No credit card? No problem!
It is so easy. You
click ‘Add to Cart’ and the virtual shopping basket has an item you like.
You ‘Proceed to Checkout’ and fill in your credit card details.
Elsewhere, a computer hums as your order is processed hence beginning a cycle
in which your item will be wrapped, labeled and shipped out. Three to 30 days
later, you open the door to the courier man, ready with your parcel. The
anticipation for it was well worth the few simple clicks you made to get that
Online shopping is gaining
popularity among Karachiites. Not long ago, Pakistan wasn’t an option a
website offered in its shipping menu. The only other way for getting goodies
from abroad was to ask one’s relatives who were visiting for the summer.
Today, market forces have brought in a new era of the shopping experience.
Through YouTube and Amazon, consumers here are aware of the best brands and
want more than just run-of-the-mill, substandard products.
Initially, online shopping
in Pakistan meant electronics as there was an abundance of websites which
sell laptops, cell phones, DSLR cameras and other gadgets. But that has
slowly changed and now there are websites for clothes, cosmetics, jewellery
and accessories. Zainab Mehmood, the brand and marketing manager for
Just4Girls.pk, an online website dealing primarily in branded cosmetics,
believes that online shopping has huge potential in Pakistan. “Countries
like USA and UK have been trading in online businesses for many years with
their audiences growing every year. Pakistan has had a slow start to this
form of business due to the lack of access to fast internet in the past and
also as people in Pakistan can be quite reluctant to pay before receiving an
item, but thanks to cash on delivery (COD) services offered by courier
companies in Pakistan the ratings for online sales has doubled since 2011,”
Mehmood narrates how the
idea for Just4Girls.pk evolved when a few girls from the UK and Pakistan felt
that young Pakistani women deserved to have more variety in brands and easy
accessibility to them as well. “There are many brands which one may find in
supermarkets in Karachi and Lahore but unfortunately women living in smaller
cities do not have access to these products. So with our services we want
them to avail the benefits of having a vast variety to choose from as well as
have the products delivered at their very doorstep”.
Mehmood is optimistic that
the online shopping trend will continue to grow in Pakistan. “More people
are becoming aware of the concept. I would say that we have opened the eyes
of many women throughout Pakistan with regards to shopping online.”
For entrepreneurs, the
online shopping trend has been a major breakthrough. Many have started their
own businesses and have used social networking sites to market them. Satrangi,
a business specialising in bangles and wallets adorned with chamakpati was
founded by Fizza Ali Syed when she was experimenting with materials while on
summer break. “I have always been making my own accessories and was
encouraged by friends to turn it into a business.”
Since she did not have a
physical outlet, Syed used social media to get customers. “They need to see
something they have never seen before and the truck art inspired jewellery
really caught their eye. Photography and presentation play a very important
role when you are promoting your brand/products through virtual media.”
Syed also knows that one
has to keep customers coming back for more. “The online shopping trend is
even bigger than it seems,” she says, “It needs to be an experience hence
we always want to make the consumer feel that their order is getting the
‘royal’ treatment hence Satrangi is always being creative with ideas to
keep the customers, happy, we slip in surprise gifts and handwritten thank
you notes with the parcels. It is always a pleasure to know that one’s work
was found by Hera Khoso when she felt bored with all the jewellery available
in the market. “It was too ‘wedding’ like for my taste.” On the
encouragement of her friends she launched her Facebook page, specialising in
handmade earrings. “I never did anything special to market it,” she says.
“I am amazed at how it spread.”
Khoso’s success is based
on personally interacting with her customers through email. This ‘personal
touch’ is why she feels customers come back again and again. “Online
shopping has gained major points in the past two years. One reason is that
you get to browse things sitting within the comfort of your home so it is
easy. Secondly, one thing which I personally feel makes online shopping
special is that a lot of the brands working online have so much special to
offer which we do not find at shops otherwise so you WANT to own something
that is not at every shop you enter. Its value as a product increases.”
