As a co-founder of Takas.lk, one of Sri Lanka’s largest e-commerce sites, Lahiru Pathmalal has been at the forefront of promoting online shopping to Sri Lankan consumers. At the time of Takas.lk’s launch, Sri Lanka’s e-commerce landscape was practically virgin but it has continued to grow. The online retail business, launched in 2012, has over 8,000 products listed online. But developing Sri Lanka’s e-commerce landscape is the tip of the iceberg for Pathmalal, who is also using the Takas.lk technology platform as a springboard for the development of an e-commerce backend.
Besides the website and apps, an e-commerce player needs a robust technology backend linked to the front end to manage inventory and fulfil orders. That e-commerce backend technology being licensed to businesses is now a separate revenue stream for Takas.lk. The Takas.lk solution enables an e-commerce company to have complete control from the first mile to last-mile delivery. The value is such that one of Takas.lk’s largest competitors in Sri Lanka operates off it. Although the idea of buying goods online is no longer an alien concept, there are several kinks.
“Sometimes, a mature market product is just not a good fit. It’s like taking a baseball bat to swat a fly.”
“Fulfilment costs two to three times more than other countries in the region,” says Pathmalal, “and from a payment standpoint, our society is still very cash dependent.” While confident that things are moving in the right direction and profitability is growing, Pathmalal isn’t waiting around for a magical boom in his segment. “One thing that I’m sure of, is that the Sri Lankan market isn’t big enough,” says Pathmalal.
Instead, he sees the next opportunity to scale as licensing the Takas.lk tech platform to regional e-commerce players. He expects there are opportunities in Pakistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. By identifying the unique challenges faced by emerging markets, Pathmalal says their e-commerce solution has far greater manoeuvrability than costlier mature-market options.
“To get the level of manoeuvrability that we have added, you’d have to spend an enormous amount of money,” says Pathmalal about the challenge confronting any e-commerce company wanting to develop its own technology for order fulfilment. “Sometimes, a mature market product is just not a good fit. It’s like taking a baseball bat to swat a fly.”
This specialisation, plus Takas.lk’s ability to fine-tune their services by drawing off Sri Lanka’s example, gives Pathmalal optimism about the future of Sri Lanka’s ability to offer homegrown e-commerce technology solutions to emerging markets. Pathmalal dismisses the notion that small companies like Takas.lk can acquire off-the-shelf technology for mission-critical functions. “Plus, if you invest, you have the rights to your technology, and more importantly, complete manoeuvrability.”