The popularity of superstore chains among the general public has increased significantly since the industry first started in Bangladesh in 2001.
Although the origin of the supermarket and its subsequent proliferation can be traced back to the industrialized and developed countries, particularly the USA and Canada, superstore chains have become quite common throughout much of the world.
The rise of supermarkets in developing countries started in Mexico, Central America, and much of South-east Asia in the mid-to-late 1990s, and soon caught on in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan as well.
Superstores in Bangladesh
In the last 16 years, more than 120 superstore outlets have been set up in Bangladesh by around 40 companies. Some of these retailers also offer e-shopping facilities.
The three major supermarket chains here are: Agora, Shwapno, and Meena Bazar.
The pioneering Rahimafrooz Group made a breakthrough in Bangladesh by launching Agora in 2001 - the first modern retail chain here. Currently there are 12 Agora outlets in Dhaka, one in Chittagong, and more coming up.
Shwapno – a sister concern of ACI Limited, is the largest grocery chain in Bangladesh. Established in 2008, Shwapno now has around 60 outlets and serves an average of 35,000 customers daily.
Apart from groceries and fresh produce, Shwapno also offers local and imported household goods, as well as a broad range of fashionable clothing, accessories, appliances, and more.
Meena Bazar -- a concern of Gemcon Group – is also among the largest supermarket chains in Bangladesh. Established in 2002, Meena Bazar now operates 17 outlets in Dhaka, Chittagong, and Khulna divisions, and two Gourmet Bazars at Gulshan 2 and Banani in the capital.
Meena superstore outlets are carrying almost 8,000 to 10,000 products for sale and providing convenient shopping experience, easy parking and friendly customer service for its customers.
Meena Bazar also produces and sells its own line of organic products, dairy items, processed and prepared foods, and herbal products, while simultaneously raising awareness among customers about their benefits.
In order to offer the most affordable prices to customers, Meena Bazar procures fresh produce directly from farmers, cutting the middlemen, while ensuring the highest quality, freshness, and continuous availability.
Besides, supermarket chains have joined the e-commerce bandwagon to meet consumers' demands for more convenience. Meena Bazar launched its online platform, meenaclick.com, while Shwapno and Agora are gearing up to roll out their e-stores as well.
Why customers prefer supermarkets
There are numerous advantages for customers shopping at supermarkets versus traditional grocery stores, which explains the enormous popularity of supermarkets.
The self-serving model makes shopping much more comfortable and convenient for customers as it allows them to take their time and examine as many items as they like without feeling pressured to buy them.
According to a study by Robaka Shamsher, assistant professor at Chittagong Independent University, customers dislike traditional markets for their untidy atmosphere, lack of hygiene, insufficient space to move, disorganized arrangement of products, bargaining process, inconsistent prices, all of which cause unnecessary stress for customers.
The report, titled “Growth of super stores in Bangladesh – a theoretical framework,” shared the study’s findings, one of which is that shopping in “kitchen markets” is no longer a pleasant experience but rather a nightmare for shoppers. As a result, home service is gaining in popularity among customers in the country.
At regular shops, customers are being deceived everyday by shopkeepers selling inferior products, charging excessive price, based on incorrect measurement.
The study also identified that shopkeepers in traditional markets form one kind of syndicate and dominate the market like a monopoly would. As a result, consumers turn to modern and well-decorated superstores with better facilities, friendly staff, and a pleasant atmosphere.
Superstores also provide a safe and “hassle-free environment for women, who otherwise feel uncomfortable shopping in crowded markets,” the report added.
Need for expansion
According to analysts and supermarket owners themselves, the number of superstore outlets in Bangladesh is insufficient, considering the size of our population and rapid urbanization.
As consumer demand patterns are changing and average incomes are rising, superstore chains have expanded in phases all over the world, not just first-world countries.
“Sri Lanka is more advanced in the superstore business than other South Asian countries, while Indonesia is also advanced in the Muslim World,” said Meena Bazar CEO Shaheen Khan.
Still, our enterprising and innovative supermarket businesses have successfully introduced significant positive changes in the country's typical shopping patterns, customer service, and procurement of fresh products in these 16 years, and are eager to do more.
Shaheen thinks a city like Dhaka needs to expand supermarket chains, but it has not been possible to increase due to various limitations including lack of space in the city.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Bangladesh Supermarket Owners Association (BSOA) General Secretary Zakir Hossain said the local supermarket industry could potentially grow much faster than other South Asia and South-East Asian countries if it gets cooperation from the concerned government agencies such as regulators and tax authorities.
The BSOA has requested the National Board of Revenue (NBR) to ensure a uniform value added tax (VAT) rate for all stores by allowing them to pay VAT at a square foot-based package rate.
“Otherwise the discrimination will gradually destroy this industry,” he added.