In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving (Friday), officially starts the Christmas Holiday shopping season. Thanksgiving is celebrated in the US on the Fourth Thursday in November. Why is Thanksgiving important to us? Iâ€™ll get to that in a minute. In Pakistan, the 1st day of Ramadan unofficially starts the holiday shopping season. With Eid just about 30 days or so away, retailers go about decorating streets and their shops with illumination in the hopes of having a bumper year as far as sales are concerned. Shopping is part of us â€“ regardless of your cultural background or heritage. Shopping is globally understood. Holiday shopping is something that many thousands of businesses look forward to every year â€“ so they can make more money.
The market size of Pakistani shops that are online â€“ is perhaps so insignificant â€“ its not even worth mentioning. Alternatively, in the US, the number of shops online offering you the ease and comfort of shopping whilst still in your pajamas is growing every year. Shoppers are finding it more convenient to shop online â€“ all in the comfort of their home as opposed to walking miles in malls and getting pushed around in pre-holiday shopping season, getting stuck in traffic, long queues, etc. Unless youâ€™ve been sleeping with Rip Van Winkle, online shopping is becoming mainstream.
eBay is a classic example of a website that starts to see dramatic increase in traffic (and revenues) just before the holiday season starts. Thousands of eBay merchants start outlining their wares online for shoppers to browse through and hopefully buy. What is important to note, the US shopping season is a global season. Thousands of retailers, suppliers, manufacturers, traders, agents, are all working towards fulfilling the demands of the time-hungry US shopper. Asia-Pacific manufacturers work extra hard to ship their goods out to the US â€“ just in time for the shopping season. Likewise, many other countries do the same. Iâ€™m sure Pakistan too has some contribution to this. The importance of having an online presence to do business cannot be overstated. Yet, despite all the odds, Pakistani businesses are reluctant to go online. Ten years since the introduction of Internet in Pakistan, the number of online stores are handful. Eid is a major festive season in Pakistan. One that is progressively shifting in calendar dates. Why Pakistani businesses donâ€™t entice shoppers online is a mystery to me. I am not very convinced that any action by State Bank or by the local banks are going to act as major catalysts for Pakistani retails who are offline and wish to go online. This is simply not going to happen anytime soon. Perhaps there are some catalysts (so to speak) that can churn the wheel of online business a little faster. I can cite various obvious catalysts, but in all sincerity â€“ it would be a wish list.
Okay â€“ perhaps there is only ONE catalyst: TCS! The incumbent courier company can offer merchants who want to go online and sell their goods, a â€œone-windowâ€ operation. Offering back-end inventory management, COD (cash-on-delivery), call-center for order verification, packaging, shipment tracking & integration tools, etc. All this TCS can do, for a percentage fees or slab-fees. If TCS can take care of cash-handling for customers, big or small (emphasis on small businesses), nothing like it. TCS has the capability and could very well become the major force in tilting the scales so that off-line merchants become online merchants. So imagine if someone in Multan were to sell specialized hand-crafted bangles â€“ they can do so. TCS â€“ could become the back-end operator for all. Just like UPS is. Very few folks know that UPS major business is handling operations just like I have mentioned for the major online stores, like Nike and Toshiba and others. The UPS men (and women) in brown take care of it all. Since TCS has a very extensive network and more importantly they are also avid users of technology, they can easily integrate this model into their business. If we are going to wait for Paypal, eBay and others to come to Pakistan â€“ it will be a long wait. Banks in Pakistan certainly can muster up all of this â€“ but in a world of physical goods and where consumers are hesitant to use credit cards online (and even most consumers donâ€™t have credit cards), a company like TCS is like a hand-in-glove fit. Supply-chain management is the key. If a company can not only pick up your goods but deliver them, track them for you, pick up your payment, and manage the back-office operations for you, whilst you concentrate on your front-end, I can guarantee that you will see a sharp rise in online companies.
TCS can also enable companies to come online. They can help prepare companies that would like to sell â€“ go through a small training program as to what is required of them â€“ the prerequisites so to speak of becoming an online business, of course TCS can charge for such seminars. They can aid the newcomers in setting up of websites, integration, of technology and off-line practices, etc. Just imagine the possibilities. Not only can you sell your product to every person online in Pakistan, but everyone who has cash to pay for it â€“ can buy it. No longer is your market restricted to those with credit cards. If a person in Karachi wants to buy a cricket bat from Sialkot â€“ delivered to their residence in Karachi â€“ it can be done â€“ whilst the men and women of TCS will take care of it all. Order verification, pick-up, packing, tracking, delivery, payment and processing the payment back to the merchant. Everyone that I have run across to â€“ wants to go online. However, the cost of going online is prohibitively expensive. Computer accessories and parts, and computers themselves are a huge market. Only issue is of trust. No one wants to use their credit card for an online merchant (if any) in Islamabad to buy a laptop to be delivered to Karachi. Its just not going to happen anytime soon. However, with a type of system, like I have proposed, I see no reason why this cannot be the case. Itâ€™s a Triple-Win situation for all. The merchant wins by being able to tap their products to consumers all over Pakistan. TCS wins by getting more business. The customer wins by getting a trusted name to deliver and without compromising any of their financial information in terms of credit card numbers, etc. Despite their presence, banks in Pakistan have done little to encourage growth in this sector. I mean, lets face the harsh reality, VERY few banks offer bank statements via email, and those who do, offer it in a non-secure manner. Not a single bank offers any online merchant services other than Citibank â€“ where the prerequisites of becoming an online merchant are tall and not to mention the cost of doing business, expensive. Small store owners, etc. are all discouraged. The barrier to entry is simply defined above a certain Rupee threshold. Citibank is simply not serious in this market segment. Nor are others. MCB has had a Mastercard node for years in Pakistan, yet they have done nothing to enable businesses to get online. Same can be said of Union Bank and Standard Chartered Bank. In the simplest of words â€“ the bank donâ€™t care (or shall I dare say â€“ donâ€™t know how to go about it â€“ are clueless). With record deposits, car-loans, and credit cards, balance transfer facilities, home loans and corporate businesses using banks, banks in Pakistan see little to invest in this segment. A segment which I believe holds enormous potential. It would be interesting to see how the events folds out in the coming months. Pakistan needs a different e-commerce model. Our own. Surely, someone must be thinking what I am thinking: its about time!