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Urban.lk: The e-commerce Utopia of Today

It would be no surprise at all if the world we live in were to be classified as a ‘digital’ utopia. The digital sphere, which surprisingly is no older than 15 odd years has seen tremendous growth, in-fact it has probably reached its climax.

The evolution of this ‘amazing’ sphere has opened up a plethora of opportunities and novel procedures, such as revolutionary medical treatments, new means of communication, virtual banking facilities, cloud services and of course one of our most loved services, the e-commerce sector.

Despite not being as popular as in countries like China, U.S., India, England and so forth, the Sri Lankan e-commerce sector has seen gradual improvement within the last decade or so. The e-commerce sector, which conducts its business transactions via the internet (buying and selling goods/services online) is renowned for ease of use and time conservation. Popular global services such as e-bay, Amazon and Alibaba are a few of the sites where you’d probably spend an entire day on.

“Oh, you’ve got e-bay and amazon” you may say, well not really, although you might be successful at placing an order through a local e-commerce site and voila, you’ve got your favourite pair of Addidas Yeezies. Despite the concept of e-commerce being the same there are a few ‘upgrades’ or added value services. Urban.lk is one such local e-commerce company, which comprehends the local mindset and caters efficiently.

Urban.lk, a premium online store that caters branded and original items to a niche market in Sri Lanka. Founded in 2016 by two brothers, Malinda and Kalana Muthumuni the company has rapidly risen as one of the country’s most reliable and trustworthy e-commerce companies.

Built on a simple formula that highlights immaculate customer service and on-time delivery, the duo gradually continue to excel and impress the local community when other local e-commerce giants fail. That’s not all, walk into their flagship store and the first thing you’d see are warm welcoming smiles from Kalana and et.al.

Getting in touch with Kalana wasn’t the easiest of tasks but we managed to get him to narrate Urban.lk’s story and here it goes.

Q: Kalana, tell us a bit about your background

Well, Malinda is the older sibling out of the two and he is an Aircraft Engineer by profession whereas I am a Software Engineer and we come from a Sri Lankan business family.

Q: What would you classify as your Interests & hobbies?

Kalana: I honestly love travelling, gaming and reading

Malinda: I prefer listening to Music, jamming with my guitar, reading a good book or two, gaming, Hiking and diving when time permits

Q: Were you both involved in any sports while schooling?

Malinda: Yes, I was a rugby player

Q: How are the of you generally at home?

(Both Malinda & Kalana chuckle while responding)

Kalana has always been a Mr. Goody Two Shoes while I’ve been classified as the ‘mischievous’ one

Q: Do you ‘all have any pets?

We’ll I shuttle frequently from Colombo to Dubai so it’s a little difficult to have a pet.

Kalana: Sadly, I am allergic to them but I desperately want one

E-Commerce & the start of Urban.lk

Q: What made the two of you start up an e-commerce business in Sri Lanka?

We identified that there was a big void in Sri Lankan online landscape for a company that delivers high quality branded products with warranty and good after sale service. So, after conducting a market research, we decided to enter the market, with Urban.lk

Q: Did you have any industry experience at the time?

We have dabbed in many other ventures. Garment, rental and development sector startups. However, Urban took off immediately and it kept on getting praised for its service, so we shifted our main focus on to Urban.

Q: Is Urban.lk a holding company or an individual one?

Individual one

Q: Were there any investors at the start?

Bootstrapped in the start. Malinda being the main investor and a few friends joining in later. John Keells Holdings became a shareholder last year answered Kalana

Q: What were the initial challenges you encountered?

At the start technological availability was a concern, especially when it came to IPGs. Initially IPG service providers had massive doubts about providing Internet payment gateways to startups but now the landscape has gotten much better.

At the same time, we were faced with the challenge of convincing people here to shift to e-commerce. People were scared of e-commerce. They weren’t sure if the products were genuine, if the delivery will be on time and most of the time, whether the site is genuine

Q: How did you manage to penetrate into the e-commerce with large players like Kapruka, Wow.lk, Mydeal.lk etc. being present in the scene?

Our customer service, catalog of selected original products and on-time delivery helped us penetrate the market.

Q: Sri Lankans tend to have a very biased mindset towards online marketing, how did you change the perception?

Q: How did you build their trust with both the brand and making online payments?

