Preserving culture through digitalization – Fashion & Beauty Industry tips on Go Digital With EZAssist

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RJ Shantu: Assalamu Akaikum everyone, Ramadan Mubarak, we’re about to start the 4th episode of our weekly arrangement, Go Digital With EZAssist. Every Thursday for a month now we’ve had various discussions in this show. The main topic surrounding our discussions is related to the digitalization of businesses, how to move forward in this time of crisis with the pandemic, how to establish the digital platform for your business side by side the physical outlets, and to help with the challenges in this process, there’s EZAssist.

To have this discussion with us today we have with us two merchants who will discuss the problems they’ve faced, how to overcome them, and give us anecdotes of their experience, and I’m pretty sure you all will agree with them too. 

For that, I welcome Irin Parveen, Senior Manager, Customer Success, Loosely Coupled Technologies. I invite Maria Zakir Liza, Owner and Founder of Shopping Manager BD. And we have with us Sahara Sultana, Owner and Founder of Dress Made. 

So, Maria apa has been working tirelessly for you guys in bringing the best beauty and slimming products to your doorstep. Sahara apa works with Jamdani clothes, a cultural pride.

First of all, a very warm welcome to you all.

Irin: Hello Shantu apu.

RJ Shantu: Today’s screen looks visually pleasing with all the beautiful ladies on here. I’m super excited to have this discussion today. Let’s start with Irin apu, Irin apu you’re working with EZAssist for quite a while now. The merchants here with us today are both at the struggling stage right now, they’re working hard for their business, could you speak a little about the aim behind bringing them onto the show today?

Irin: Thank you for the question. SInce the beginning when we started working with Bangladeshi merchants, we had the goal that aside from taking offline businesses online, we would also work with purely online small businesses or new entrepreneurs, the homemakers taking up small businesses on the side. We always planned to bring them onto our platform. We offer all our benefits such as the AI chatbots, the payment portals, and much more. Now to bridge the gap between the customers and the merchants, we decided to invite them to our show.

Sahara apu is here with us, she’s working with Jamdani clothing. We know that Jamdani is very popular all over the world now. From there, when we connect people with her, we want customers to be able to find her products online and purchase them from home. Again, with Maria Zakir apu, when customers order products from Thailand or abroad, there is a concern whether the product is authentic or not. So the platform we’re building for them has a lot of features ensuring that the customer gets the best service and easiest process, whether it be in payment, or placing an order or any other step.

RJ Shantu: This is a brilliant initiative, especially since Eid is coming up and most of us cannot go out to make any purchases. EZAssist is definitely helping in this process, but exactly what they’re doing and how, let’s hear about that from Sahara apu.

Sahara: We are trying to give customers the comfort of ordering from their own home. Customers have gotten quite used to the idea, but still there is some hesitation sometimes when ordering online about whether the product will be up to the mark, a replica, or fake. I wouldn’t say that these problems don’t happen at all, but with a little bit of vigilance, checking out the page or website properly before placing an order, it’s possible to avoid that. We’re trying our best to ensure customers can have a better experience with online shopping, and I personally never sell any replica, I design my own products and sell them. Businesses that have their own delivery services are doing alright but sometimes businesses using separate delivery services face some issues. 

RJ Shantu: Okay, let’s talk a little about Jamdani products now. There’s a range of quality levels for Jamdani materials. Some are more expensive than others. How do you measure the quality of the Jamdani products that you sell, and what range do you think your products fall under?

Sahara: The quality of Jamdani fabric depends on the threads. If the thread count is higher, the price will be higher. It also depends on the design of it. Producing Jamdani fabrics often takes 15 days to even a month. Based on these factors, the pricing is set. 

For the products we sell, if it’s plain without design and hassle, then maybe we would price it at around 3 to 4 thousand. But when it’s specially designed and the fabric quality is higher, the price increases, usually above the 10k price point. 

RJ Shantu: In that case, how is EZAssist and Irin apu helping your business?

Sahara: EZAssist has been a great help to my business, from doing marketing for us to delivering the products. We just sit at home and send pictures of our products and they do the rest. 

RJ Shantu: Is there any anecdote you’d like to share with us today?

Sahara: Many big or small incidents keep happening all the time, but let me just share a couple of stories. A while ago a customer contacted us and wanted to place an order for a Jamdani product as a gift to someone. She wanted it to be gift wrapped and a surprise for the receiver. I did as she asked but somehow, the delivery man brought the package back to me, mistaking the delivery address. 

