Imagine visiting an online site instead of a shopping mall and browsing through pages instead of racks for the items on your shopping list, any time of the day or night. Can't locate that brand of jeans you're looking for? The search button will help you find it, and in your preferred size. No need to stand in a queue to pay for your purchases either, a few clicks and it's yours. Yes, it's possible in Nepal, too.
Until a few years ago, the local 'online shopping industry' simply meant portals that helped the Nepali diaspora send gifts to Nepal. Now, businesses here are using the internet to reach out to more customers and expand sales. You can purchase groceries, clothes, accessories, electronic goods, air tickets …the choices are (almost) unlimited. You can even pay your utility bills.
"When we started out 10 years ago with an online extension of Muncha House, the support system for online shopping was almost nil," says Amrit Tuladhar of muncha.com. "But slowly, internet accessibility is increasing, and this is prompting businesses to go online."
Businesses as well as customers can reap the benefits of online shopping. Having an online showroom allows a business to cut costs on a real-life store and the manpower needed to operate it. "The number or kind of products a business wants to sell shouldn't be restricted by what can be displayed in a physical space," says Manohar Adhikari of foodmandu.com, which allows customers to view restaurant menus and get orders delivered to their homes.
An online shop also means many more customers can shop simultaneously, and it erases the need for a prime location. "Our store is not centrally located and having an online branch increases accessibility," says Ajit Baral of bookwormonline.com, an online bookstore.
Banu Poudel, Head of Operations at Bhat Bhateni, explains the rationale behind the online purchase-and-home delivery bhatbhateni.com: "Lifestyle changes mean that people find it more difficult to set aside time to come to our stores. An online space will make their shopping experience faster, easier and hassle-free."
Of course, with internet penetration across the country at just nine per cent, it will take some time for Nepali online shopping sites to replicate e-commerce models in widespread use abroad. The prevalent form of online payment, credit cards, is still not accepted in Nepal. "Credit card payments online are not yet an option," says Ujwol Manandhar, deputy IT head at Nepal Investment Bank. "Credit card companies demand very high collateral for the facility and the banks here do not have the capital structure to put up that risk."
Although some sites take cash on delivery, e-banking services and local payment portals such as e-sewa and payway are pioneering channels of online payment. The fact that e-sewa has conducted transactions worth
Rs 110 million in its first year of operations says a lot about the potential for e-commerce here.
Says Bal Joshi of thamel.com: "The market will open up, the need now is to build the payment and delivery infrastructure that will help this industry progress."
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