An Insight into Pakistan’s e-Tail Sector Institute of Business Management Karachi, Pakistan By

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An Insight into Pakistan’s e-Tail Sector
Institute of Business Management
Karachi, Pakistan

Amin S. Lalani

November 2012


Ejaz Wasay
Survey Assistance

Hira Saeed

e-Tailing (Online Retail – B2C in particular) offers tremendous opportunities for B2C (business-to-consumer) ecommerce or direct selling to grow and flourish in the local and international markets. It is especially proving helpful for startups eager to establish market presence despite limited resources, within the shortest time period. Similarly, it helps brick-and-mortar businesses become brick-and-click stores, and facilitates their engagement with customers online, resulting in wider customer reach. e-Tailing also helps businesses become more productive, organized and customer oriented, whilst enhancing the capacity of customers to look for their desired products in the comfort of their home or workplace, and at the same time strike great bargains in the shape of discounted prices.

This paper evaluates Pakistan’s state of readiness for supporting a bustling e-tail sector, in comparison with similar economies as well as identifies key factors that curtail growth of e-tailing in Pakistan.

The finding reveals that although Pakistan has adequate ICT infrastructure, internet user population, GDP and market size; key components like e-tail ecosystem, cognitive approach towards online buying, lack of institutional initiative towards e-tailing and e-entrepreneurship has curtail the required e-tail growth rate.

Keywords: e-commerce, e-tailing, micro economics, digital economy, ICT for Retail, Online Retail.

