- Retail expos are game changers for Pakistan’s retail sector, and overall economy
By Ghulam Murtaza
The retail sector is thriving in Pakistan. The culturally rich and bustling Lahore city is set to host the second edition of the international summit on 13 December 2022, under the Chain Store Association Pakistan (CAP). Many national and international brands and eminent speakers are scheduled to grace the landmark occasion with their retailing intellect. This event is greatly anticipated to gear up the transformation of the retail sector’s paradigm in Pakistan.
Every business entity endeavours for its share of trade using various trade tools. Showcasing the best products is an age old marketing tool, and business expos are essentially just that with a touch of cultural extravaganza. Such public gatherings showcase their innovations and discuss information about a specific domain or the products and services of a particular segment. As Robert Irwin says, “There’s no way to really mock-up or simulate what I’m doing until I’m there. An exhibition for me is not a statement but an experiment.”
The experiment for the first-ever retail summit, held in Karachi in March 2022, went quite successful. The event recorded an excellent footfall of thousands of trade visitors, whereas a good number of exhibitors displayed their innovations and provided an incredible platform to enhance the networking and size of the business basket. This trend-setting event effused the organisers to expand the spectrum and quantum of the 2022 edition. Being the 5th largest nation of 250 million people and 3% of the world’s total population, is enough to justify the potential for future retail growth in Pakistan. Only 5 % of online users constitute 12 million people, which exceeds 125 countries’ individual populations. The urban population is consistently growing and touching new heights of 37% in Pakistan. The population growth of urban areas is approximately 2% with a matching percentage of in-fluxing, which reflects 4% aggregated generic growth. A slight political and economic stability could open up enormous avenues for international brands in Pakistan.
The retail market is the backbone of the agricultural economy, constituting about 18% of GDP and providing job opportunities to millions of families. Complemented with the IT revolution, the ecosystem is rapidly evolving in Pakistan with the help of centralised Omni channels to regulate inventories. Discounting, a worldwide retail phenomenon, is also working equally well in Pakistan. Despite the economic uncertainties and COVID inertia, it’s still paced up to about US$ 58b. During 2020-2021, it registered about 24% growth. During the last decade, we witnessed the mushrooming of many retail brands in the economic fabric of Pakistan. Currently, eCommerce’s global growth is about 20% in Pakistan, close to India and China’s 21.2%. If we want to benchmark the world, unethical practices, transactional issues, payment methods, and trust deficits are the podiums that should be removed. A money-back guarantee and eCommerce consumer courts can build lifelong loyalty with consumers.
As we all know, money alone doesn’t guarantee business success. Social and cultural capital does! The vertex of the event is a summit attended by the top-notches of the fashion industry, internationally recognized academics, designers, creatives and business people. It will harbour opportunities for face-to-face meetings, marketing, sales, and knowledge about Pakistan’s industry, and consequently close deals worth billions of rupees.
The summit will also correct another general misperception about the industry that Pakistan is not at par with the West in retailing. In fact, the growth potential in Pakistan is exponential due to the low threshold of unsaturation. Lahore is emerging as the fashion hub of the region. The retail sector alone has the potential to pull the country out of economic uncertainties if the Government coordinates the efforts to transform the retail sector in Pakistan. At this point, the government must play its role to strengthen the industry and work towards the eradication of smuggling and tax evasion and formalise the sector for revenue collection. Currently, 86% of the tax burden is only on three cities which is hampering the overall growth of the sector.
With summits as such, other industries such as tourism and crafts also face a domino effect. Retail alone can bring a lot of business to the country and be a soft power that potentially places Pakistan in the global economic map.
Ghulam Murtaza is a freelance writer on economy and business.