Boom or Bust
Go into an upscale neighbourhood of the city and chances are you would run into a motorbike-borne man riding with a big rucksack on his back. Every morning, hundreds of such men ride out from their office spaces in Srinagar in the morning with bags full of goods to deliver them at the homes of the buyers. Welcome to e-commerce in the Kashmir valley. As the growth of the internet spikes, more and more internet users are realizing buying online has many benefits. Apart from having to pay less for a product online than buying it from your neighborhood store, a buyer has a wide range of choice available online, and doesn’t have to worry about the quality of a product. Because of the popularity of online buying showing increase, the traditional way of buying stuff, from the neighbourhood stores or driving into town to buy from the main shopping district of the city in Lal Chowk, or Residency Road, is taking a hit.
“The best thing about online shopping is that you have liberty to choose items of your choice on affordable rates. While the same is not the case when you shop offline in city markets. Here only few branded outlets are available, while others sell duplicate brands on original price tags,” said Basit Farooq, an online shopper.
In the last few years, e-shopping firms like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Myntra, e-bay, Amazon and Jabong have eaten into the market, leaving the local businesses high and dry.
There is hardly a product which one can’t find online now. Even a potted plant can be order online, apart from clothing, furniture, spices, coffee beans, tea, kitchenware, and all at a much discounted price and delivered right at your home. The high growth in online buying has caused concern among the local businesses which are struggling to cope with a market they once had a monopoly over.
Zahoor Qari, the president of the Kashmir Courier Association and the head of Blue Dart, a courier agency, said that the online market has expanded a lot. “In the last three years online business is booming in Kashmir. And every day the demand is growing. Now we are delivering 3000 orders per day but it can go up in coming months,” says Qari.
According to Qari, electronic items like mobile phones, laptops, cameras, home appliances, personal products, apparels, clothing, jewellery and other accessories constitute a major portion of online shopping. “Electronic items like mobile phones and gadgets are the first priority followed by clothing line and most of the buyers are in the age group 18-30. While age group above 40 include professionals like Doctors, engineers who ask for specific items,” said Zahoor Qari.
According to new estimates, online shopping would register big growth in 2016, when 40 million people in India are expected to buy online. In 2013, around 20 million people bought stuff online. In the next three years, around 200 million Indians would have access to the Internet and more and more users are expected to join the widening ranks of online buyers.
A recent survey of shoppers revealed that 80 percent of shoppers are likely to spend more online than in their city or neighbourhood stores. “Out of those who expect to spend more online, nearly 85% are in the age group of 18-24 years. Of those who anticipate spending more in coming years regardless of the retail platform, it is noted that most of their purchases are also expected to be online,” revealed the study.
The local businesses in the Kashmir valley are at their wits end how to cope with the new trend of buying online. Mohammad Yasin Khan, the Chairman of the Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), said traditional business have gone down by 50 percent due to online shopping in last eight years. “From last eight years we are at receiving end as more and more people are switching to online shopping. Major chunk of youngsters who use to visit our shops are buying items online,” said Khan.
Khan said, unlike shopping firms, they have to pay commercial tax and sales tax, but the same is not the case with online shopping sites. “If shopkeepers sell a brand at Rs 5000, the online sites sell the same product for as less as Rs 2500. Why that much discount? Here shopkeepers have to pay lot of taxes while online sites don’t do that. Besides that we generate employment thus helping government in one way. States like Kerela and other have started banning these sites because government is also facing the brunt of it but here our dispensation is least bothered about it,” said Khan.
The online and offline tussle has no impact on shoppers who shop wherever they want to. While e-shopping appeals to some, there are still man youngsters and adults who prefer to do their buying the traditional way. Tauseef Rashid, a social worker, hates shopping online and says there is no fun in it. “I hate shopping online because they show different products and deliver something else. Secondly, I like to go for shopping with my friends, enjoy different stuff and colours and roam around different shops in the city. Its fun rather spending hours on online and wasting time and getting nothing,” said Tauseef.
But Vikar Abbas, an online shopper, calls online shopping a blessing for Kashmiris. “It is fun sitting at home, ordering products of your choice on discounted rates. You don’t have to bargain or argue with shopkeepers. Technology has given us something to cheer for and online shopping is indeed a great leap and has revolutionized the concept of shopping, “said Vikar.
The boom in online shopping has also boosted courier business, creating job opportunities for thousands of unemployed youth in the world including Kashmir.
“90% courier companies of the Valley have joined hands with us and are delivering products of different online sites. We have Cash on delivery system available in all the districts of Kashmir which shows where online is heading besides creating job opportunities for the thousands of peoples,” said Zahoor.
Seeing the high growth in online shopping, many Kashmiri entrepreneurs have jumped on to the bandwagon adding a local flavor to the experience of the online buyers.Some of the local shopping firms are: kashmirbox.com, zezoy.com, panunkart.com and gazabmall.com.