The news quickly spread throughout Nepal’s tech and entrepreneurship communities with rumours that it was one of the country’s largest acquisitions. After hearing the news, the tech community was filled with doubts and questions regarding Hamrobazar’s future.
We had the opportunity to speak with Rohit Tiwari, Hamrobazar’s CEO, about the new version update, company’s goals and plans for the future. The following is the transcript of the interview:
TL: We are aware that Hamrobazar is working on a new interface. Is it simply for the web UI, or can we expect more features to be added? If so, what are the major new features?
The upcoming Hamrobazar update will be focused on both the UI and the UX. And, we will also be introducing the mobile app. The already available Android app will also receive an update.
To be clear, we will simply update the system; there will be modifications to the existing UI, but the UX will significantly improve. The placements of the fundamentals such as categories, search boxes, filters, and so on, will not be altered; they will all remain in their current positions, but the user experience will be much better.
We have put a lot of effort into the UX. For the UI, because people are already very familiar with their placements, we have tried our best to keep the basics intact.
We’ve also introduced new features. One of the features we’re providing is an easy way for users to make their data private once they’ve created an account.
The existing Hamrobazar system also allows users to hide their mobile numbers. With the new update, hiding or showing the mobile number will be even easier and flexible. In addition, let’s say if I want to sell my house, I can choose to share the approximate location in a circumference rather than the exact location.
We have also brought the expected features such as personal messaging, easy notifications, managed comment section, etc.
There are multiple phases of updates on the way. The first phase of the update is just shifting existing Hamrobazar traffic to the new Hamrobazar while providing a better UX. Only in the second phase and after, we might introduce brand new innovative features.
TL: Will the new website, Android app, and iOS app all be released at the same time?
Everything is prepared… (brief pause) but it is unknown whether all three will be released on the same day. We’ll definitely update the website and the Android app; however, the iOS app may take a little longer. For the time being, I am unsure.
Perhaps all three will be released on the same day; only that day will tell us. For now, the launch date is not fixed. All I can tell is it’s coming very soon.
TL: What do the three verticals on the letter ‘O’ in the Hamrobazar logo mean?
The three vertical lines in Hamrobazar’s new logo originate from the old logo, which has the same three vertical lines on the letter ‘O’.
Originally, the three verticals represented three regions that the founder expected to see rapid growth in the near future. The three verticals signify three categories: real estate, automobiles, and jobs.
I’m telling you the original meaning. The three verticals may not have the same meaning now. The automobile and real estate sectors are very important for Hamrobazar. And, because we’ve only recently reintroduced the jobs category, we can’t call this our third vertical for the time being.
The third vertical is for deals. We believe that visitors visit Hamrobazar to look for deals. Therefore, this platform should be evolved in such a way that should allow people to grab deals easily.
TL: What is the new Hamrobazar theme going to be? Will it be black and white, as suggested by the new logo?
I’ll leave this to you to guess.
TL: Many individuals have reported that they received faulty goods or sellers did not respond after they arrived at the specified location. What’s your take on this major issue? With the updated version, what is your strategy for promoting verified and trusted sellers over fraud/irresponsive sellers?
The existing Hamrobazar allows you to report the sellers who are selling these fake or faulty products, as well as sellers who do not respond to the buyers. And, we receive hundreds if not thousands of reports on a single day, which we review daily.
We also have a system in place that will take down the ad automatically if it receives repeated reports within a few hours or a day of being posted. After that, we have a conversation with a seller.
We already do have different protocols to deal with these kinds of issues. But, indeed, we took considerable care in resolving this issue more in the upcoming update.
As a result, we’ve simplified the reporting process. People can now specify the type of content that prompted them to file a report. And, considering the volume of reports we receive, we identify what types of reports should we look at right away and what types of reports should we put off for half an hour.