Pakistan’s Retail and Wholesale sectors account for 17.2% of GDP (SBP, 2011, p.34) which is equivalent to US$37.15 billion. The domestic market is ranked 31 in the world (WEF, 2009 p.21) in terms of size and at a fairly low 3.55 out of 10 rating with respect to the Digital Economy Rating (DER) according to EIU. All these indicators suggest that although, Pakistan has tremendous potential for e-tailing as well as the opportunity to capture online business around the world, very few transactions are currently settled through the internet.
e-Tailing has become a rapidly growing phenomenon for trade and commerce in the world. As the internet gets ubiquitous more and more retailers setup their stores online. Venturing an online store is more easy, affordable and manageable as compare to brick and mortar store, where large sales force is hired to generate conversion. Recognizing this, many e-commerce firms exploit the notion of "infinite shelf space," explicitly touting selection as the most important value proposition vis-a-vis their traditional offline counterparts. (Smith, Bailey, and Bryn-jolfsson 2000).According to a recent census, 5.1% of total retail sales in the US were achieved online (USCB, 2012). UK estimates 13.2% of entire retail sales (Centre for Retail Research). In China, one of the fastest growing economies, online sales accounted for 4.3% of total retail sales. If only 1% of all retail transactions in Pakistan were settled online it can generate $371.5 million in terms of top line or e-tail revenue, which could be a good starting point in the development of the e-tail sector.
Nearly 9% of Pakistan’s population has access to the internet (WB, 2010). With GDP of US$216 billion and Per Capita income of US$1120 (WB, 2011), Pakistan qualifies as one of the fastest growing economies in South Asia. Pakistan also has a rapidly growing number of mobile users, currently estimated at 120 million (PTA, 2012) who will potentially access the internet through their mobile devices. Smart phone users have the potential to become consumers for online products and services. Developments in telecommunications, the global diffusion of the internet, and emergence of e-commerce have helped in the creation of an environment that fosters the globalization of markets throughout the world (OECD, 1997).
e-Tailing like any other business strategy runs within an ecosystem. The ecosystem consists of core components, such as consistent connectivity, secure and affordable payment gateway, logistics services, online tax collection mechanism and privacy protection. Any single component can become a barrier for growth of e-tailing in an economy. Weak formal institutions are also responsible for lower consumer trust in e-commerce and their preference to buy online (Kenny, 2003). A survey conducted among Brazilian consumers indicated that the low e-commerce adoption was connected with the state regulations on privacy and security, lack of business laws for e-commerce, inadequate legal protection for Internet purchases and concern over Internet taxation (Tigre and Dedrick, 2004). Allied components like online marketplace, coupons and vouchers, online consumer reviews, web 2.0 adaptability, mobile adaptability, etc enables e-Tailing to work smoothly in an open, competitive environment. Jeff Bezos, the chief executive officer (CEO) of, contends that the popularity of his company's Web site is due to the superior shopping experience that offers (Taylor 1996, p. 132): "Bill Gates laid it out in a magazine interview. He said, 'I buy all my books at because I'm busy and it's convenient. They have a big selection, and they've been reliable.' Those are three of our four core value propositions: convenience, selection, [and] service. The only one he left out is price: we are the broadest discounters in the world in any product category. These value propositions are interrelated, and they all relate to the Web.
In order to understand e-tailing better, it is imperative to understand the historic perspective. e-Tailing initiated in late 70s when small and big companies use to print catalogue and post it to 1000s of customers for free. This 100s of pages catalogue offering 1000s of products gives convenience and saving worldwide. A buyer in Pakistan can order a nail-cutter from Japan through catalogue. By 1995 it was inevitable that internet will not only revolutionize the supply chain formulated by catalogue industry but, it will also decrease the order turnover time, increase the inventory turnover and product to market time. The changing phenomena forced organizations to adopt ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) upgrading from traditional EDI (Electronic Data Integration) in order to manage such velocity of consumer interaction. Many successful case studies started popping by 1995 like Amazon, Yahoo and Netflex in 1997. In US, e-tailing was in full swing during these years and all required trust, infrastructure and technology developed, were at its mature stage, which helped US to succeed in e-tailing arena. In 1999, the conventional bricks-and-mortar stores rang up 93% of United States retail sales revenue; e-commerce, by contrast, accounted for about 1%, and catalog sales the other 6% (Collett 1999). e-Tailing not only gave more convenience to the customers and saving but also helped companies to reach more audience through internet which was not possible during catalogue era as it has its own limitation. As an illustration, LIGHTNING Instrumentation SA, a Swiss networking equipment manufacturer, was able to raise its sales by about 20% after establishing a Website, all of which came from outside its domestic market (Quelch and Klein 1996). By 2000 big brands like Nike, JCPenny and Sony started offering products and services through their website. "More and more customers are coming to the Web to learn about products before they go to a retail store," says Anne Mulcahy, president of Xerox General Mar-kets Operations (GMO). A major focus for GMO is convincing account salespeople to represent Xerox's total solution-even though some of those products, such as printers, are typically fulfilled through an indirect channel. (Cohen 2000, p. 13). According to one survey reported in The New York Times (Tedeschi 2000), about 42% of top suppliers (e.g., IBM, Pioneer Electronics, Cisco System, Estee Lauder, and Nike) in a variety of industries have begun to sell directly to consumers over the Internet. This new phenomenon of multi-channel sales by some brand ie selling directly online and through reseller had brought adverse effect on resellers perhaps; the direct channel adds profits indirectly. The threat to sell in the direct channel induces greater sales in the traditional retail channel (by 60%), and this more than makes up for the lower unit profit margins (33% lower). The manufacturer's profits grow by 7% even though nothing is sold in its direct channel (Chiang et al., 2003).
Unlike offline retailing, where consumer can feel and test the product before buying it, online shopping experience is still new to many consumers as they wouldn’t get opportunity to feel the product before buying it. This is the reason why many buyers does show rooming and ultimately buy the product online. There are many benefits of buying products and services online as it gives an opportunity to buyer to compare various model and brand of a product before settling for final purchase. Offline searching is more expensive and time consuming as compare to online where a consumer can log into and find out the best price for the same product offered by various vendors, plus it also gives an opportunity to compare the product with brands and models too, using compare option available in PCE (price comparison engine) like Google Products.
For marketers, e-tailing is still in trial-and-error stage after two long decades, as it doesn’t help them to evaluate brand loyalty, buyers’ mood and behavior and other critical factor required for market analysis. Without adequate data it is difficult to measure the customer experience. Steven Riggio, the CEO of Barnes & Noble, observes (Fortune 1997, p. 248): On the other hand based on years of e-tailing data, organization can measure the impact of online advertisement, buying trend, product popularity and other factors in real-time which are not possible in offline retail environment. e-Tailing works around technology and innovation to reach and acquire customers beyond traditional boundaries. Businesses keep themselves away from e-tailing, because it is assumed that implementing and managing e-Tail is a costly affair for business. "Anything can do on the Internet, so, too Barnes & Noble. There was a mystique about how difficult it was to get started on the web, but it is quickly fading. Hiring hot designers from Silicon Valley, Barnes & Noble now offers a web shop front that's just as inviting and useful as Amazon, with easy-to-use subject indexes, online author events every day, book forums, book reviews, and other features." Website. Customers are drawn to a site because of its outstanding product information and selection (McWilliam 2000).
Language is one of the barriers blocking e-tailing popularity. This inability in English language hence becomes a major inhibitor among non-English-speaking consumers, especially the older generation (Gibbs et al., 2003). Only 8% of Pakistani speaks Urdu which is official language. Research shows that half the population of developing countries is unable to speak their own official language country (Kenny, 2003).
Research Methodology
The research method is based on primary and secondary data collection and past studies to analyze the macro and micro indictors that act as a barrier for sustainable growth of e-tailing in Pakistan. The evaluation is set on three criteria.

