Online commerce is about convenience. It is the ability to put your money where your mouse is and conduct a complete transaction so what you selected, gets paid for and delivered to your doorstep. As long as an enabling ecosystem exists, you can literally convert any real store offering, into a virtual one. You have to make sure you have a functional webfront, customers, a payment gateway, a delivery mechanism and a transparent supply chain process. The more functionality you provide, the more convenient your service will become. The more convenience you offer, the more dependent customers will be on your service.
But like most of how commerce works, online commerce is also volume business. Finding the right influencers who can testify to the fact that your service works, along with ensuring potential customers know that your business exists, is always a challenge. Sometimes businesses manage to disrupt behavior, while other times, companies are trying to solve a problem that isn’t big or important enough. Regardless of which category you are in, it goes without saying that companies need to be online and digital ready.
We reached out to Ahmer Jakartawala, CEO of Doorstep Store Pakistan, to find out about what it takes to make a service worth the click.
In terms of tangible monetary results and technology, how is it more feasible to set up an online storefront as a business today than it was 3 years ago?
In the years gone by, setting up an online store meant gaining a clearer understanding of the platforms available first and then going about hiring the right resources which didn’t come cheap. The right platform depending upon complexity of your product range meant the likes of WordPress, ASP, Prestashop or Magento. Resources were also hard to find with many online stores scooping up the limited supply of developers for ready-made frameworks such as Zend and others. This shift of talent meant far fewer experienced PHP programmers who could tweak the platforms or develop apps required by larger stores such as Daraz and Symbios. Development meant high capital costs: office expenses, staff salaries and expertise costs before any returns. Today, Shopify and Big Commerce make the setting up of an online store a few clicks away. Testing your idea today has never been more economical. If it isn’t feasible, simply change the store name and try out something else.
What problem you are trying to solve with your business?
SMEs are super conscious about the bottom line when it comes to office expenses where stationery, supplies, paper and toner bills can frequently run into thousands. Furthermore, a culture infected with corruption and underhand vendor dealings, SMEs bleed and pay unnecessary overheads for overpriced inferior quality office supplies each month. By providing fair and standard pricing across the board, Doorstep aims to help SMEs avoid the middleman (including the “middle employee”) for monthly office purchases. This not only ensures that clients get value for money products at their doorstep but at consistent pricing.
How has your business model evolved over the years? Identify milestones that helped it change.
When we started off, we realized that most office suppliers stock products in large warehouses and cater to select group of clients they have built a good relationship with. Whether those relationships are based on cash or kind is subjective, however such relationships remain ‘healthy’ and active only until employee remains in the company and supports the supplier. Staffing and HR changes can impact the future of the supplier. As we began offering our ‘transparent pricing’ model to companies, we faced resistance from day one. Purchase staff would call our riders multiple times to ‘fix’ or replace items. Sometimes incorrect products ordered would need corrections and our riders would be sent scrambling once again. Even for the payments, we had to wait patiently despite our terms being ‘Payment on Delivery’. Once we passed the teething stage, our clients realized the savings they enjoyed and the improved quality of products being supplied. Those very same clients have increased purchasing to other offices and group companies as well.
Stationary purchasing is a very habitual, almost personalized behavior for most companies, maybe once a month. From the vendor side, it is based on volume sales for there to be any real profit margin. It doesn’t seem to be the kind of behavior you can really disrupt.
In today’s fast moving world, business owners really don’t see the need to focus their valuable energies on stationery purchasing. As a habit, a ‘trustworthy’ staff is assigned to do this task each month. But considering the average supplies bill ranges around Rs.20,000 for a normal of ten, a 2 to 3 thousand rupee loss each month because to over-invoicing and underhand dealing adds up towards year-end. The same amount could have been used to pay a month’s salary for 2 to 3 non-clerical staff. Business don’t know they need our service, but once we give them a taste of what we can offer, they want more. We don’t feel we are disrupting any behavior; rather, we are solving a problem that was always there but businesses didn’t have a way around it.
What kind of roadmap do you see for the business except for expanding into more routine, daily sales such as groceries?
The office supplies business is long term, low profit, setup that requires patience, investment, staff and resources as well as good customer relationship skills. As the tax regime improves in Pakistan, an increasing number of businesses will look towards cheaper alternatives to monthly office supplies. Those stores that provide value for money stand to gain. Indeed it is a volume game but a robust model, persistence, market reach and low overhead wins the day.
What is your supply chain like?
The supply chain of office supplies in Pakistan can be divided into two core qualities. The lower quality dominated by local manufacturers caters to schools and household needs while the better quality is dominated by importers and caters to the needs of offices and corporate community. Local manufacturers need to expand their product range to cater to higher quality product demands of the corporate world. Despite cutting down on paper, Pakistan’s business and legal environment relies heavily on the printed word. This huge demand is met by large paper imports with few local producers.
How are you different than the few other online stationery stores available here?
Unlike other stores that offer variable pricing from customer to customer, we have a standardized and fair pricing model for all. The same prices that are displayed in our store are quoted to clients requesting for quotes. This ensures that both large and small customers enjoy the same quality of products on offer at a price that does not discriminate between the two. Furthermore, we have tried to keep our overheads as low as possible so that our margins can help us continue to operate optimally. Lastly, any discounts that are offered by manufacturers are also transferred to our customers in the form of lower prices for products. There may be prices for some products that seem higher than market at first which is not intentional. As our supply chain relationships improve and manufacturers give us lower prices for larger orders, our overall product pricing also drops accordingly.