Bangladesh Post Office is working to launch e-commerce services, and a pilot project is slated to take off at the divisional headquarters by December.
The government department aims to use its vast network of 8,500 post offices to offer the services and become the market leader in e-commerce by 2021, said SS Bhadra, acting director general of the postal division.
“We have modernised services in a big way over the past few years, and hope to serve people better with the launch of e-commerce.”
Bangladesh's e-commerce sector is currently growing by around 8 to 10 percent a year, in a market now worth more than Tk 200 crore, and the post offices are capable of taking the services to the remotest parts of the country, said Bhadra.
Though the state-owned entity is yet to make a definitive list of the e-commerce services it will offer, it has decided to dedicate an independent website to e-commerce.
“Currently, e-commerce services mostly cover the urban areas but the post offices can help take it to a national level, using its capacity to reach every door, which other e-commerce service providers are not yet capable of,” he said.
Bangladesh Post Office currently cannot make deliveries for parcels other than personal ones, officials said.
Australia, India and Japan are among the countries that have launched e-commerce services through the postal network, and the Post Office has already collected reports on those to make a plan.
People will be able to use cash, postal cash cards, or electronic money transfer service (EMTS), all already offered by the Post Office, to pay their e-commerce bills.
Postal cash cards, launched in 2011, are a service like any debit card, with cash points available at some 1,446 post offices. Currently, there are some 73,000 postal cash card holders in the country.
The government also introduced EMTS in 2010, which has gained popularity since then, and some 2,750 post offices are equipped to offer the service, as per the Posts and Telecommunication Division's data.
Transactions through the EMTS stood at Tk 80.74 crore in the last five years.
Bangladesh Post Office has suffered revenue losses over the past few years, losing out to faster modes of communication, but hopes to turn the trend with e-commerce, Bhadra said.
The postal division's revenue was Tk 253 crore against expenses of more than Tk 520 crore in fiscal 2014-15, and revenue stood at just Tk 219.13 crore against Tk 448.46 crore in expenses the year earlier.
As government officials' salaries and other expenses are increasing every year, it has become tough to minimise the gap, but increasing revenue is still an option, with new and improved services, Bhadra said.
“The use of personal letters is declining, and very few parcels are being sent regularly, so e-commerce could become the post offices' lifeline.”
Till date some 2,500 post offices have been established as e-centres, and all the 8,500 offices will be brought under the network by June 2017, under a project worth Tk 540.94 crore, he added.