  1. Evaluate Pakistan’s e-Readiness: Rationalize Digital Economy Rating (DER) by Economist Intelligence Unit 2010 which is vital factorial analysis to evaluate the digital readiness of any economy. This factor analysis covers various pros and cons present in local scenario that result in high and low ratings of different factors.

  1. Factor Analysis of similar DER rating countries with Pakistan: At macro level, institutional data like GDP, per capita, internet population by country, retail and wholesale trade, market size, competitive index and digital economy rating were taken into consideration to table a comparison and highlight the inactive factors that act as a barrier in e-tailing.

  1. Analysis of local e-Tailers: At micro level 13 local e-tailers were evaluated based on Evaluation Instrument for e-Commerce Web Sites from the First-Time Buyer’s Viewpoint (Hung et al 2004).

Criteria 1: Evaluate Pakistan’s e-Readiness

As stated earlier, Pakistan scored 3.55 overall, out of 10, in terms of e-readiness under the digital economy rating in 2010 (EIU, 2010, p22). The score is a composite of 6 selected criteria i.e. connectivity, business environment, social and cultural environment, legal environment, government policy and vision, and Consumer and business adoption.

An in-depth factorial analysis of Pakistan’s digital infrastructure reveals some positive and some negative facts:

1.1 Connectivity (EIU score: 2.35)

Pakistan, ranked 4th on the basis of Point Topic’s World Broadband Statistics 2008 in broadband penetration, with 3 international undersea connectivity cables namely SEA-ME-WE-3, FLAG and TW1, 950,000 broadband users (PTA 2010 Stats) and 16 Million Internet User or 9% of the population (WB, 2011), This shows that, Pakistan is on the right track for rapid development in local and international connectivity. The Higher Education Commission has initiated a project to connect all universities with fast broadband. Universal Service Fund (an initiative to promote telecom services in un-served and under-served areas – is working to spread telecom and internet connectivity across the country including in remote areas.

1.2 Business Environment (EIU score: 5.31)

Pakistan maintained 3.5% growth rate during 2008-12 (WBDI, 2009) despite of the global financial crisis and, in absence of any financial or tax relief package from the Government. Pakistan is ranked 85 out of 183 countries for the year 2011 by Doing Business 2011 Rank, IFC. This indicates that Pakistan has a good environment to conduct business. Although being a developing economy, Pakistan maintains vibrant stock exchange, development prospectus and growth opportunity. It is expected that the business environment will get better in the coming years.

1.3 Social and cultural environment (EIU score: 2.80)

Social and cultural environment in Pakistan towards ICT is quite low as per EIU which is apparent through various factors. Although various indicators such as ICT related education in academia and R&D awareness appears to be growing, perhaps it is not reaching the desired level and is concentrated in a limited segment of population for several reasons. One could be the language barrier and another access to geo-demographic diversity. Further the country has very few patents in the field, and enforcement of the law to protect privacy and copyright is weak. Due to such factors resulting in a poor socio-cultural environment, there is inadequate adoption of ICT in the country at different levels.

