Internet shopping seems to be finally making sense to some Nepalis. As computer literacy and people's access to the Internet increases, there are more potential clients surfing the shop sites, and e-shopkeepers are venturing forth with new ideas to woo them.
What a shop needs to be a hit is play on the hold of tradition and a judicious amount of sentimentality. Nepalis residing abroad were offered a chance this festival season to feel close to their families back in Nepal and be involved in Dasain celebrations-by purchasing a khasi or boka online and having it delivered to their loved ones here. And they (the relatives, not the goats) seemed to like the idea. The Internet portal thamel.com sold 59 khasis online to about 40 individuals, most of who are already regular buyers at the site.
"This is their way of showing respect for tradition and a sign of the attachment these people feel towards their families-their sentiment was expressed through this site," says Prem Joshi of thamel.com. The site normally receives three or four orders a week, and double that during other festivals, but this Dasain was a bonanza. Thamel.com delivers the orders free of cost, and sends visual confirmations for deliveries within the Valley, and voice confirmations for deliveries outside the capital to the gift senders within 24 hours. During Dasain, the site even allowed gift recipients to pretty much pick their gift-they could go along with someone from the site to touch, prod and otherwise examine a number of khasi in the price range the sender specified.
The sticky point for Nepali shop-sites is mode of payment-not too many domestic shoppers have credit cards, which is unfortunate for them, but worse for the sites.
Still, e-businesses are expanding their reach. Munchahouse.com, which functioned solely as a gift shop earlier, has been functioning as a department store for the last three weeks. The change was made to attract more local shoppers, and the site now has different modes of payment-you can pay Cash on Delivery, or deposit an amount with the shop in advance.
"E-shopping will catch up in Nepal soon, we want to be prepared to cater efficiently to clients when that happens," said Amrit Man Tuladhar of munchahouse.com. The recent expansion in mode of payment is expected to encourage shoppers from outside the Valley in particular. Munchahouse.com charges Rs 100 for deliveries within the Valley, while for deliveries outside the Valley, the weight of the order determines the charge. Delivery is free if the value of the purchases exceeds Rs 2,500.
Others are less optimistic about the possibility of an Internet shopping boom in the foreseeable future in Nepal. Most business to consumer shops sites, critics point out, are still struggling to build a client base among the non-residential Nepalis or foreigners with Nepal connection. "E-shops are not doing great. The plummeting economy will not allow the boom just now," says Binaya Mohan Saud of nepalshop.com. Besides, the expensive Internet services and added telephone revenues make shopping on the Internet relatively unaffordable for many. Saud's client base is mostly Nepalis abroad (80 percent) and foreigners with friends in Nepal.
And, industry observers say, when shopping sites mushroom without proper marketing strategies, the number of potential clients starts to drop. During Dasain, nepalshop.com received only 10 orders, though its price points are lower than those of many retailer.
But despite the differences in pricing strategies, deliery models, and even divergent takes on the potential for such undertakings, all Nepali shopping sites have a model to pull consumers in-they play up the tradition, culture and values associated with products, to appeal to a diaspora that can afford to spend, but perhaps
not come home as often as it would like.
Come Tihar, it will, we are told, be a little more of the same-there will be special offers on items related to traditional pujas, merry making and sentiment. Oh, and a good dose of nostalgia.