Along with this, we will introduce the ‘how to verify’ portion at a later time after the initial update. So, if it’s a shop, what steps should they take to get themselves verified? What should an individual seller do to verify themselves if they routinely sell on Hamrobazar? We’re planning for this. After this, the buyer would know that this is a verified seller, and Hamrobazar has their details in case something goes wrong.
Apart from that, Hamrobazar is a community-driven platform, so the community would tell us that if this person or product is wrong. For this, we may introduce different systems, such as a rating feature that allows people to rate the seller or product. And, eventually, we will figure out how low the seller’s rating must fall in order for the seller to be removed from the platform.
The inclusion of this feature in the first phase of the update is not assured. At first, we might only start with a seller-only rating. In the future, we may add a feature to report a specific product or post.
We will introduce new features slowly. If we introduce all features at once, users may get lost.
TL: Hamrobazar has always been a free and easy-to-use platform for sellers to post classified ads. Will it remain the same forever? Is there any intention of introducing premium ad posting options?
It will be free.
As for paid ad posting, eventually, yes. Every company will search for its revenue streams, and all classified companies are known to introduce a segment where people can buy visibility.
This idea is in my head, but it doesn’t mean Hamrobazar will not be free. I can assure you it will be free; free users will have equal visibility; if it’s the right deal, people will search for it and view it; and the algorithm will always work towards the ad with the most organic views.
To be clear, this is just an idea I have. This isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
TL: What impact has Covid had on your company? During the pandemic, which categories have seen the most growth and significant loss?
Hamrobazar has benefited from Covid in comparison to other existing online companies.
The data also proves that, while traffic was relatively low, it was not significantly low, and transactions on Hamrobazar were still taking place. If transactions took place every second before the pandemic, they took place every two seconds during the pandemic.
During the pandemic, we introduced a new category called ‘vegetables’. And it’s still doing really well today. The events category, on the other hand, used to have hundreds of postings, but due to covid, it got reduced to less than a hundred.
Overall, it was a negligible change. I’m discussing relative changes with you. Naturally, as traffic decreased, so did the listing, but there was no drastic change overall. The number of real estate listings fell to around 17,000, I believe, from over 22,000, which was still a healthy quantity; it was still thriving.
During the pandemic, what I liked about Hamrobazar was, even though the shops were closed, because I had access to the seller’s phone number through the listing, if I needed a charger, I could just call and get one, something other e-commerce couldn’t do because they couldn’t deliver. Because of reasons like this, Hamrobazar was performing well.
TL: Could you please share some site statistics? How long do users spend on your site on average? What is the average number of daily postings?
Because there are fewer users than usual these days, I am hesitant to share it. These days, it’s a little less than a lakh. On average, one user will at least visit 10-14 pages, resulting in over 1 million page views per day. People perform extensive research before spending their money, which explains the high number of page visits.
The length of time users spend on the site has also gone down by a bit. It’s around 16-17 minutes.
The number of daily posts was increasing about a week before Dashain, then it started declining during Dashain. However, it is inclining again. And, we are getting around 2,500-3,000 listings per day.
TL: Hamrobazar’s only major competitor we see is Facebook Marketplace. It seems that a large number of people are drawn to it. What are your thoughts on this, and what plans does Hamrobazar have to attract those users?
For general responses, Facebook Marketplace, as you said, is effective. Hamrobazar, on the other hand, gets you genuine responses from the people who actually come to buy.
The primary purpose I see of Facebook is to socialize with my friends and family members. After Facebook introduced the marketplace, it is just making things more complicated. And, while I may be biased, I personally am not liking that particular experience.
Facebook’s primary business is not the marketplace. The marketplace is one of the many things they want to do. Also, people never go to Facebook hoping to buy something. They are there to either create or consume the content.
But on Hamrobazar, people come there just to buy or to sell; it is 100% commercial traffic. On Facebook, the purpose will be different but they might end up buying. But on Hamrobazar, if 1-1.5 lakhs people visit the site per day, their sole purpose is to buy, whether today with cash in hand or in the next six months or two years.