RJ Shantu: Was the product just a gift for you?

Sahara: That would be nice, but this time it wasn’t. Customers have sent me gifts on occasions though. Let me tell you another story. For my products, usually I model them myself. A customer wanted to buy a product that was already sold out. She wanted that specific sharee. She said she has seen me wearing it. I replied that yes, that sharee is mine, I’ve already worn it so I can’t sell it now. But she wouldn’t budge, she wanted that specific sharee and she said she doesn’t care that I’ve worn it already. It was a used product, of course I wouldn’t sell it, I said give me one month and I’ll make another and deliver. But she was adamant, she had her mind made up and she requested that I sell mine to her despite it being used.

RJ Shantu: That’s quite sweet actually. Let’s hear something from Maria apa now, Maria apa can you hear me?

Maria: Yes, I can hear you.

RJ Shantu: I think people are becoming more health conscious these days, they want to do self care, lose the extra weight, I would say people take part in a lot more “self loving” activities now. But for slimming products, there are mixed opinions, some people stand by it while others do say it’s harmful for your health. As a businesswoman, since you are selling this product, what is your opinion? Are there side effects?

Maria: When it comes to slimming products, a lot of people naturally assume that they’d be inviting some disease or organ damage if they take any slimming supplement. But the product that I work with is an authentic slimming agent from the UK. There really aren’t any side effects to it, it’s all natural. Of course I cannot vouch for all kinds of slimming products out there, but the product that I sell is safe and made with natural ingredients. I’ve tried it myself and in the four years since I started my business, my customers have never given a negative review of the product either. And in this lockdown, when we hardly get to move around or exercise, I think it’s especially important to do some self-care to be healthy. Not just during the lockdown, of course, we should practice a healthy diet and some amount of exercise at all times.

RJ Shantu: I’m considering myself to be a customer today, you said that you bring the product from the UK, so how do you prove authenticity to the customers? As an online shopper myself, anytime I buy something I tend to consider whether or not the product is authentic, so how do you ensure that your product is authentic? 

Maria: (disconnects)

RJ Shantu: Okay, that’s the downside of internet connectivity. I’ll address the audience now, you may reach us in two ways, either by commenting on the Facebook live, or through the number 16260. We’re on the fourth episode of Go Digital With EZAssist today. Let’s speak with Irin apu again for a bit, Irin apu, could you please tell me a bit about ensuring authenticity of the products that you market? Because of course you also need to be sure that the seller is trustworthy when taking on their business. How do you go about doing that?

Irin: Banks, mobile payment merchants, and many other organizations work with us. We have to maintain some rules set by the Bangladeshi government when working with products or businesses. In that case, we cannot acquire or start working with just any other merchant. We have some guidelines, and in that way we only get to bring aboard merchants or business owners who are bringing authentic products to Bangladesh from abroad or creating them. We cannot conduct business with harmful products either, whether by BACA guidelines or others. So the businesses go through a screening process, we get information, verify them, check out the products ourselves, even speak with past customers sometimes. Once we’ve confirmed everything, we finally bring them on. With Maria apu too, we verified her products’ authenticity before we added her to our platform. We usually check whether they have a trade license, any past altercations with law enforcement, and after going through information about their business we take them on. 

RJ Shantu: Alright, in that case, Sahara apu, Jamdani is very simple but classy and elegant. What kind of queries do you face from customers? I’m sure you face a lot of challenges, but what kind of customer queries do you face? 

Sahara: Even though Jamdani is a part of our heritage, a lot of customers hardly know anything about it. Some people claim that Jamdani gets ruined after the first wear, but that’s not true, there is a right way to keep it in the closet, my page has tips on it and if you follow that then there should be no problem. I’ll tell the audience about it, Jamdani needs to be wrapped in a piece of Laal Shalu clothing, and it must never be washed or dry cleaned, there is a specific method for cleaning it. If these rules are maintained, there is no reason that the Jamdani would get ruined, it will be preserved perfectly for years to come.

A lot of people also wonder why it’s so pricey, it depends on the thread count. Some people want cotton thread Jamdani, which costs more than the silk variant. So customers tend to ask these kinds of questions, and it’s difficult to make them understand these online. It’s easier to do that face to face. 

