The coronavirus pandemic has pushed businesses into an existential crisis where the only way to survive for them is to adapt. And adapt they did.
Within days, even the most traditional ones got online in a bid to serve customers but the shift by no means has been simple. That’s exactly what a local tech company wants to change: making the transition to e-commerce as simple as possible.
Meet Webx.pk, a Karachi-based e-commerce software that lets anyone set up their online store without the need to learn coding. All you have to do is create an account -- trial available, choose your category, theme accordingly and get your own website up and running in minutes. It also has pretty much all the required integrations for payment channels from international ones like PayPal to Jazzcash and Easypaisa among locals, plus other required platforms including couriers, helpdesk software etc.
Rather than paying up tens of thousands of rupees or more for development, the long waiting time, hosting costs, maintenance and the plugins, Webx lets you do everything on their platform. You can add products by bulks, do analytics, check customer feedback, change themes among other things.
It was founded in 2013 by Waleed Masood and Imran Akbar, two professionals in the software industry. “In 2012, I left my job to start my own information technology company, Decimalz, and we got this project to develop a custom website for a retailer.
Back then, e-commerce was in a very nascent stage and businesses didn’t really understand this concept and even if they were interested in building an online presence, it was too costly for them to afford the upfront expenses,” he tells Dawn.
“That’s when we decided to take this up as software-as-a-service (SaaS) and for the next five years, kept our focus on product development. But that changed 2018 onwards and we became more active in terms of expanding our reach and marketing,” he adds.
As is the norm for a SaaS startup, Webx has a subscription model in place with charges beginning at Rs1,950 a month for the basic package, Rs3,950 for business, and Rs7,950 for the ultimate plan, depending on the number of products you want to list among other things. For larger businesses, there is the enterprise package with customisable requirements and charges.
Since it was founded around seven years ago, the company has been entirely funded by Decimalz but that might change soon. “The plan was to keep it in-house from the beginning though we have recently started exploring external capital and are actively looking at the moment,” says the founder.
Within this market, Webx is accompanied by another player. Lahore-based Fishry, backed by the digital media agency Bramerz, has a similar product with operations dating back to 2014. While not much is available on their website, but they seem to be hosting the likes of the KFC and Pizza Hut’s online stores, according to securitytrails.com.
However, Masood isn’t really concerned. “They have a great product but their target audience is a bit different. With monthly pricing in dollars [plus commissions on top], their focus is not so much towards smaller retailers,” the CEO says.
The international arena is much more mature where Shopify has built a great brand out of plug-and-play e-commerce software. Then there is the relatively newer and smaller (but still big and old enough) Woocommerce and it’s these two Masood finds himself in direct competition with.
What sets Webx apart from them, you ask?
“Woocommerce is a Wordpress technology and you need a technical person to set things up so it’s not exactly the same as ours. For Shopify, the key difference is in the support available afterwards, as we have a local on-ground team. Plus, their pricing is also on the higher side with paid plugins and themes,” explains Masood.
Forget competition and let’s turn to whether the market has enough potential to justify the unit economics. With their most popular plan at just Rs4,000, the company would need 250 clients to touch the top line of a million rupees, which doesn’t sound highly lucrative for an emerging tech startup. Now add to that the hosting costs, not cheap by any measure, plus the sales and support, and we have a potentially hefty monthly bill.
“For a given tier, our marginal costs (especially of hosting) are quite low so we can keep adding more users without worrying about the expenses. Also, we are already breaking even,” says the founder. Moreover, he is also betting on the shift towards digital triggered by the coronavirus, resulting in an increase in demand.
“We are getting close to 1,000 signups a month and around 40 of them as paying customers, which itself has jumped by 100 per cent compared to pre-pandemic days.”
The bigger problem, according to Masood, is keeping those clients by ensuring enough traffic and leads so they stay for the long term. “To this end, we are looking into a number of options like starting our own marketplace and diverting users from there to the partner stores,” he explains.
Another strategy to make customers on top of the e-commerce game is Webx University, an awareness program with tutorials and other relevant content.
The writer is member of staff:
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2020