The internet hosts a vast array of web shops, from single to multi-product sites, from offering specialised services to entertaining scores of different businesses. Then there are varieties of services available for doing business using online solutions. This combination is accelerating new economic activities. Ironically, it is assumed that online shopping is best suited for businesses in developed markets due to better buying power. However, observers are increasingly beginning to note that the phenomenon is far more beneficial for developing economies.
Since the internet developed mass market potential with the invention of a user-friendly browser, it is easy to see its effects on businesses and on the daily lives of common people. On the one hand, the internet is turning businesses upside down and inside out and on the other, it is proving an integrated point of service for ordinary people.
In Pakistan, online shopping that started with sending flowers, cakes and gifts on Valentine’s Day, New Years, birthdays, etc, is now maturing. Many Pakistani online stores (or extensions of existing brick and mortar stores) are offering everything from fruit baskets to books, electronics, security and surveillance equipment. As lives are becoming more fractured and cluttered and traffic on urban roads getting heavier, it is not surprising that Pakistani consumers turn to the unrivalled convenience of the internet when it comes to searching and buying products while sitting home.
Sometimes customers need to get products immediately but retailers take time to deliver. In an era where customers can shop wherever and whenever they want to, retailers need to rethink their idea of what ‘an online store’ is. Online stores could streamline the process and specify the time when customers should expect delivery. Only retailers need to make changes to get used to the ways that customers interact with any brand. Customer demand is the driving force behind most innovations we see in this field. There are examples where local retailers successfully linked online customers to brick and mortar operations by offering in-store pick up within an half an hour of placing the order. This model meets specific needs and customers get the convenience of online shopping with the immediacy of purchase. This strategy can also keep online customers in the stores. In order to shift consumers from shopping malls to virtual malls, businesses need to incorporate targeted marketing techniques stressing their outstanding qualities. Anyone who goes to shopping mall has at least three sources of information: the physical display, the packaging and manuals that come with the product and best of all human beings to explain the features, demonstrate functions and answer questions. Websites need not provide the same hierarchy of sources but they can afford the same quality and completeness of information that is rather easy online.
Other impediments include slow internet penetration and lack of banking support in rural Pakistan, traditionally conservative shopping approach, and the compulsive need to ‘window shop’ and bargain before buying anything. Businesses need to remove these hindrances to lure consumers from shopping malls to computers and cell phones. There’s a lot of noise about how important it is for any business to go online and take advantages. Try to focus on how the internet affects your industry and business may find out how Pakistani consumers are ready to shop online to save time, money and frequent commutes to crowded malls. The world has changed. Shopping habits and shopping patterns have changed. Now, only businesses need to change. The most obvious element is to make sure that the internet proves an integrated point-of-service. Most businesses know what they should be doing, but have not yet got around to it. Knowing that all businesses need a coherent e-business strategy is one thing, getting one is altogether another. And until you decide precisely what your strategy should be, it will not be clear what kind opportunities await.
The writer is Deputy Controller of Examinations at Lahore School of Economics. He blogs at http://logicisvariable.blogspot.com/ and can be reached at [email protected]