KARACHI: Online shopping is growing at a rapid clip thanks to wider Internet access, ubiquitous smartphones and frantic discounts.

Optimism runs so high that one stakeholder believes “the actual shopping would only happen online in the next three years and malls would only be there for leisure”.

But that optimism might be premature as a typical Pakistani consumer is still reluctant to shop online, whereas those who do buy online continue to complain about issues like deliveries arriving late or receiving faulty or damaged goods.

Talha Ali was a regular consumer of online goods until “I started receiving late deliveries and things different from what I had ordered”.

“Now the best way for me is to check the price online and then buy it from a physical store,” he said.

However, online retailers stress their sales are on the rise despite these issues.

Increase in online spending ahead of Eidul Fitr is particularly higher, with big e-commerce marketplaces having enjoyed double-digit growth this Ramazan.

“Eid sales have shot up this season compared with the last year and our average turnover. Our sales grew almost 30pc,” said Ali Zain Sheikh, country manager at Kaymu.pk.

He mentioned hot weather and rains as two factors that ate into sales of brick-and-mortar retail trade and hence came down in favour of online sellers.

Moreover, the average size of an online purchase also increased due to a number of reasons; for instance, women who bought cloth must have to match it with imitation jewellery and shoes.

Another reason for rise in sales was that people spent more time on their mobiles and social media in Ramazan, Mr Sheikh said.

Daraz.pk also enjoyed better Eid-related sales this season as “people were in shopping mood”, Saman Javed, the head of corporate communications and partnerships at the online store, said.

“During our Mobile Week event that we hosted during Ramazan, we received 21 times more orders in one day than a regular day and two million people were on our website,” she said.

Ms Javed believed that convenience was the prime reason why more and more people are shopping online. “They get the best deals at incredible prices with delivery at their doorstep. They have all the reasons to opt for it.”

Fashion items and mobile phones remained the dominant purchases on both the websites. On Kaymu for example, sales of watches and jewellery almost doubled as compared to the usual figures.

However, the kind of desperate discounts the online sellers are offering show that they are ready to go to any lengths to grab the attention of wary consumers, most of whom have never bought anything online before.

For instance, Daraz knocked 90pc off from some products during its sales events while Kaymu was selling some of the items at half price.

The volume of online spending is getting bigger especially through smartphones and tablets. The number of people using third-generation (3G) and 4G services has more than doubled in the past year, ie from 14.6 million in June 2015 to 29.7m at the end of May 2016, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.On a question about the size of Pakistan’s e-commerce industry, Mr Sheikh said experts put it around $60m to $100m. However, Ms Javed thought it prudent not to say anything about a figure no one agrees on. “It’s only speculation out there,” she said.

Some of the other prominent local e-commerce websites include Whatmobile.com.pk, Shophive.com and Homeshopping.pk, all of whom are ranked among the top-200 websites in Pakistan by the web traffic analyzer Alexa.com.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2016

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