E-commerce in Pakistan


Amjad Ali

WITH the advancement of technology and availability of the fastest internet connections at our disposal, the entire world is virtually at our finger tips. Due to these innovations, the concept of globalisation emerged and the world is getting more and more integrated with every passing day, we are now the citizens of global village. This integration process with the help of these technological tools gave rise to the e-commerce, a virtual space where buyers and sellers exchange goods and services. On the one hand, this market is booming in different countries, on the other, it has not yet realised its full potential in Pakistan. In advanced countries, e-commerce has almost replaced the traditional markets by offering online goods and services. For instance, Alibaba, Amazon, etc are connecting buyers and sellers by providing them space at their platforms, which has also facilitated the consumers to seek the products of their choice at the most competitive rates and even without physically visiting the markets. More often than not, the consumers have to struggle to find the products of their choice keeping in view the variety, price and quality. They run up to many shops and markets in search and procurement of that article. Thus, e-commerce has facilitated to acquire that product with one click on our computer screens or phone calls as e-commerce and tele-business are interlinked. Not to speak of saving-time, after all, “time is like money or even more precious than that”.
This writer also has a satisfactory experience with the mushrooming e-commerce industry. Lately, I purchased a tablet from Saudi Arabia which had not been launched in Pakistan by then. For the safety of tablet, I embarked on a journey to search for the foldable protective cover. After searching a few famous markets, I abandoned asking for the tablet cover shop after the stop from the bustling streets of Karachi, as it was a very exhaustive exercise. Convinced that my issue can be remedied by the online search, I came across famous Alibaba which offered unique options. Though hesitant as it was my first experience with the online purchase, I ordered and surprisingly received the product of the standard quality. Thereafter, I am convinced no one can stop the thriving e-commerce juggernaut. In addition, recently a friend of mine took me to visit young entrepreneur Mr. Javed’s Urban Tailor House, which offers home pick up and delivery tailor services. During the visit, my friend questioned Mr. Javed, how did he get this idea? He responded that he got inspiration from the e-commerce giants such as Alibaba, Amazon, Daraz, etc as they are also offering similar services choose-order-delivery of the product. Similarly, his start-up Urban Tailor House is following their footsteps by picking up the unstitched clothes, after getting them stitched from his dynamic team as per the wishes of the customer such as designing, are delivered back to the customers within the stipulated time at reasonable service charges. I was surprised to see that the young entrepreneur is offering innovative idea that we may get our clothes stitched with one click or call. This has reposed my confidence in the positive usage of technology. While visiting the site, I came across the shopping bags and the owner apprised that these shopping bags are in compliance to the environmental standards and they are bio-degradable bags. We appreciated his vision and care for the environment and his unique idea of home-pick and delivery of tailor-services.
Though there is a vast scope of e-commerce in Pakistan, it remains an untapped resource. According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), there are 162 million mobile and 71 million 3G/4G subscribers in Pakistan. Despite these staggering figures, e-commerce remains an unexploited market. There are many reasons for this underutilisation such as lack of awareness amongst the masses, trust-deficit between the customers and owners of e-commerce brands, government’s disregard to promote it, etc. Notwithstanding these issues, it is incumbent on the government to promote and encourage entrepreneurs like Mr. Javed for many reasons. Firstly, it helps in facilitating the people to get their desired goods or services at their home without much trouble. Secondly, with the help of e-purchases, people may find the products at the competitive prices. Thirdly, it can also be the source of employment generation as scores of people can be adjusted in this field. Fourthly, exportable products can fetch the dollars for the cash-starved national kitty. Lastly, it boosts economic activity which is badly needed in the country. It is high time that the government promotes e-commerce for the benefit of the citizens, entrepreneurs and boosting the crippling economy. The government should make necessary efforts for ensuring that the buyers are provided with the best quality of goods and services. For this purpose, legislation can be introduced that in case a customer finds quality of the product as substandard then the seller be made liable to refund the principal accrued amount. Bridging the trust between the buyers and sellers would be another such step in the right direction. Above all, it is state’s responsibility to provide the opportunities to the citizen’s for tapping the emerging e-commerce market and utilise it to the optimum level in the globalised world.
—The writer is a development sector practitioner, based in Karachi.

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