Illustration by Creative Unit.
An estimated 15 million smartphone users access the internet on their mobiles in Pakistan (Source: Aansr.io), presenting an alternate sales channel for online retailers (or e-tailers) such as Daraz.pk and Kaymu.pk. The two largest e-tailers on the Pakistani ecommerce scene, Daraz and Kaymu entered the market four and three years ago respectively.
Ever since, says Muneeb Maayr, Co-Founder, Daraz.pk, the industry has “grown at a transcendent rate as people overcome the challenge of buying without first physically trying on or touching the product.”
According to a recently held roundtable on ecommerce in Karachi, this growth works out to $70 to 80 million per annum. The international app culture and the fact that a lot of their online traffic was coming via mobile devices motivated Daraz and Kaymu to launch their mobile apps to enhance the customer’s shopping experience.
The decision to do so appears to have been a good one. Imtiaz Noor, Head of Marketing, Kaymu.pk, says they have seen a 400% growth in sales since January, when the Android app was launched. Daraz.pk, for its part, claims a figure of 1.5 million app downloads in the last 10 months since their app was launched. Added to this, Daraz.pk are encouraging the use of their app by offering discounts on app purchases as well as free shipping; Kaymu.pk has added app-exclusive offers to its attractions.
Shopping through apps has obvious advantages for customers. For example, once an app is installed, it stores data on the mobile and the same actions can be performed with fewer taps, whereas using the website involves launching the browser, typing a web address, signing in and then shopping. Additionally, as most of the data is pre-loaded on the mobile device, apps load faster and require smaller data packets, thus helping customers save on mobile internet charges.
From the e-tailers’ point of view, apps enable them to access customers in their spare time such as during the morning commute or while in a waiting room, as a means of enticing them to make an impulse purchase. Better optimised for the mobile screen, apps allow for a higher quality of product images compared to web pages, which have a tendency to become pixellated. Noor adds that the customer experience on a website differs from one browser to another; whereas, the app offers greater control to the e-tailer in managing the user experience and ensuring a smoother and more standardised experience.
However, as Maayr says, apps also present designers with the challenge of “providing a better visual experience than the website, but on a smaller screen.” To ensure that the experience is at par with customer expectations, brands that sell products through Daraz.pk for example are sent picture quality parameters for the app, which must be followed strictly if they expect their product to be sold via the app. A strong visual experience is important as a huge proportion of the target market does not have a good command over English. In effect, the app aims to provide a catalogue experience with minimum reading and typing. Aiding the visual experience, Kaymu.pk has added a feature that adds to customer convenience – Live Chat. Daraz.pk has a call option within the app and instant queries and order details can be verified through this medium making the shopper’s experience smoother.
Apps also encourage brand engagement and have the additional benefit of being a marketing tool for the company. Even when inactive, apps allow companies to gauge a customer’s location, preferences and behaviour. Companies can then send geo-targeted notifications to inform customers of offers and sales. Maayr believes that in the future this technology will make the delivery address typing procedure obsolete. For example, a customer travelling towards a rain-prone city can be sent notifications regarding a discount on raincoats and umbrellas through the app. “The accessibility of the app results in impulse purchases and this convenience improves brand recall,” says Noor.
In terms of target market, Kaymu.pk identifies it as every customer who values convenience at an affordable price. On the other hand, Daraz.pk, which showcases over 1,000 popular local and international brands, attracts people who are willing to pay a premium for convenience and quality.
One of the key concerns regarding online shopping is security as customers are expected to fill forms giving their address, phone number, and at times credit card information. The extent to which third parties can access and use this data often discourages online transactions. However, apps reduce this risk as the data is stored on the customer’s device and can be accessed by the retailer only, leaving a less prominent digital footprint.
According to Noor, “the operating systems of both Android and iOS allow better security to be built into the app compared to a website.”
Maayr at Daraz.pk believes that security concerns are misplaced as customer data is a valuable asset and keeping it secure is not only in the customer’s but also in the e-tailers’ interest and plays an essential part in maintaining the company’s image.
Another challenge is that once apps have been launched, they have to be maintained through regular updates and improvements. Depending on the structure of the app, updating can be a costly and cumbersome process. For context, although Kaymu.pk launched their Android app in January, they have released three updated versions since. However, given the power of the app in driving sales, this is one investment that e-tailers cannot afford to ignore.
Competing with the hundreds of other apps that are vying for space on any individual mobile user’s phone is also a tremendous challenge and as Noor puts it, “the most prominent technological impediment to app usage is limited storage space on the mobile devices of most of the target population.” Therefore e-tailers need to promote their apps effectively in order to fight for storage space on the customer’s device. Engaging customers through loyalty programmes and personalised offerings is one way of doing this.
However, at the end of the day, it is the customer experience which is the deciding factor and both Noor and Maayr agree on this. Apps load faster than websites, store more data, take up lesser bandwidth, and offer a richer visual experience, resulting in greater customer satisfaction when searching for a product or placing an order. Major players such as Daraz.pk and Kaymu.pk have realised that a good customer experience will make or break a company in this market and so launching an app is not enough – promoting it, maintaining it and widening its scope over time are valuable contributors.
Sadia Azam is a blogger and freelance writer.