The early days of Ifat Sultana's e-commerce business of selling jamdani saris were high on frustration and low on optimism: until 2015, her only customers were her friends and relatives.
Now, thanks to Facebook, she has customers not only in Bangladesh but from countries such as the US, Australia and India. In fact, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina bought a jamdani sari from her.
Her monthly turnover now is Tk 3-5 lakh, with the number rising exponentially before Eid and other festivals.
Sultana's is not an isolated story of entrepreneurial triumph riding on the digital wave. Women are dominating the country's Tk 2,000-crore e-commerce market, both as customers and sellers.
eCourier.com.bd, a product delivery company, has so far registered 5,041 companies and of them 73 percent is women-run, said Biplob Ghosh Rahul, chief executive officer of the company.
“Definitely women are leading the industry -- there is no confusion about it.”
E-commerce has allowed women the scope to make some money besides carrying out their roles as homemakers, Rahul said.
The Daily Star contacted a few female e-commerce business owners and most of them said they started the venture to contribute to their household expenses.
“It's like a part-time job,” said Shakila Sharma, a mother of one.
Sharma started her e-commerce venture when she was a student at Dhaka University. “It [the Facebook business] is good for newcomers.”
But she did not fold her business after she got married. “It became more about my own independence and self-confidence, about building something on my own.”
The flexibility that an e-commerce business offers is very appealing to women, said Sanjana Zaman of Rene, which started off as an online business and now has two brick-and-mortar stores and a dedicated factory. Rene, whose turnover last year hit $7 million, sells handmade leather goods worldwide by way of its e-commerce site.
“Internet has definitely become a powerful tool for women's empowerment in developing countries like Bangladesh.”
Sanjana has no official data but she assumes that as many as 80 percent of the e-entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are women.
The reason women are succeeding in the e-commerce space, Sultana says, might have something to do with clichéd female characteristics.
“For online business, honesty and patience are a must. But men tend to lack patience, sometimes,” Sultana said.
Razib Ahmed, a director of e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB), also acknowledged the women's domination in the e-commerce landscape.
However, out of the association's 730 members, only few are female.
The reason being, to become an e-CAB member, some formalities and documentation like trade licences are needed. “Most of the women do business by way of Facebook.”
At present, there are about three crore Facebook users and 8.08 crore active internet users in Bangladesh.