to reach a wider market, and 3) approach a reseller such as an online mall or daily deals website.

The thing about daily deal sites or malls is that they invariably charge you a commission for selling your product, often at a ridiculously slashed price. While that’s a great way to clear out your stocks and maybe even promote your brand a little in the process, in the end, you’re left with no helpful insights on your customer demographics, which is vital for anyone serious about running their business online. Getting a third party to sell your products means you are unable to reward your customers for their brand loyalty. ShopBox aims to give that power back to you, the merchant.

“Unlike other online alternatives, ShopBox offers you the freedom to build your brand and business the way you see fit. It gives you detailed information on your customers and the functionality to transact with them directly; the kind of benefits you deserve for a business you have painstakingly built,” says Robert.

A clean product page made with ShopBox.lk

A clean product page – made with ShopBox.lk

Any businessman worth his salt will tell you that knowing who is purchasing your products is of paramount importance. Taking this into account, says Farthab, ShopBox makes an effort to provide their merchants with reports on who is doing what on their little corner of the internet, on a regular basis.

Having the sexiest website on the entire internet, however, is not going to guarantee you conversions, or in more down to earth terms, paying customers. The success or failure of your business, says Farthab, will depend entirely on how you market it.

“If you build a physical shop and sit inside waiting for customers to show up, that’s just not going to happen. You have to market it, shout about it, tell people, put a clown outside the door. It’s the same online. You have to market your website. ShopBox helps you build your own website, and just as with all websites, you would need to get the word out about it. ShopBox provides merchants with the opportunity to use their own domain or use a unique .shopbox.lk domain which they can use when promoting their business,” he says.

And, adds Robert, ShopBox is more than willing to help you get there.

“That dream of sitting in your bed and running your business is possible if you’re committed to marketing it and doing it right online. The tools are available. ShopBox is available,” he says.

E-commerce in Sri Lanka is on the rise, and ShopBox appears to be ready to play an integral part in it. According to Farthab, their website, in addition to being SSL certified and running on reputed US based servers, is also mobile friendly with its mobile optimised dashboard.

“This would be the ideal time for any business to get online. It’s absolutely essential that they do. Everything is mobile. The app industry is huge, and we plan to move ShopBox in this direction as well,” he says.

ShopBox.lk claims that a committed business owner can create an e-commerce store in minutes. Farthab tells us that in Sri Lanka, ShopBox is, in fact, a little ahead of the curve. “We feel like ShopBox is about half a year ahead of the market,” he says.

It’s still early days and Sri Lanka still has a long way to go before the average consumer is ready to embrace e-commerce with arms wide open. However, it is worth noting that people are not as reluctant to make online transactions as they once were, and more and more customers are open to the possibility of buying everyday items with a credit card. Given the current influx of businesses going online, needless to say, now is the best time for any entrepreneur to set up shop on the interwebs.

So, is ShopBox.lk the Sri Lankan Amazon.com?

“Ooh. Careful now,” says Robert with a hearty chuckle. At first glance, with their 90-strong client base, ShopBox is doing reasonably well for a startup that’s only eight months old. The lack of a mobile app, while cause for concern for those of us who abhor mobile browsers, will no doubt be addressed soon, giving rise to even more people to give it a shot. ShopBox a great idea and a first in Sri Lanka (one might even call it our very own Shopify.com); and it’s not a stretch to say it has a lot of potential. Whether or not it is here to stay, however, remains to be seen.

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