In the first half of 2006, for the first time in the country, an online platform with the idea of selling second-hand daily or everyday products via mobile SMS, called Cellbazaar was launched. At that time, Mr. Kamal Qadir’s idea of Cellbazaar was very unique, creative, and innovative. He became known in Bangladesh mainly through his venture Cellbazaar.
Kamal Qadir, an MBA graduate from MIT, is an American citizen of Bangladeshi descent and a prominent entrepreneur, who helped develop bKash and is currently the CEO of bKash. Cellbazaar was developed under MIT Media Lab. Soon after launching the site, it gained immense popularity in the country. Until August 2015, it was the top shopping site in Bangladesh in the Alexa ranking and the fifth on the business and economy site. But, even then, why did Ekhanei.com close overnight?
Cellbazaar and Ekhanei.com have changed ownership several times. When Grameenphone Limited took over, the name ws Grameenphone CellBazaar. With Grameenphone at the helm, the company won two awards in the next two years, Tech Award in 2007 and GSM Global Mobile Awards in 2008. Later, in 2010, Cellbazaar was bought by GrameenPhone parent company, the Norwegian multinational company “Telenor ASA”. In the same year, Kamal Qadir resigned from the post of CEO of Cellbazaar and joined another successful venture, Bikash Limited. At that time, the user base of the Cellbazaar was more than 4 million. Shylendra Nathan, a former Google official, was appointed CEO of the company from mid-2015 to the end. Since it was owned by GP and later Telenor, until 2011-13 it was used only as a value-added service for GP SIM users. One year later, in June 2014, the Norwegian company Schibsted took over. In fact, Telenor’s share at the time was reduced to only 33.3% as Telenor, Naspar, and Schibsted bought Cellbazaar in three equal parts.
In the same year, it merged with rival OLX.com, whose parent company, NASPERS, had a one-third stake in Cellbazaar. At that time, the company had 70 employees. And the number of ad posts per week in the year of closure was 10 thousand – 12 thousand.
How Cellbazaar Became Ekhanei.com
After the Schibsted takeover, the Cellbazaar was rebranded as “Ekhanei.com”. Which created confusion over what kind of service was being offered under the new name. On top of that, there was already an e-commerce site called ekhoni.com in the market at that time which later became Bagdum.com. So, rebranding in such a confusing name was undoubtedly suicidal for Ekhanei.com.
Its collapse is a tragic accident in the history of Bangladesh’s classified marketplace. Cellbazaar.com was the 2nd online marketplace in the country (the first was “ClickBD”) Cellbazar was owned by a powerful and experienced company like GP-Telenor. With a great track record in business along with enough time, human resources, financial resources, infrastructure, a thriving business and marketing team, etc. Why didn’t Ekhanei.com survive?
Coming to that point in a bit, but before let’s talk about some of the successful campaigns the company has had.
Safe Platform: Safe platform for posting ads – that’s what they were most outspoken about because everyone was concerned about security when buying and selling goods by meeting strangers directly. That’s why they added the word safe to make communication stand out. To support it, they started communicating various benefits including verified profile, user safety, manual number verification, etc.
Car Stickers: Another successful advertising method was car stickers! They introduced the first car sticker in Dhaka city as an advertisement on any website. Since then, the trend has grown rapidly among other online service providers.Ethical Practices: However, in terms of policy practice, Ekhanei.com was ahead of the main competition Bikroy.com. Used medical equipment, illegal items, electric cigarettes, sex toys, rare animals (which were officially criminal offenses to sell) – Ekhanei.com’s huge moderation team strictly moderated all ads. There was no ban on advertising such products on Bikroy.com. There were even numerous allegations against them of selling stolen motorbikes.
TVC-OVC: In 2014, Asiatic JWT, one of the best ad firms in the country, made several TVC-OVCs and promoted ekhanei.com on various TV channels and social media, and its audio version was also broadcast on popular radio shows in the country! Of all the video commercials Asiatic made the best for Ekhnaei dot com, the most popular are Pratik-Yashner TVCs. It was directed by Mostafa Sarwar Farooqi, starring popular actor and managing director of Asiatic Iresh Jaker, and model Maria Noor. At that time, their TVC sequel created hype in the world of TV entertainment. Probably no other classified ad-platform TVC has gained so much popularity in the history of Bangladesh.
Fall of Ekhanei.com
What’s the point of a strong campaign and popular TVC, if the sales on the site have not increased much? Even the registered users of the site did not grow as expected. So after such a big company bought a privately owned service, naturally everyone thought that Cellbazaar and Ekhanei.com would start working in this country on a larger scale. So after such a big company bought a privately owned service, naturally everyone thought that Cellbazaar and ekhanei.com would start working in this country on a larger scale. But sadly, despite being rebranded with a few crores of taka, in May 2017, in just one day’s notice, Telenor issued an online notification announcing the closure of “Ekhanei.com” overnight. The announcement was also shrouded in fog.Just before the closure, in March 2016, they organized a colorful fair of used bikes called “Ekhanei Bike Bazar” at the China Friendship Conference Center in the capital, the first of its kind in the country. But just two months later, what happened that Ekhanei.com had to be shut down overnight? The announcement of the closure was so sudden and abrupt that even its internal staff was shocked and unprepared because they had not been informed in advance.
