KARACHI: This year will be the second time Web merchants in Pakistan will ramp up crazy deals on Black Friday and entice consumers to open their wallets a bit wider.

The foreign concept of going on a shopping splurge following the Thanksgiving holiday came home last year thanks to aggressive advertising and heavy discounts by shopping sites. Leading the pack was Daraz.pk which was visited by 1.5 million people on last year’s Black Friday. That resulted in more than 50,000 orders.

This year’s Black Friday, falling on Nov 25, will be even bigger. “We are expecting six million visits on our website [on this Black Friday],” co-CEO of Daraz Group Jonathan Doerr told Dawn in an exclusive interview. “We will reach around 70m Pakistanis… This means that 70m people will at least see once an advertisement of Daraz’s Black Friday.”

“At the moment we have over 100,000 products on our website and we expect that almost all of them will be discounted,” he said.

Retail sales — both offline and online — are an important barometer of the economy.

Mr Doerr, 34, insisted that events like Black Friday were not aimed at boosting sales on a particular day. “For us, this day is also a part of spreading education about e-commerce,” he said. “Our major goal is to show [the consumers] how amazing e-commerce is.”

Pakistan is by far the biggest market for Daraz, which also operates in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Daraz is owned by the CDC Group, a British government’s development finance institution, and the Asia Pacific Internet Group, a joint venture of German tech company Rocket Internet and Qatar-based telecom group Ooredoo.

One of the biggest reasons driving up online consumer spending in Pakistan is the rising number of people who can now access the Internet from their smartphones. More than 34m Pakistanis now use 3G and 4G Internet services, according to the latest data of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. On Daraz, more than half of traffic is now coming from mobile users.

Other reasons include price transparency, the ease of shopping online and a wide range of products available at one place. “On the Internet you can compare prices very fast. Prices are a very important factor,” Mr Doerr said.

He hoped that Daraz, which has yet to break even, will be a profitable company in two to five years because “we think that e-commerce is a sustainable business model in Pakistan”.

Highlighting the features of a typical Pakistani consumer, he said they are definitely looking after deals and discounts, but they are also interested in buying genuine and good-quality products. “They don’t buy any fake,” he said. Besides, they have high standard regarding their customer experience and want to get their product fast.

‘It’s a gamble’

While most buyers agree that the kinds of discounts online sites offer on special events are unmatched, they complain that they missed out on previous year’s deals as they lasted for only a very short period of time. For instance, all the iPhone 6s handsets, which were available at a discount of 26pc on Daraz.pk, were sold out within the first five minutes.

In general, consumers offer mixed reviews of their online shopping experience. “My experience with Daraz was good. I even exchanged items I did not like and it was done very smoothly,” said Sarah Batool Haider, a regular shopper of online products.

But there’s no dearth of detractors either. “Daraz is expensive. What I have experienced is that it gives higher price and then discounts it, making it equal to the market price. No such benefit,” said another user Farrukh Khalil.

Reviews about other shopping sites were also mixed. Consumers generally complain about deliveries arriving late, receiving faulty or damaged goods and even tampered price tags. A customer put all this in a sentence. “I’ve learned one thing: online shopping is a gamble.”

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2016



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