See, Jamdani needs to be weaved by people, and if you have two people weaving one piece of clothing for 15 days then imagine how much the cost of labour would be. We have to account for that too in the price along with thread count, designs etc. These are also things we need to explain.

RJ Shantu: Alright, would you say that you prioritize quality in your products?

Sahara: Of course, quality is of topmost priority for me. Once we sent our products to a fair and I couldn’t send as many in quantity because I prioritized that they be made perfectly, without compromise on quality even with the time constraint. So we couldn’t produce enough quantities of sarees, but we ensured that our products were of perfect quality.

If I wanted to, I could compromise on quality and mass produce sarees and sell a thousand pieces a month, but I don’t do that. Some of my products are sent to the UK and the US, I try to ensure the best possible quality to uphold our name. Those are on an order basis, customers tell me what they want and what kind of design and we make that and send.

There are Jamdani sarees available for 1500 to 2000 taka, but I can’t sell that, people complain Jamdani rips easily but if you buy quality products then that doesn’t happen as often. People who know about and understand Jamdani, with them I don’t have to speak as much. 

RJ Shantu: I’ve seen Jamdani being sold for 60-70 thousand, and it’s an outrageous amount that shocks me. But then I do think, just how flawless does the thread work have to be?

Maria apu, I’d like you to talk a bit about the challenges you face in your sector. But before that, there is a comment addressed to you, Saddam says that slimming products cause issues in the long run, there may not be instant side effects but in the long term many products can cause harm. We did speak to Irin apu about how your products have been double and triple checked in terms of quality assurance, so it is a standard product that shouldn’t cause much worry, I think that already answers Saddam’s question. But Maria apu, please talk a bit about the challenges that you face in running the online business, the customer queries or other issues.

Maria: I will start by responding to Saddam again, he isn’t entirely wrong in the sense that slimming products shouldn’t be continued for prolonged periods of time, it’s not meant for that. But, it’s generally used for achieving a weight loss goal, and the rest is about maintaining that. This is a temporary supplement, not meant for perpetual intake. 

When speaking with customers, I generally ask how much weight they want to lose. They tell me a number, maybe someone has a goal of losing 10 kilos. Usually customers want to lose all the weight within 1 month, and I have to tell them that you didn’t gain 10 kilos in a month, so you cannot lose it in a month either. It will require maybe 4 to 5 months to lose the weight, it’s good to set a target like that. But once you’ve achieved that target, then what do you do? Then you have to maintain that weight. A lot of people maintain a diet for a short period of time, see some results and go back to their old unhealthy ways of binge eating, having junk food, not exercising. And then they gain the weight back, and they’d want the supplement again. But I would highly discourage that. The customers have to be conscious of maintaining the weight themselves.

Going back to the initial question, the challenges that I face as a merchant, there are many but first and foremost I prioritize the quality of my products. Aside from the slimming supplements, we have other products like collagen supplements, and I always try to ensure that I bring the best products for my customers. No compromise on that. And any time I’ve brought a new product, I’ve tested it out on myself first to judge the quality first-hand, and only then have I taken it to the market.

RJ Shantu: Alright. Irin apu, as previously talked about, Jamdani is a bit expensive. Have you faced any queries regarding that?

Irin: As I’m sure we’ve all seen our moms, aunts, grandmothers have sarees that they’ve had for more than 20 years that are still in great condition. I saw my mother keep Jamdani sarees wrapped in cloth, never on hangers. And her sarees stay the same year after year, but how does that happen? Quality matters. Her sarees are still in pristine condition now because they’re good quality, and also because she took good care of them. But when making a purchase, if you buy the product that’s good quality, it won’t be for one-time use. It will last for years to come. Sahara apu sells products in the 5000 range mostly, but in the fair we saw even sarees as expensive as 40,000 sold. People are more conscious now about buying a quality product. So, for Jamdani products most queries are related to the quality of the product. People ask about the count before buying, and even I do that if I’m planning on buying any Jamdani product. Because that can predict how long this saree will last. Working with Dress Made, and some other merchants like Deshi Bhalobashi, they sell our cultural products, products from Graam Bangla, customers ask about the product quality for these businesses. Customers themselves are quite updated these days, they are willing to pay a little extra for the added quality. Jamdani sarees priced at 5 to 50 thousand are selling easily.

RJ Shantu: Since lockdown is making people stay at home, how has it affected responses from customers?

Irin: As Sahara apu mentioned, she focuses on quality rather than quantity, Recently it just so happened that her products were all sold out, her stock ran out entirely.