But is it all as it is
hyped up to be? Huda Ayaz, 21, a university student does not shop online
because no courier delivers to her doorstep. “I live in Korangi and when I
give my address, many couriers say that they will not deliver there. Also, I
shop once a month for the things I need so I do not feel the need to shop
online.” Sheerin Jafri, also a university student cites the same reason.
“Where I live in Rizvia society, couriers usually don’t deliver. So the
few times I have shopped online, I sent my purchase within their delivery
limits and picked it up from there.”
Hina Luqman, 32, favours
the traditional way of shopping. “I would rather feel the product in my
hand than buy it based only on a picture. Online shopping cannot replace the
feeling of browsing through stores and selecting things to buy.”
Sonia Ashraf, 21,
highlights some pros and cons of shopping online, “I am a full time student
so online shopping is very convenient for me. It negates the need for taking
time out to plan a day to go shopping. But one thing that has to be put up
with is that there is no guarantee that the product will look exactly like
what you see on the computer; the photo may be taken with flash or the
computer’s resolution might make it seem different.
So one must allow for slight differences.”
There is definitely scope
for growth for online shopping in Pakistan. It does provide ease and
accessibility. Yet there will have to be a better infrastructure before
everyone can avail its benefits.
In Pakistan, the
concept of plastic money is still a new one. People are cautious around banks
and their jargon. But with the boom of online businesses on Facebook, their
owners have come up with new ways of getting their payments.
Nargis Firdaus, a media
sciences student, runs the Facebook cosmetic and accessories store, Dhanak.
She offers bank transfers and ‘Easy Paisa’ as modes of payment. “I
offer these methods because some people are not comfortable with bank
transfers. I feel that they have problems with it, even though it is quiet
The ‘Easy Paisa’ mode
of payment is comfortable for some as it requires the customer’s NIC
document and the receiver’s NIC number. “I just ask a friend of mine to
do it, and there aren’t any signatures or ATM PINs involved,” says Sonia
Ashraf, an avid online shopper.
Nargis is notified through
email and an SMS that she has received the payments. It is interesting to
note that these forms of technology have made banking and shopping portable
and on-the-go. Yet another method of payment is cash on delivery which is
preferred by most online shoppers. It does not require the daunting task of
transferring through banks and one can pay at their doorstep. Some Facebook
businesses like International Makeup in Pakistan have accounts in more than
one bank to make it easier for buyers to deposit their payments.
For businesses in Lahore or
Islamabad, courier charges range from Rs130 to 200, hence customers are
careful to keep these costs in mind as it adds up. “I have even gone to a
business owner’s place to collect her purchase because she did not want to
pay the delivery cost,” says Ailya Ahmed, an online shopper and a student.
Companies like Blue Ex
offer packages for cash on delivery. Often the claims for ‘free shipping’
are adjusted within the cost of the item being bought.
Of course, customers tend
to overlook these charges because of the ease of receiving the product at
their very doorstep. Some banks also have charges for depositing money
online. “It is unbelievable how the costs can add up,” says Ghazal Iqbal,
a shopper contacted through Facebook, “There is the cost of the items you
ordered, the cost of the delivery and then the additional bank charges! At
the end of it you have spent at least Rs 300 in just extra charges.”
Nargis has to work doubly
hard for those customers who would rather pay her in person. “For those
customers who live very close, I set up a common meeting place like a
restaurant or a mall in the vicinity. Then I go there and give the customers
their purchases.” She is on the look-out for a good service that deals with
cash on delivery. “At the moment, I am not sure what my options are and how
this method works,” she says.
Fatima Ahmed, who runs the
Facebook cosmetics and online store, Beauty Unleashed, also goes to deliver
products herself. “Online shopping is fun and has its perks but when it
comes to delivery it can get a bit messy. We have some people who assist us
because they have a vehicle, and sometimes we do it ourselves. But when the
situation of the city is precarious, we cannot do so. I feel that to deliver
in person is the safest option because the customer can check their products
then and there.”
The prevalence of these
methods of payment has rendered credit cards unnecessary for online shopping.
Customers are able to get a wide variety of goods from abroad and have the
option to pay in rupees with a few additional costs. The general consensus
remains that cash on delivery is the online shopping community’s preferred
way of payment.