We came up with multiple solutions such as Urban warranty scheme, which had concepts that were quite new for the Sri Lankan market and also a loyalty program for all the customers

Q: What would you classify as your niche?

It’s Music, Home Audio and Smart Devices

Q: Tell us about your products and the brands available on site?

There are hundreds of brands available on Urban.lk, however, we are best known for JBL, Marshall, Kindle, Philips Hue Smart Lights, Vinyl Players etc.

Q: Can you request a product that isn’t mentioned on the site?

Yes. You can mail support@urban.lk to request the products you need

Q: How are they sourced and how does Urban.lk verify their authenticity?

We make sure that every product goes through an authenticity check before sending it to the customer

Q: Do you deal with local suppliers & how does the process work?

Yes. We work with many reputed local suppliers, including Abans, Yamaha, John Keells, Metropolitan and many others.  We maintain a stock update system with each of the partners

Q: Currently where do you think the e-commerce market in Sri Lanka stands and do you a possible growth?

We believe that Sri Lankan e-commerce landscape is on a path for exponential growth. We expect the market to expand significantly in the coming years

Q: What are the local challenges you’ve faced & how do you propose they could be improved to facilitate online marketing?

Access to IPGs and credit facilities were extremely difficult at the start if there were a proper process it would make businesses such as Urban.lk function and serve their customers better. Also, improvement of regulations related to online market places would do wonders

Q: How do you handle logistical issues such as sourcing products, stocking and dispatching to customers?

We use multiple suppliers and delivery partners to take care of the sourcing and delivery

Q: How has your customer feedback been?

It has been outstanding. Since our inception, we were quite focused on making sure that each customer is provided with an excellent service while making sure the products are delivered on time

Q: Which would you reckon has been more prominent, in-store pick-ups or delivery?

Delivery

Q: What is the product turn-around time frame?

Before the lockdown, it was between same day to 7 working days. Now the delivery time has increased a little bit due to the curfew restrictions

Q: What is your repair and return policy like?

We have an excellent warranty and repair policy, where we make sure that the convenience of e-Commerce is brought to the customer, throughout the entire customer journey. The customer does not need to come to us for repairs, instead, we can pick up the product and do the needful and return it back to the customer. This is free of charge, if under warranty. We also have a return policy, where the customer can return purchased goods, if in the original packaging, and receive store credit in return. You can find more on this through https://urban.lk/warranty

Q: Has your business model been affected during this Covid-19 pandemic?

Yes and No. Our main products are moving normally with the pandemic because we made sure that our stock and supply chain will withstand the pandemic

 Q: What have you done as a company to remain on top?

We’ve made sure that we provide quality products and provide an excellent after-sale service and that has helped us gain the upper hand

 Q: We’ve come across a new category/product line ‘Urban Essentials’ can you explain about that?

With the current pandemic, many players in the market quickly adapted and started delivering essentials. However, we noticed that some of our customer base were still not able to get items delivered on time or receive items that are target towards a niche. Therefore, we launched Urban Essentials to cater to this specific requirement in the market

 Q: What sort of dedication is required to run your own business?

It takes immense dedication to run a business, especially if it’s your own

 How is your branding/marketing done?

It is done through an internal team

 Q: What is the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur?

Malinda: Creating something out of nothing and helping the community around it while doing that in the form of creating new jobs introducing new technologies etc.

Kalana: Creating disruptive business models

Q: There is a little anecdote on your blog about an event in your childhood, can you tell us about it?

Actually Malinda’s article says it better, but to summarize it, the story is about how a humble grocery man inspired Malinda to put the foundations of Urban. Ethical methods of business, focus on customer satisfaction, and attentive personal touch that you get, when you shop at Urban

Q: Who is the harder worker among the two of you and why?

We both work hard equally in our respective roles to move the company forward

Q: What advice could you pass on to our readers with as an establishing/established e-commerce company?

E-Commerce in Sri Lanka is sure to boom in the next few months. It will help many small businesses grow as well. At the same time, there can be many who will try to take unethical advantages from this. So, always check for the authenticity, customer reviews and build a good relationship with the brands that you love and help them grow!

Malinda Muthumuni (Chairman & CEO) & Kalana Muthumuni (Director-Operations) are the forefront figures of Urban.lk, a reputable e-commerce company dealing with branded items. For more information on the company visit: www.urban.lk

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