I think this is one of the challenges for small merchants like Sahara apu and Maria apu, they both run their businesses side by side with other commitments. I think increasing production becomes a challenge, but at the same time doing so would mean being able to serve more customers. So maintaining inventory is a challenge.

RJ Shantu: I want to know about Maria apu’s now, what are the customer inquiries that you deal with in her case?

Irin: Let me share one story. A customer wanted to buy slimming products and she contacted Maria apu, but she had already paid through our portal. She wanted the delivery extremely fast, she had this idea that she would get the delivery in 2 hours and she’d take the supplement and lose weight within 5 hours. And customers frequently ask how many days it’d take for them to lose all the weight as if it’s a magical supplement.

RJ Shantu: Alright, we have a text, Shormi said, “Online is now the best platform for buying.” Undoubtedly.

And I would implore merchants to come forward and take the initiative to go digital and change their business model with time. With that in mind, I’ll show a small video demonstrating the usage of EZAssist. We’ll be right back after this tiny break.

(Video Ad)

RJ Shantu: Welcome back everyone, I have good news for the viewers. Today the merchants we have with us are working in the beauty and slimming business, with Shopping Manager BD and we have Dress Made, working with Jamdani. But aside from that, if you want to avail a discount of 50% from our very popular local brand Bibiana, just go on to their Facebook page and send a “Hi”. You’ll get the discount by shopping through the EZAssist chatbot. 

As we spoke about in an earlier episode with Jewel bhai, this discount through the chatbot is being given with the aim to teach customers how to purchase things online. Get you guys used to the process. I think Irin apu would agree with me here?

Irin: We want the customer journey to be smooth and doable with just a “Hi” to our chatbot. And we have customized chatbots for our merchants, for Shopping Manager BD you can access a proper diet chart simply through the chatbot. They also have 24/7 dietician service on their page. And for Dress Made, the chatbot can even instruct on the usage of her products as well as its preservation. So everything can be done through the chatbot. 

RJ Shantu: Farzana Shormi asked, “Can I eat everything and do I have to exercise while on the supplements?” 

Maria: For anyone to be healthy, 30 minutes of exercise at the least should be done. Every day. But it isn’t mandatory along with our supplement, it’s not that you won’t lose any weight at all if you don’t exercise. But it is recommended. And about the dietary restrictions, you cannot actually lose weight by eating whatever you want whenever you want, even with supplements. You do have to maintain the bare minimum of dietary restrictions, you can eat everything but limited portions is what I’d advise. 

RJ Shantu: We’re nearing the end of the episode, so I’d like to hear some last few words from our guests today. Let’s start with Sahara apu, do you have anything to say about Jamdani?

Sahara: Jamdani is a part of our culture and heritage, and parts of our culture and heritage are getting erased with time. So I think it’s our responsibility as Bangladeshis to uphold that heritage, not let it die down. Preserve its essence.

And of course, please try to shop online and stay home. The situation is not so good right now. Stay safe, stay well.

RJ Shantu: Maria apu, you’ve made your business online and converted customers online, how does that feel? 

Maria: I think going digital is a huge opportunity for us all now, and everything is so much easier. And I feel blessed that I’m being able to provide an authentic and good quality product to the people, and they’re receiving it through EZAssist. I think it’s integral to my business, especially as a homemaker, I could start something of my own and get this far only because of the digital connectivity now.

RJ Shantu: We’re at the very end, Irin apu, what do you want to say to people still stuck with physical stores without any online presence? We also have a comment, “please do some research on your customers, then you’ll know what we want and it’ll be easier for us too.”

Irin: Since we work with data analysis, we do sort through the collected data to find out which products customers want to use. We add merchants on that basis. And we try to give the best possible benefits and make it convenient for the customers. You don’t need a movement pass to buy anything, and the merchants don’t need one either to sell. It’s all happening from home to home. That’s important for everyone in this pandemic. So it’s very important for both sides to convert to the digital platform and get used to it, make it a part of the lifestyle, not a luxury but just the norm.

RJ Shantu: Thank you so much Irin apu, Maria apu and Sahara apu. To the merchants, I would like to say that it’s high time that all businesses start thinking about transforming digitally, because there is no alternative at this point. In this second wave of the pandemic, please take more precautions than ever before.

Thank you everyone for staying with us, stay home and stay safe.

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