The way how the Facebook Marketplace is evolving, everyone has this same question; we also asked the same question to ourselves. And, we have conducted thorough research on the Facebook Marketplace.
On Hamrobazar, there is a human touch to it that is also Nepal-specific. The platform’s system is well-managed, with well-maintained categories. And, if something goes wrong, you can report it directly to us. If something goes wrong on Facebook or someone has posted a fake ad and you report it, the communication takes time, so it could take up to 24 hours to get it fixed. However, in our case, the same issue can be resolved in as little as four hours.
I agree Facebook has its own benefits, such as a large number of views. Definitely, Facebook has more users than Hamrobazar, but Facebook’s core purpose is something different; our purpose is different.
TL: Rating/review and messaging systems are some of the most requested features by existing Hamrobazar users. You have answered this in our previous questions. However, another most popular request is the bidding system. Will Hamrobazar implement this feature in the coming update?
Bidding sounds exciting. It’s not that we had not planned ahead of time. Phase-wise, bidding is too early, in my opinion.
Then there’s also the legal matter to consider. This will take some time to accomplish. Also, I doubt people will be as excited about it as they appear to be while talking about it.
TL: What additional security improvements has Hamrobazar made to the newer version?
We use the latest hashing for data security. And, in terms of algorithms and everything else, we’re using the latest of whatever is available. I cannot disclose everything we have done in the backend process, this is a wrong question to ask.
We have basic things like a system in place to prevent the scraping of the site’s data. It automatically blocks the IP address that repeatedly is hitting the site.
From the technological side, security is the best, and it’s ever-improving. If the firewall license 2019 is required, then we have that. We have done everything we can to make it more secure.
Aside from that, we’re considering what we can do socially as well.
TL: What will be the verification process for the verified sellers and individual sellers in the future?
We don’t want individual sellers to have to deal with too much hassle because they are most likely on Hamrobazar to sell only once.
But, if someone is doing business on the Hamrobazar platform, we can always introduce a process where they can spend about half an hour getting their verification approved properly.
TL: Will there be any analytical tools available for sellers?
We would want to do it. And we will try our best to bring this into our first phase update.
TL: Will Hamrobazar deliver products to the buyers?
We don’t do our deliveries. We might go with integrated deliveries in the future, but that’s just a concept. It’s not happening at least in the initial phase.
TL: Hamrobazar recently conducted a used car exhibition. If I’m not wrong, it was Hamrobazar’s first offline event. Is Hamrobazar planning similar offline events in the near future? If so, will it be limited to automobiles or will there be other offline events as well?
We received a lot of excellent responses for the automobile event. From that event, we realized how huge the demand for used cars is.
Yes, we will come up with more offline events in the future, and they will not be limited to automobiles. They can be about real estate or jobs, for example.
We are planning for everything, but in order to know what to execute first after the release of new technology, we’ll need to keep a close eye on a few factors, such as where the traffic is moving, at what time the traffic is high, and so on. For example, the traffic for jobs or internships increases just after the end of college, so we may have a job fair at that time.
We need to closely monitor everything and then we will think about it later.
TL: What are the biggest challenges that Hamrobazar is currently facing? And, how are you planning to deal with it?
One of our current challenges is shifting existing users to the new update, as well as understanding how to handle the traffic.
Another major challenge for us is rightly verifying users. Also, to make it easier for people to communicate with one another. Currently, communication is happening through comments and direct phone calls. We’re focusing on making it easier for people to communicate efficiently within the app, which would be a challenge given that people are used to calling directly.
Overall, for a marketplace like ours, minimizing fraud is always a challenge.
Hamrobazar is currently in such a state where it has the potential to grow in all areas. Everything is already set; the only thing left is to scale it up.
TL: How do you see the platform evolving in the next five years? Share some of your big future plans.
I can’t predict what it will look like in five years. But one of the biggest roles of Hamrobazar in the next few years will probably be to make everything digital—every shop digital, or every outlet such as grocery stores or helmet stores digital. We’d want to spread the traffic benefit we have.