THERE were times when one would go to the local market and spend hours selecting whatever one wanted to buy – clothes, shoes, bags et al. For grocery one would visit certain particular shops often in retail markets to get good bargains; for instance, for Karachities, Empress Market was the go-to place. Even before this, grannies talk about times when women, especially of high social strata, would not go to the bazaar, and the merchants would send their wares, even jewellery in some case, for ladies to select from within the confines and comforts of their homes. But then those were days when needs were few and new clothes were not bought at the pace it is done now.

With time, markets gave way to malls and superstores as people found it convenient as they would get everything under one roof and that too in clean air-conditioned environment. But now, even the trend of going to the market/malls seems to be changing, with online shopping gaining popularity. People prefer to buy online, sitting, again, in the comfort of their homes. It is not just clothes and bags; one can buy jewellery, cosmetics, and even grocery, not just non-perishable items but also fruits and vegetables. And this is all besides the food delivery services. How convenient: guests are coming, no need to rush to the grocery shop; too hot to venture outside, call or WhatsApp your list and the grocery will be delivered to your house. Online service of all branded clothes has become a norm, and then there are online services where you can also get household items and electronic items.

“Online shopping has its own charm,” says Yasmeen, who works at a private bank and has strict timings. “When I reach home after a day’s work I have no stamina to go shopping. Plus there are household chores to attend to. Since most brands have the facility to shop online I usually buy my clothes here. Then there are entrepreneurs who only have online presence but have good stuff.” She has also bought cosmetics and household stuff online and sounds quite satisfied. “The one thing I have never tried is shoes and sandals,” she says. “I can’t buy shoes as the comfort level can only be judged when one tries and takes a step or two. That can only be done at a shop.”

For 25-year-old Sania, who works for a private firm, it all started from buying books. Since she loves to read and reads a lot, she would constantly be buying books. “Browsing shelves upon shelves in a bookstore needs time, and time is always short for working women,” she says. “So I started checking relevant websites to see which new books were coming, and then would go and buy them from the store. It saved time. Once, just to try I ordered online and it seemed so convenient, especially with ‘cash on delivery’ option as I am sceptical about using my credit card online. One has heard so many scams that one has to be careful.”

Though there are chances of one not getting what one ordered, online retail is a trend that is here to stay in the long run for it is essentially an outdoor activity that is now done inhouse over a steaming cup of coffee.

She concedes that after success with books, she has started ordering clothes and artificial jewellery, too. “Though I do not yet have any bad experience, I have heard that there is a difference in the clothes’ colours/shades from what is shown in the picture or the embroidery is not that fine,” she says.

Marsha, student at a private university, is into clothing and cosmetics and often orders online. “Back in the days when I started to order online I wasn’t aware about fake products, but gradually I learnt that some Facebook retailers often deal in fake products or what we call ‘copy’ without declaring it to be so,” she says. “I initially did not have a wonderful experience with any of my orders, and a lot of exclusive things on the websites were pricey. I mostly purchase cosmetics from certain Facebook pages that vary in the sense that one takes online orders whereas some have a website as well as a shop in one of the malls.”

Marsha prefers cash-on-delivery payment as then she is spared the task of using her credit card online. She says, “The retailers I use also have policies where in case the product has been damaged in shipping or it is not what was ordered they vow to send the product again. After getting enough knowledge regarding online orders, I have never been disappointed in my purchases from cosmetics to clothing.”

Marsha may not have had any bad experience and may be feeling confident that the places she orders from have a replacement policy, people warn that all retailers do not have such a policy and once you receive your parcel, you cannot return or exchange it. Some retailers even do not provide a return address and deliver through courier services that are just dispatchers and take no responsibility. In fact, you can’t hold them, the couriers, responsible as they deliver what they receive in the form of package.

There are some retailers who openly declare that they sell copies, and claim their copies are as good as original and seem to be doing good business as everyone cannot afford to buy a lawn suit for Rs5,000. But Mona, a mother of three who works at a private firm, was disappointed when she ordered a couple of ‘copy’ suits in summer. “After a single wash, the material got quite rough, especially the chiffon dupatta became quite flimsy,” she says. “I never buy copies, but this time took the chance as someone had highly recommended the seller.”

It seems such things happen, especially when one purchases from new entrepreneurs who are probably not serious or not bothered about their reputation, and are there for quick bucks. Most people who shop online prefer established retailers/brands. In a society where scams are so rampant, it seems to be the best bet, especially for novices.

Fouzia, who works for a media house, is not a regular when it comes to online shopping. But she seems to have made it a point to make her purchases from known sites or Facebook pages. “The few times that I shopped online, it has been through established platforms,” she says. “I have also bought makeup from the website of a local makeup manufacturing company and a couple of websites selling women’s clothes.”

She finds it to be a convenient way for shopping items that one can order in one’s leisure time in the privacy and comfort of one’s home or during break at work. “The items arrive on time that the page or website promises and with some, there is also the option for returning the stuff. Indeed, in today’s hectic lives where sometimes it is difficult to take a trip to the mall, online shopping provides a huge variety that is just a click away. Buying from pages is even easier than websites — you place an order, they call or message to confirm, and in two to three days, your item is with you.

With most retailers you can just go on their website or page to place an order while some provide the facility of ordering through WhatsApp as well. This has made shopping very convenient. However, some major retailers have their special apps which you can easily download.

The trend for online shopping is gaining momentum, as some clothing brands start pre-launch booking, especially in the lawn season. Customers who are on the lookout go through their catalogues available online and book their designs in their quest to be seen in the latest designs.

Huma, who hesitates from buying clothes online, recalls that she once went to the market to buy something from a particular brand which had just a week earlier had launched its collection, and she was shocked to hear that all the best designed were already sold out. Whether it was due to online promotion or just her luck, she is not sure but agrees that online availability does have an effect.

Many online retailers offer sales from time to time — sometimes just a daylong sale or a week on special occasions. This is perhaps due to competition or to increase attraction. People who regularly shop online wait for these sales as they know they would get good bargains without the hassle of going to the market and haggle with shopkeepers for discount, or having to battle the crowds that are seen at outlets of known brands when they go on sale.

Like all things, online shopping — whether for clothes, bags or grocery — has its pluses and minuses, but it all depends on the person and varies from individual to individual. As they say: to each his own.



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