Covid sparks e-commerce boom

Market player says despite losses, pandemic provided opportunity for digital trade

Usman Hanif November 21, 2021
E-commerce will increase overall economic activity and lead to financial inclusion, economic empowerment and socio-economic uplift. photo: file


Curbs on physical movement during the strict lockdown under the Covid-19 pandemic have significantly bolstered the growth of e-commerce and online payments in Pakistan.

Despite inflicting severe human, financial and economic losses to countries across the globe, the pandemic, on the other hand, provided an opportunity of growth in some sectors including e-commerce, said foodpanda Pakistan Managing Director and CEO Nauman Sikandar Mirza.

In fact, given the limitations on physical movement during the pandemic, e-commerce proved to be a “saviour” in terms of ensuring that people could still keep going on with their lives, he said.

“We see technology adoption increasing day by day, with customers becoming more tech-savvy and using digital platforms for enhanced convenience and efficient commerce - quick commerce (q-commerce) as it is popularly known,” he said. The use of e-commerce has enabled people to free up their time as instead of doing shopping physically, they could get it done while sitting at home, he said. “All people need is the availability of right channel.”

The Covid-19 pandemic helped fast-track the adoption of e-banking across the globe and Pakistan was no different, said Mobilink Microfinance Bank Limited (MMBL) CEO Ghazanfar Azzam.

The transaction volumes showed a growth of over 30% in the first quarter of 2021 as compared to the same quarter of previous year, he said.

The adoption of digital banking revealed a new trend of consumer behaviour that shifted from trial to repurchase across key categories like fund transfer, bill payment, online purchase, etc, he highlighted.

Customers were expected to keep coming back, as most banking and e-commerce service providers were seen improving their digital channels to offer better experiences.

Quick glance at e-commerce

Earlier being able to order things online was a ‘wow factor’ for many, but “now customers not only want variety and convenience, but demand speedy deliveries as well”, said the CEO of foodpanda.

Customers’ demand for faster deliveries was inevitable given the variety of services being offered by digital businesses these days, he stated. Traditionally, e-commerce deliveries took days, he said, adding that these days the deliveries were being made in just a few minutes through q-commerce.

Explaining about q-commerce, he said that many global online marts had multiple ‘dark stores’ or micro-fulfillment centres, which resembled hypermarkets but were not open for physical shopping.

And when the customer order came in (through an online channel), the dark store employees packed and shipped the items to the customer’s address, which usually took less time, he added.

Thus, e-commerce and even more - q-commerce - has transformed online shopping and taken it to a whole new level of convenience, Mirza said.

“The future outlook for this sector will be faster 24-hour delivery of life-saving drugs or medicinal products,” he added.

An e-commerce staple

“Digitalisation is the future of the banking industry,” the CEO of MMBL remarked. Owing to this, the sector had witnessed an enhanced focus on digitisation for efficient services delivery, he said.

This had also triggered consumer offerings to graduate from basic banking features to personalised offers on banking services through digital channels, he added.

Moreover, enterprise solutions became crucial to serving the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) segments and a rapid enhancement of these was needed to meet banking needs with ease, he said.

Wider adoption of digital channels would also help banks with more data and actionable analytics to provide personalised experiences and products to individual users as well as business customers, Azzam highlighted.

According to the CEO of foodpanda, the competition among e-commerce companies is growing as more firms are focusing on this sector for growth given ample opportunities provided in the digital industry. Foreign and local investors from the corporate sector were also keen on investing in e-commerce companies in Pakistan, “as we are an emerging market with huge potential to grow and flourish”, he highlighted.

With the convenience of location-based shopping, the customers could order just one item or their entire monthly groceries with prompt delivery, Mirza said.

Online payment systems were also focused on banking through digital channels, especially for the low-income segments across the country, revealed MMBL CEO.

“Over the years, we have witnessed many competitors realise the potential of digital banking and are currently seeing competition from both commercial and microfinance banks,” Azzam added.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2021.

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