1.4 Legal and Policy Environment (EIU score: 5.90)

Pakistan scored 5.90 in terms of the Legal and Policy Environment under the EIU Digital Economy Rankings. This shows that the legal and policy environment is in place but consumers and even businesses are not aware of it or it has missing elements in terms of assurance or implementation at the grassroots level. There are three ways for enforcement viz. a) by force b) by facilitation and c) by offering incentives. Various governments around the world use a mix of these options to achieve better enforcement.

On other hand the State Bank of Pakistan can play a vital role by drafting a monetary policy so that e-commerce transaction companies like Paypal and can setup their offices in Pakistan and facilitate trade between local and global businesses.

Oxley and Yeung, (2001) state that “the integrity of the institutional environment, particularly with respect to the "rule of law," is important for the development of e-commerce. Only in such an environment can participants in e-commerce transactions develop confidence and have adequate legal recourse should the transaction break down.”

1.5 Government policy and vision (EIU score: 4.30)
At the macro level Government Policy and Vision are as vital as business readiness at the micro level to adapt to a digital economy. Pakistan has clear vision for promoting digital economy which is reflected in various policies and actions, which include computerization of the national identity card, branchless mobile banking, e-Taxation, setting up of the e-Government directorate, and much more. Due to excessive delays in project approvals the results fall short of expectations and the overall strategy gets derailed, adding to the cost of implementation.
1.6 Consumer and business adoption (EIU score: 2.51)
On the consumer side, there has been 10.5 Million debit and credit card in transaction (SBP, 2010 p.69), with Rs.75.4 Billion POS (Point of Sale) based transaction (SBP, 2010 p.70).
It is vital that consumer and businesses both must seek to adopt e-transaction. There are various barriers in this regard. Some of the major barriers are:

  1. Conventional Approach towards Business, whereby businesses and consumer prefer to do face to face paper based transactions,

  2. Risk of getting robbed electronically as these method are still in an early stage of development in Pakistan,

  3. Undocumented Business Culture, a clear evidence of the preference among consumers and businesses to stay in the conventional economy mode.

  4. Weak infrastructure i.e. gaps in the Banking System, Policies and Assurance for the buyer and the seller. Government has to come up with policies and assurance to adopt e-culture in Pakistan.

The above factorial analysis reflects that much has been done, yet more is required. There are many weak areas that needs attention e.g. inconsistent government policies, low preference to ICT by government and business entrepreneurs, lack of trained workforce, barriers in the content of regional languages, limited access to digital content and digital framework. These weak areas create obstacles in the way of achieving a strong digital economy. A half-hearted approach will not bring the required change in the digital scenario; Pakistan has to work on a master strategy covering all 6 factors highlighted by EIU to bring about tangible progress in short run and a big leap forward in the longer term.

Category 2: Factor Analysis with countries having similar DER rating to Pakistan
Economies with low Digital Economy Rating (DER) i.e. around 3.80 do succeed in e-tailing. So there is high probability for Pakistan to succeed as well if it can cross the 3.8 benchmark, against the current rating of 3.55. An analysis of countries similar to Pakistan in terms of e-readiness will perhaps provide some pointers;
Economies with ratings closer to Pakistan are:

a) Algeria 3.31,

b) Iran 3.24 and

c) Ukraine 3.66.

Countries at a slightly higher level with ratings between 3.8 and 4.2 are Indonesia, Egypt and Vietnam has successfully adopted the e-tailing framework in their countries. A closer analysis reveals that:

  1. These countries have almost twice the Per Capita Income of Pakistan.

  2. Their competitive index rating is also high.

In Vietnam 35% population have access to internet whereas Pakistan has just 9% internet penetration. It is important to mention here that UN has announced internet as a basic right of citizens, similar to water and electricity. Australia is among countries that have implemented multi-billion dollar high bandwidth fiber network in the country.