Reasons Behind the Failure of Ekhanei.com
In a statement announcing the closure, Telenor said, “Bangladesh’s market is not yet ready for a classified marketplace.” On the other hand, The Daily Star was told, “We have failed to turn Ekhanei.com into a profitable business!”. So let’s look into the reasons behind the closure of Ekhanei.com.
Wrong Advertising Placement: First of all, Ekhanei.com made a mistake in targeting their TG. Any e-commerce or online classified has a target audience online, TV viewers are not supposed to be their target audience. But, Ekhanei.com’s campaign budget was much higher on TV than online. For Brand Awareness, it was reasonable for them to spend the biggest budget on digital marketing with a small budget on TVC. But, instead of doing that, they have invested a huge amount of money to make TVC, through which the company did get brand awareness, but the revenue had not increased relatively.
Consequences of Rebranding: Cellbazaar had a distinct brand value and customer base. But because of the new name and new theme, most of the users think that it is a new competitor of “Cellbazaar” in the market. Even the fact that the previous Cellbazaar has been transformed into the current “Ekhanei.com” was not well understood in their campaign. As a result, both the old brand value and the customer base have been lost; on the other hand, the image of the new brand could not form in the same way, even though they spent crores of taka on rebranding. Basically, the decline began after this rebranding!
Although they had reasons for rebranding and the 2 primary reasons behind the rebranding are discussed below:
The first is that the in-house market survey they conducted before the rebranding showed that people prefer local names to foreign ones. So, they wanted to brand it with a new Bengali word with a new name so that the domestic customers could strongly relate to this new brand. The second is that from the beginning, the target audience of the Cellbazaar was the users using cell or mobile phones, hence the name Cellbazaar. But, later they wanted to come out of this idea and widen the range of their TGs, which use not only mobiles but also computers. So, a new name was needed that would not address any specific device users.
1. Profit Risk:
Already a huge amount of investment has been made by Ekhanei.com, from which it is natural for any company to decide not to invest a single penny in a place where the company was in uncertainty about how much return on investment can be obtained. Although Telenor and the other two partners with them had no profit planning until then.
2. Alternate Easy Options:
In 2015, Facebook introduced product selling features in their groups. Needless to say the rest, however even then, they did not give up and started promoting their content in various Facebook groups. Probably many people remember that at that time, when they entered many buying-selling groups, they would see the advertisement of Ekhanei.com in the cover photo of the group.
Slow at Launching App:
Just days before the launch of Ekhanei.com’s Android app, Bikroy.com beat them to it and launched their Android app with Chat features. As a result, Bikroy.com was gaining more popularity as buyers and sellers could communicate with each other without sharing phone numbers. To match that, Ekhanei stopped the launching of the Ekhanei.com app and started adding chatting features to it. And by doing so, Ekhanei.com went backward, on the other hand, Bikroy dot com went in the right direction.
False Advertisement: Ekhanei.com’s business promoters were accused of immoral activities. For example, they used to post fake advertisements from fake accounts, advertise the same product more than once and take pictures from different parts. However, after knowing this, their posts were also brought under strict moderation.
Customer Harassment: After rebranding, the feature to register via email address were introduced. As a result, those who had previously registered with a mobile number could no longer log in to their account, so they had to re-open the account with a new email address. And the preexisting users’ account information was deleted. This led to major harassment of customers. However, in 2016, they joined Opera Mini to give customers a better mobile browsing experience.
Failed to Satisfy Customers: It was alleged that they did not take customer feedback or customer complaints seriously. Many complained more than once about UI & UX or other technical issues but no effective solution was found.
Inefficient Management Team: Although the parent company was elite, the management of the subsidiary was not so efficient. The team that used to take care of Cellbazaar, after dismissing them and taking a new team, the management has also faced threat. Moreover, before the shutdown, the company went through a variety of changes that made it difficult for internal staff to keep their focus properly.
Failed to Make Profit: Bikroy.com launches its services in the country under the Swedish company Saltside, an international technology company. [That is to say, two European companies occupy the entire classified marketplace of the country!] Besides, Bikroy.com started making money through their services.
In 2013, that is only 1 year after, at the start of their journey to bikroy. com began monetizing their services. Some additional convenient features were added to the site for their users, in return for which the users had to pay some extra money. For example, for only 300-500 taka, the seller’s post would show up on top of all the search results, and even there was a system to keep the top post. But, even at that time, Ekhanei.com could not set up any strong business or monetization model here.
Failed to Dominate: The first and foremost purpose of e-commerce is to be unique in the market. This is where whenever Ekhanei.com realizes that it is no longer possible for them to be number one in the market, they immediately close the company. Market analysts think that this is where Ekhanei.com was forced to close overnight after losing to the then competition. Thus would be the end of Ekhanei.com, even in case of a skyrocketing opportunity, an initiative can be ruined only for the mistake of execution.