Online shopping for Pakistanis isn’t a piece of cake. In fact, it is fraught with hurdles. For instance, PayPal — the accepted method of conducting financial transactions on Ebay.com— is not available in Pakistan.
Pakistani users starving for e-commerce have found themselves creating PayPal accounts overseas, only to find them later to be locked and shutdown for what PayPal terms to be ‘security reasons’. Arif Memon, a Pakistani IT professional who opened a PayPal account on a recent business trip to Singapore lamented, “It took me ages to open that account. All I wanted to do was buy goods on eBay. When I came [back to Karachi], and logged into Paypal, I found the account locked with my money inside gone for good.”
For Pakistani users, the situation is doubly frustrating when they consider that both eBay and PayPal have fully fledged localised versions in neighbouring India, where e-business is booming. Recently, Amazon.com— another website whose ecommerce isn’t completely open to Pakistanis — expressed plans to expand its business further in India. When we contacted PayPal regarding its future plans in Pakistan, all we received was an apologetic email telling us not to expect a timeline.
Thankfully, a variety of Pakistani online shopping alternatives have popped up across the internet, created by local entrepreneurs who understand the old saying: necessity is the mother of invention. For those looking to buy items listed on eBay or Amazon.com, the most exciting one is youpickwebuy.com, which aside from the two websites mentioned above, also allows Pakistani users to buy products from Newegg.com, the American online computer hardware retailer. Personally, having used youpickwebuy.com twice to top up my ridiculously large transformers toy collection, I have found the service relatively smooth.
Some Pakistani users have found themselves turning to alternatives like New York-based online market place OLX which has a fully localised website for Pakistanis in olx.com.pk. Offering free listing and with no limitations on payment methods, the website offers every product and service imaginable, ranging from household items to electronics and even matrimonial services. Dr. Azam, a bird lover, and a self-professed technophobe spends hours buying and selling feathered creatures on the website, which he finds easy to use, “I enjoy online bird shopping immensely on OLX. I have added some cute parrots to my collection, and have met other such hobbyists through the website.”
Another website, which is amongst the most popular ones, is online Pakistani motor vehicles shopping website, pakwheels.com. Not only does the website offer used car sales from all corners of Pakistan, but it features some very active message boards, where Pakistani car owners discuss all sorts of issues related to their vehicles.
For book lovers, Kitabain.com acts as the perfect marketplace for users looking to trade in books both used and new. Featuring countless books, ranging from graphic novels, to classics, to literature, the website has developed a huge and diehard fan base. Rakshanda Khan, a former producer at CNBC and a bit of a book nut, swears by the website, “I have found obscure, hard to locate books that i was amazed to have access to from a local source. Their prices are extremely reasonable and delivery is prompt. I recommend them to all my book loving friends.”
Moreover, it is impossible to talk about ecommerce in Pakistan without mentioning our very own computer hardware retailer Galaxy Computers. The website of the hardware business, galaxy.com.pk, offers extremely fast shipping to most corners of the country.
Jamal Khurshid, a graphics designer and comic book artist, who has a passion for video gaming, finds Galaxy.com.pk to be a relief to his hectic work schedule, “I don’t have the time to visit their [Galaxy Computers] shop in Saddar [Karachi]. Often, if I need to buy a new pair of headphones, or a new mouse, or a new keyboard, I just use them to deliver to my office. It [the process] is so simple!”
Not surprisingly, online shopping in Pakistan isn’t limited to just regular products. Karachisnob.com, a very popular portal for local restaurants and services in Karachi, can be used to find websites that deliver items like flowers, water and even fresh milk!
But while websites that allow businesses to sell to customers locally are expanding in Pakistan, there is still a shortage of websites that allow Pakistanis to earn foreign currency by selling to international buyers. Such websites cannot exist, unless international ecommerce websites like PayPal expand to Pakistan. And there is only so much entrepreneurs from Pakistan can do, until the government of Pakistan steps in and offers assurances against fraud to giants of e-commerce.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2012.