Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

A digitally connected Pakistan

Published in Nov-Dec 2015

Technology is now affecting ordinary people, giving them a chance to test their entrepreneurial skills.

Technology has always changed lives and history is rife with examples of this; from farming to manufacturing and personal care to transportation to name a few industries. Today, similar changes are taking place due to the digitisation of business across many platforms, which while causing layoffs, also create numerous opportunities for those who come planned and prepared.

In terms of economic benefits, digitisation, easy access to the internet and smart devices have created substantial opportunities for ordinary people. While developed countries have adopted technology at their own pace, emerging markets are adapting much faster. User acquisition rates for new methods of doing business are high once the initial comfort challenges are addressed.

In the last couple of years, Pakistan has grown by leaps and bounds when it comes to ecommerce and digital services and even more so in 2015; the real impact, however, has started to hit the lower end of the economic pyramid. This is a revolution in the making, one where we will see swathes of people inside the technology adoption sphere, even if at the fringes, but they are there.

To spur this on, every country needs an economically and technically conducive environment and in the case of Pakistan, this came in the form of cheap and easy access to 3G and 4G services, coupled with the availability of low cost smartphones; the rest came from people’s minds and talent.

Although changes in Pakistan began to appear in the acceptance of online-led services since the late 2000s, with banks, a handful of ecommerce stores and a few online government services, the real push came after 2011 when a number of companies decided to launch their own ecommerce platforms.

Early ecommerce brands in Pakistan included,, TCS Connect and They were soon followed by fashion design brands such as Labels e-store coming into the fold and targeting the higher end of the market (ecommerce had yet to target the middle and lower income groups).

From 2013 onwards, things have been nothing short of phenomenal. Discussion about ecommerce picked up and banks and telecom operators tailored services such as EasyPaisa and UBL Omni to meet the needs of online entrepreneurs. This was especially important for ecommerce stores (examples include Gul Ahmed, Khaadi, Nishat), as it gave them the ability to expand their outreach and receive payments through Easypaisa and Omni. This was essential in the absence of a functioning credit card payment system (which continues to be a problem).

However, it was ecommerce platforms like Azamalo, TCS Connect, Daraz and Kaymu (which allow several different brands to list their products on the platform) that created the real impact by enabling smaller businesses and individuals to sell their products without any capital investment.

The digitally connected and enabled audience is growing, and it will continue to grow. It is now up to us to educate this audience and create the best possible customer experience. Those able to provide the best experience will end up winning. The market decides.

In return for a commission, these ecommerce platforms provide the reach and logistics and the sellers are only responsible for pricing and stock keeping. One such online marketplace has over 12,000 sellers and claims over 220,000 items as active listings. That is fairly huge from a local standpoint. What scale of this size means is that the ability to meet demand from a broad consumer base becomes easier, although the real impact goes beyond that and comes from being able to empower people to sell on their own online – and be in charge of their own destiny.

One such story is from Farhan Qureshi from Karachi, who discovered an opportunity to sell cosmetics while delivering packages as a rider for a courier company. Along with his day job, he chose to become a seller and now employs three people who do deliveries for him.

Women have challenged the traditionally enforced role of being the housewife and have taken the entrepreneurial route. For example, Shumaila Naz from Anabiya’s Fashion works via Facebook and a few marketplaces. Every night, after putting her children to sleep, she goes onto the ecommerce platforms to upload new listings and respond to customer queries.

Many of these small businesses start with buying and selling groups on Facebook, and while some use Facebook as a means of opening another sales channels for an existing, physical business, others use

it purely to launch a new business – the proliferation of bakers on Facebook is a prime example of this.

Another related industry that has grown with small digital retail businesses is logistics, as in order to sell they need a mechanism that will ensure delivery and payment collection. A few courier companies tried to facilitate the process but it proved complicated due to the costs involved and long payment cycles. Also, they wouldn’t deliver perishables like cake.

Umer Sohail from PIB Colony, Karachi was an individual who saw an opportunity in helping small businesses with logistics. He had a motorbike, was out of a job and willing to experiment. It worked. He is one of the many individuals who freelance with Facebook stores and small online stores, performing various tasks, including delivering products and collecting cash. Say hello to the micro logistics industry.

Over the past two to three years, micro-logistics has evolved, taking a more formal shape with companies like Delivery Chacha, Forrun and Stallion making in-roads and working with restaurants to manage deliveries more efficiently.

Another category that has been massively transformed by the digitisation of business is food. Similar to ecommerce platforms, websites like Foodpanda and Eatoye offer small sized, home based food businesses as well as large restaurants a simple way to get their offerings to a larger audience, thereby enabling them to supplement standard burgers and pizzas, with orders for homemade cheese, healthy, calorie-controlled foods and much more. This also allows the sellers – whether restaurants or individuals – to focus on the core product, the food, while leaving the logistical hassles to someone else.

While food services and online retail have become significant users of micro-logistics services, there is a lot of room for growth. If people can book pickups and deliveries online, why can’t they book transport online? Along comes Bookme and Travly, two super interesting services. Travly is an Uber/Grabtaxi of sorts, except, it books rickshaws, the primary mode of transport for many people in Pakistan. With news that Uber is likely to come to Pakistan, this will be another area to watch out for in the near future.

The digitally connected and enabled audience is growing, and it will continue to grow. It is now up to us to educate this audience and create the best possible customer experience. Those able to provide the best experience will end up winning. The market decides.

Imtiaz Noor is Head of Marketing – Asia,