This means that Pakistan has to adjust its “macro-factors” in order to enter into e-tailing in a decisive manner. Until 2007 Pakistan was reputed to have 13% internet penetration but suddenly it dropped by four points to 9% in 2011.
Some of the other findings besides economic data that assist in the adoption of e-retailing are:

  1. Cognitive approach towards internet buying - high in Egypt, Vietnam and Indonesia as compared to Pakistan.

  2. Ecosystem such as Groupon, Paypal, Nielson and Google that offers various services for the benefit of e-tailers.

  3. High number of startups and

  4. Robust policies against cybercrime.

Some positive indicators which place Pakistan ahead of countries like Iran, Ukraine and Algeria are:

  1. There are numbers of e-tail stores in Pakistan offering products and services (see details in Part III) of world standard;

  2. Pakistani exporters have a strong presence in B2B portals like trade-key and alibaba on the international front. Besides that, Pakistan has for local B2B activities, exclusively designed for the Hotel and Aviation industry. In addition to this, Industrial Information Network (IIN) managed by SMEDA also promotes local businesses internationally.

  3. E-tail catalysts such as and help local e-tailers get customers through crowd sourcing.

  4. Nearly all advertising agencies now have a digital department to promote brands and products online.

  5. Google generated US$6 million in 2011 through display ad revenue [Where? Mention if in Pakistan]

  6. Schools [where? How many?] have started digital media and ecommerce courses for students.

  7. Credit and Debit Card transactions at POS are increasing which suggests that Pakistanis are becoming more comfortable with plastic money.

  8. M-Commerce is becoming popular enabling e-tailers, the opportunity to receive or make payment through online bank transfer, m-commerce (easy paisa, omni and mobicash) supplemented with COD (cash on delivery), where customers are more open to the idea or where a suitable payment gateway is missing.

  9. Pakistan Customs have implemented electronic filing system at Karachi through PARAL which is working perfectly and has eradicated the lengthy processes that had existed before and blocked corrupt channels that were open. Institutional environment is key to success for e-Commerce growth (Oxley and Yeung, 2001, p.705-723).

Category 3. Analysis of local e-tailers

In order to evaluate the local e-tail stores, a system developed by Wei-Hsi Hung and Robert J McQueen on Developing an Evaluation Instrument for e-Commerce Web Sites from the First-Time Buyer’s Viewpoint was used as the basis for evaluation.

Using strata sampling technique, 12 e-tail stores handling different product-lines such as online books, electronics, fashion, gift shop, grocery and general items were selected for analysis of the local e-tail scenario. The survey questionnaire was divided into 4 major categories viz, information, negotiation, settlement and after-sale. Ratings were given on a scale of 0-10.
The survey was further bifurcated into 3 segments:

  1. How easy is it to use the function to find one piece of information?

  2. How informative is the Web function?

  3. How rich is the content in terms of information required?

A segment analysis of the survey findings reveals that if an e-tailer maintains superior ratings in individual segments, the customer is likely to move from one segment to another during the purchase lifecycle, and the customer stays in the purchase lifecycle as long as he is satisfied. However, if the e-tailer fails to satisfy the customer, then there is a high probability of losing that customer. Therefore, it is vital for e-tailers to maintain the highest possible rating (out of 10) in each segment.

Graph representing evaluation of local etailers

Based on above output some key findings have come to light which are:

  1. Local e-tailers are well acquainted with the core e-tailing services which are cataloging, payment methods, shipping etc. But some of the parameters are not seriously taken into consideration. For instance:

    1. Information about the company,

    2. Company financials,

    3. Advance search,

    4. Product guide,

    5. Exchange policy and

    6. Knowledge base.

  1. It was also revealed that user experience was too low in e-tailers and features such as advance search, and accessibility from one resource to another were rare.

  1. Criteria 3 was of great concern as none of the e-tailers had details about purchase history, training, advance search after a user logged into his account.

  1. Technology e-tailers were more advanced than any other e-tailers as they had better understanding of software’s and upcoming technologies like web 2.0 and social media integration.

  1. Apparently, retailers who are rated below 5 points do not generate any sales due to lack of business processes and service model available on the web store. It is empirical that, businesses should have more than 7 rating to get popular and generate higher sales revenue.

  1. Finally it was not necessary that an e-tailer would get a consistent score in all 4 criteria on any single parameters i.e. if the information was easy to find, it is not necessary it was useful information, or had further functions linked to it.

Annexure I


GDP in billion US$

Per Capita Income 2010 in US$

eReadiness Rating

Competitiveness Ranking

Domestic Market Size

Easy to Start Business

Internet Users as % of population

Retail and Wholesale in billion US$

Online Retail in Billin US$



























































































*Assumption : 10% GDP

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