E-commerce growth: Proving to be a steady breadwinner

Despite being in infancy, the overall size of the segment has come close to $100 million

Farooq Baloch July 22, 2015
Despite being in infancy, the overall size of the segment has come close to $100 million. PHOTO: STOCK IMAGE

KARACHI: Like most housewives, Afreen Imran followed a typical routine - preparing meals for her family, looking after the household work and tending to her one-and-a-half-year old - until she found her online business, Afreen Collection.

A 2011 graduate of Dow University of Health Sciences, Afreen didn’t practise dentistry because she “found it difficult to manage” a day job along with her family. Later on, the 25-year-old woman discovered the entrepreneur within her.

When she started her business two years ago, Afreen was getting up to five orders a day from Kaymu.pk - an online marketplace. She now gets up to 40 orders a day and another 25 for Arsh Clothing, her latest venture.

Afreen now maintains a notable presence on major e-commerce websites selling items, such as jewellery, footwear, cosmetics and women apparel. The growing demand for these articles is keeping her busier than ever.

“It is certainly challenging to manage both family and business at the same time,” Afreen told The Express Tribune, answering a phone call while putting her son to sleep. Not new to such interruptions, she frequently responds to customers’ emails and phone calls while performing her domestic duties.

“I do all the dealings through my smartphone and use my laptop at night for data entry. But, that’s only after my son has slept,” Afreen said, explaining challenges she faces as a housewife cum entrepreneur.

Afreen is one of the many budding entrepreneurs who recently joined the bandwagon of Pakistan’s growing e-commerce industry, which allows people to work from the comfort of their home by using social media and e-commerce websites.

The country’s e-commerce sector is still in its infancy and represents only 5% of the conventional retail. However, the overall size of this fast growing segment has come close to $100 million - up by two-thirds from $60 million as of December, 2014 - according to Shayaan Tahir, Chief Executive Officer of Homeshopping.pk, a major e-commerce player.

Cause of growth?

The population bracket aged between 18 and 34 years is most actively involved in online trade, Kaymu.pk says in a report, which is an in-depth analysis of the country’s e-commerce trends over the last couple of years. The youth remains at the forefront of the technological revolution and are more open towards online shopping, it observes.

The e-commerce industry is profoundly impacted by the rise of social networks and the proliferation of mobile devices at an enormously large scale, the report finds. Add to that fast adoption of mobile broadband, particularly by urban youth, which is boosting e-commerce.

Pakistan’s mobile broadband users have increased from 7.6 million at the end of 2014 to 13 million as of April - the latest month for which data is publicly available. The rise in portable internet penetration also impacted the country’s mobile phone imports, which increased to $654 million in the first eleven months of fiscal year 2015, up 16% compared to $564 million in the same period of FY2014.

Nearly half of the entire traffic on Homeshopping.pk is now coming from mobile phone users, according to Tahir - up from 20% of all traffic at the end of 2014. The number will reach 80% range in a year and surpass PC-driven traffic in coming years, he says of the whole e-commerce sector.

“A lot of this traction is coming from Facebook as multiple pages have been created by entrepreneurs working from home,” Tahir says.

With millions of Pakistanis joining the world’s largest social network every year, the country is now home to 16 million Facebook users. This translates to a 54% penetration rate given its 30 million Internet users, according to Kaymu.pk.

“Almost everyone has a Facebook account and that’s the market I want to target,” said Muhammad Asif of Electro Cards who subscribed to Kaymu.pk four months ago.

Asif, who deals in customised coffee mugs and ID cards printing services, started his Facebook page last year after facing problems at his job. The 37-year-old has now served clients, such as Lucky Cement, ICI, Bank Islami and a local office of American retail giant Walmart from a small printing setup at his home.

While he plans to maintain a strong presence online, it doesn’t come without challenges. To cut his costs, Asif personally delivers all the orders on his three-wheeler, which is customised to meet his special needs - he had suffered from polio.

Asif works part time to supplement his income but remains optimistic about the growth of e-commerce as well as his business growth as is the case with Afreen.

“The business increased so much that I could not manage alone,” Afreen said explaining why she hired two people who now take care of customers’ calls, chat with them, track orders and get feedback.

With her assistants taking the load off her shoulder, Afreen is now focused on development of her business, which “has become a steady source of income” for her.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd,  2015.

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