The rapid proliferation of Internet-related services has transformed the way businesses are run and transactions are carried out, which is paving the way for a bustling era of e-commerce and digital payments. With the help of modern technology, digital money is changing the way currency is perceived. Merchants can now attract customers to their online market place by utilizing digital commerce and payment systems as a powerful selling tool. Strong long-term fundamentals, web and ecommerce segments in Asia forecast high growth potential in 2016 and beyond whilst growing consumer markets and the continued development of the e-commerce sector will underpin its growth prospects.
In January 2015, FMCG giant Unilever Sri Lanka and wOw.lk, Sri Lanka’s premier ecommerce portal and a unit of Dialog Axiata PLC, joined hands in an exciting new partnership. In a growing online shopping industry, the collaboration of two industry leaders bore all the signs of a promising initiative to popularizing the purchase of some of Unilever’s best known brands through a convenient online medium.
Today the Sri Lankan e-commerce industry is at an important crossroads and Channa Tennakoon – Head of Media and Digital, Unilever Sri Lanka Limited and Sheyantha Abeykoon – Chief Executive Officer, Digital Commerce Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd, the company that owns and operates wOw.lk, share their input on how important the e-commerce business is from a merchant’s perspective and reflect on some of their experiences over the past year.
Selling products online: Explaining the prime motivations to take their products online, Tennakoon stated, “Being actively present on ecommerce is a natural progression that is inevitable in the current marketplace. Establishing an optimal ecommerce presence early on is likely to reap its benefits in the not so distant future. Furthermore, the ecommerce boom in the South Asian region especially in India is highly encouraging. However, Sri Lankan ecommerce has its own set of unique challenges and Unilever hopes to pioneer the FMCG sector in successfully conquering these challenges.”
Selecting wOw.lk as your launch partner to go online: “wOw.lk being the largest e-commerce company in Sri Lanka and its commitment to being at the forefront of the industry, made wOw.lk an easy choice in terms of a launch partner. Also being owned and operated by Dialog Axiata PLC further strengthens wOw.lk’s armoury of infrastructure with which they can leverage to drive growth in the e-commerce sphere.”
Journey so far: Elaborating on the partnership over the past year, he further stated, “The past year was a focused effort on stepping into the e-commerce arena with personal care range of brands. Along with the launch of the Unilever e-commerce platform within wOw.lk, we were able to execute multiple special promotions targeting seasons, events and brand campaigns.”
Future plans in the e-commerce sphere: “We have a long-term vision in terms of Unilever’s objectives in the ecommerce space. We believe that it will be necessary to constantly expand and fine tune our ecommerce presence in order to rapidly evolve with the needs of the e-consumer. It is safe to say that Unilever is in it for the long haul when it comes to the ecommerce space.”
Growing with new partnerships: Commenting on how the partnership with Unilever fit into wOw.lk overall growth plans, Abeykoon said, “wOw.lk as the market leader in the local ecommerce industry has always strived to play a lead role in developments in the sector. Our tag line of ‘the complete shopping experience’ embodies a philosophy of offering the widest breadth of products to our consumers through the most convenient means. Over the past few years, we have seen the growth in online shopping being centred largely around a few high ticket categories. As we try and grow the popularity of other categories online, such as personal care and homecare, it is necessary to work together with the market leaders in these sectors, to help them achieve their online ambitions and in doing so to collectively grow the market.”
Learnings over the year: “Initially there was a process of learning, trial and error. The product catalogue that a company like Unilever has is widely available in the offline domain, through a very efficient distribution network, particularly in the general trade sector. So unlike some of the other products that we carry – we had to be very clear about the “problem” we were solving for the consumer. Hence, choosing the “right” products to market, being creative with our promotions, observing consumer buying patterns was very important in helping the company establish an online market for Unilever products. I can confidently say we are on the right track – although volumes are still small they have grown appreciably in the last six months.”
Growth plans for the future: “Fortunately Unilever shares a few key common values with us; we give a lot of priority to product and service innovation, spend a lot of time trying to analyze and better understand consumer behaviour and are willing to experiment. Based on our observations over the past 16 months we will be formulating a list of innovative online propositions to take to the market place in the forthcoming year.”
Unilever Sri Lanka Limited today it is home to 29 strong brands that are leaders in the categories that they operate in. With the local consumer being at the heart of our business they have products ideally suited to the Sri Lankan consumer. Unilever Sri Lanka provides employment to 1100 people directly and many thousands more indirectly through its dedicated suppliers, distributors and service providers while their product portfolio expands from household care, fabric cleaning, skin cleansing, skin care, oral care, hair care, tea, spreads, toilet cleaning, personal grooming and water.
wOw.lk is owned and operated by Digital Commerce Lanka (Pvt.) Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dialog Axiata PLC. The company is an industry pioneer and the largest ecommerce company catering to the domestic consumer.wOw.lk continuously strives to meet the varied needs of the local online shopping community, delivering a superior virtual shopping experience with a variety of affordable products and services.