E-commerce in Pakistan has had a slow start but it is gaining ground due to the growing number of internet users in the country as well as government efforts for digital inclusion.
E-commerce is set to cross 1 billion U.S. dollars by 2020, according to a recently published report by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
It is estimated that the size of Pakistan e-commerce market falls between 60-100 million U.S. dollars and expected to grow up to 1 billion U.S. dollars by 2020, the report revealed, citing current trends as basis for the calculations.
The yearly report of PTA for 2017 also said that on the orders of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the Ministry of Commerce has formulated an "e-commerce policy board" to monitor progress and ensure coordinated cross-institutional efforts for development of e-commerce in Pakistan.
Imran Ali Khan, CEO of Zameen.com, a leading online real estate database that connects realtors, developers, estate agencies with buyers, sellers and renters in Pakistan, told Xinhua that although Pakistan is a latecomer to this sector, e-commerce is rising massively and e-commerce players are mushrooming in the country.
"We need regulations and incentives for the industry from the government. There are lots of opportunities in Pakistan," Khan said, adding that growing incomes, coupled with advancement in communication technology and expansion of internet access and branchless banking, have been pushing the sector forward.
E-commerce is growing in Pakistan as 571 local e-commerce traders are already accepting payments through banking networks as of June 2017, with gross annual domestic sales worth 9.8 billion rupees (about 90 million U.S. dollars), the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said in its quarterly report quoting latest e-commerce data.
Various benefits such as ease of shopping from home, wider selection variety, availability of 24/7 service and interaction possibilities like reviews to make an informed decision were the main sources of attraction to the consumers, said the report from SBP.
Pakistan's explosive online progress has not gone unnoticed. Last year on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Jack Ma, chairperson of the world's largest e-commerce company Alibaba, met with then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to express his interest in investing in Pakistan's e-commerce sector.
Later in May last year, Alibaba and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding to promote the country's exports worldwide by small and medium enterprises through e-commerce.
Nadine Malik, CEO of Jovago, Pakistan's leading online hotel-booking company, opined that the government should take initiatives to support and further bolster e-commerce in Pakistan.
"The industry has phenomenal potential to grow and local investors have shown commendable ability to shape the economy through e-commerce but there is still a long way to go," adding that low literacy rate in the society, power outages and high internet rates are the major obstacles in the way of e-business in the country.
Pakistan is commonly a cash-driven economy as the number of debit or credit card holders is small and mobile-wallet accounts are also very low due to which more than 95 percent of the e-commerce transactions are done by cash on the delivery system, said e-commerce experts in the country.
Customers are still afraid to use online payment as a mode of transaction. They hardly give their credit card information on the internet to buy items, only 3 percent of Pakistani internet users have purchased items online. In this situation, cash on delivery allows a convenient alternate.
Online buying trend in the country is not just limited to day-to-day products, there are also websites for cars, property and travel which shows that the consumers are using internet to process a wide range of economic activities.
Recently, online shopping has been surged on Black Friday, a major shopping day across the globe and now in Pakistan too. In 2015, there were just a few portals to cater consumers online. In 2016 and 2017, Black Friday was much bigger. Revenues along with the number of e-commerce sites who participated by offering extraordinary discounts surpassed all records.
The rising trend of e-commerce has motivated many retail chains to setup online distribution networks as the system is more cost-effective, consumer-friendly and easily manageable compared with a traditional channel.
Pakistan may be lagging behind the rest of the world but the country's e-commerce is on the cusp of stability and prosperity for not only its business owners but also the society at large.