Iâ€™ve been reading a lot about how one company or another in Pakistan is going to be bringing e-commerce â€“ specially internet payments or even mobile payments. How we will be able to have our own eBays-look-a-like and our own Amazons and god knows what else.
Various efforts have been done, but then seriously think about it â€“ are you using it? On the top of my head if there are any Pakistani websites where I have used my credit card â€“ it is undoubtedly www.libertybooks.com and www.airblue.com â€“ I have not used my credit card anywhere else on a Pakistani website.
If one were to take the days of Digicom (now long gone) when it started its ISP operations in Pakistan as a benchmark date as to when the web was born (1995) here in the sub-continent, then 13 years later â€“ we have to gauge ourselves from a consumer / commercial point-of-view – where are we standing? Pretty much in the same placeâ€¦ nowhere!
As much as we think about the ingenious ideas about payments, the mass appeal has still not kicked in. Is it our timings? I highly doubt that (read my article on TCS Listen Up!).
Are the payment solutions themselves immature (my opinion is hardly).
Are the banks to blame which can push the much needed traffic towards e/m commerce? ( a definitive yes!)â€¦ but there is something else that is missing. Government? (who care would be my answer).
There is surely something that is stopping us from using digital money. Wouldnâ€™t you agree?
Let me digress for a few minutesâ€¦ consider the followingâ€¦ An analogy is voice-mail.
Used everywhere in the world, but not in Pakistan, India, UAE, Bangladesh, and most of the Asia-Pacific countries. Voice-mail is used very heavily in Europe and Americas, but why not here? To be honest, I donâ€™t have an answer to this question, but it does beg to ask another â€“ is what is impeding our growth have something to do with culture / people rather than technology? I for one say â€“ maybe yes, this could be anomaly in the whole equation of electronic/mobile commerce in Pakistan.
Craigslist is now also in Pakistan (Mr. Craig even left a comment on the blog). So why arenâ€™t we a nation that is plugged into online classifieds? Why is it that WorldCall forums are selling stuff â€“ but only limited to those who are on those Go4B.net forums. Even if we had the payment methods â€“ we are still shy about using them.
I feel trust is an issue. I know I can trust Air Blue and Liberty Books (well I really donâ€™t trust Liberty Books, but then what the heck, every now and then you gotta take risks). But UBLâ€™s Orion â€“ I wonder and ask myself why I havenâ€™t bothered signing up on Orion? Why isnâ€™t everyone else using Orion? Lootmar which is an up and coming start-up hoping to make it big into the auction space in Pakistan â€“ has a long way to go, but itâ€™s a start â€“ but then again, why arenâ€™t we all using it? (Iâ€™m sure Lootmaar would have a long list, but thatâ€™s not the point). The point being â€“ we have everything, but stimulus (for lack of a better word) is stopping us.
On Orkut and Facebook, Pakistanis are clicking away-a-plenty. Same goes for Blogs. We novices have even mastered the art of cut-and-pasting Google AdSense campaign code into our blogs but yet, when it comes to buying online, we are very shy.
My definitive arguments and conclusions are at the end of this post, but very quickly I too want to pitch in an idea.
Almost everyone has a mobile phone and a bank account. So here is the gist of my proposition:
â€¢ Go to the bank â€“ get your mobile phone registered to your bank account
â€¢ So I go to this website and I like this USB stick. Its for Rs. 2,000, I place it in my cart and proceed to checkout
â€¢ The website owner is also registered with the bank and had a mobile account associated with its bank account
â€¢ So upon check out the website gives me a total: Rs. 2,000 and its merchant number and transaction number
â€¢ I from my mobile send an SMS to my bank â€“ entering the transaction number and the amount
â€¢ My bank checks my account balance and since Iâ€™ve linked my mobile to make transactions on my account it (the bank) will provide me be back with a 10 digit code via SMS (valid for 30 minutes)
â€¢ This code will ONLY make payment to the defined Merchant Account that I had sent and for Rs. 2,000 only
â€¢ This code will not make sense or be of any use to anyone should my mobile get stolen
â€¢ You are probably going to ask if a PIN is used and if so, when a mobile is stolen wouldnâ€™t the PIN be in there â€“ the answer is no PIN is used and if your mobile is stolen I am pretty sure you will be letting your cellphone company know of this, which in turn will stop it from transmitting any SMSs to your bank account for any transactions.
â€¢ I place the code on the website and hit â€˜Submitâ€™ and the website will verify the transaction â€“ and complete
â€¢ In either case of data-snooping, cellphone theft, etc. No information is compromised.
Whilst it may seem mundane and boring, but the simplicity element and security are paramount in this setup. The merchant will never know my mobile number (rather does not need to know), its unique one SIM to a Bank account â€“ but it does require a clearing house at the bankâ€™s end (interfacing).
Before you shred this idea to million piecesâ€¦ let me assure you, its not the idea that I want to emphasize here. Like I cited, ideas that can work are many. Itâ€™s the adaptability that is missing.
We are â€˜carry-thy-wallet-to-the-merchantâ€™ nation. We physically want to be present. We are a Cash-on-Delivery based economy. For larger ticket items â€“ we believe in going to the store ourselves. Our ground and overnight shipment can still be improved but companies like DHL, Fedex, TCS are still not up to the mark. I mean for crying out loud, if I need bubblewrap â€“ TCS cannot deliver it to me (to be fair, neither can the others). Packaging material like (airbags of space utilization, Styrofoam peanuts and bubblewrap) are all absent.
Tracking options are slowly being improved upon. There has not been a concerted effort by the banks to push electronic or mobile commerce in Pakistan. This is a fact. There is an old-school management in place who still donâ€™t dwell very well upon such ideas. The new breed might (and we would have to wait 2-5 years for them to take over) who would probably then instill such ideas into a bankâ€™s business plan.
The government has been a silent spectator of sorts. Promised were the days of automated systems and this and that, well frankly I havenâ€™t seen it. For a country that still uses Hotmail and Yahoo! as official addresses â€“ I donâ€™t pin much hope siding with them.
What we can do and the picture is not so bleak, is promotion! Itâ€™s the only tool we have left out for the masses. If we all promote such businesses like Lootmaar and other Pakistani merchants who are trying to sell online (Beliscity www.beliscity.com and Makarts www.makarts.com) we can make a difference.
The Start-up Initiatives taken by P@SHA â€“ are also a great place to take relatively new start-ups and give them support â€“ give them hope. Incentive based programs can be drawn by these merchants to bring traffic towards them. They can promote themselves with bloggers and need to have viral and word-of-mouth advertising maximized. They need to quickly go from Version 1.0 to Version 2.0 and so on and so forth. But not at the expense of quality, security and breaking-what-was-working-already!
Side-lookers like banks, mobile companies, ground shipping and handling companies, credit card companies, ATM owners, consumer marketing companies, merchants-in-waiting, all are looking at us, so you can chin-up and rather than just moving on to the next blog read, perhaps you too can contribute towards the local start-ups who are trying to make a difference. After all, we only have ourselves to blame.