Nepal goes online shopping in 2020
Staff at Maya Handicrafts Jewelry in Thamel, are busy these days managing delivery for handmade silver jewellery ordered by customers in Kathmandu, Butwal, Pokhara, Dharan, as well as from outside Nepal.
The store has seen its online sales peak despite the pandemic, making for up to 70% of total transactions. Encouraged by their success, the owners opened Nakkali, to sell gold-plated jewellery. Up to 90% sales are currently conducted through digital platforms.
“Nepalis now have an easy access to online shopping because of increased Internet connectivity. This, coupled with better online service has translated into healthy digital sales. The pandemic has only accelerated the growth,” says Samir Shakya of Maya Handicrafts.
Following the Covid-19 lockdown, Glambisque, an up-and-coming Nepali cosmetics brand, shut down its stores in Lazimpat and Labim Mall. Since then, the two-year-old company has been operating only online. The sales have been more or less the same, but 100% driven by digital transactions.
“At this rate we won’t even need to have physical stores anymore when things get back to normal,” says Shalini Rana of Glambisque. “People weren’t comfortable with online shopping in the past. Lockdowns and safety protocols however forced them to try it out. And upon finding that it’s reliable and convenient, they have now gotten used to it.”
Small and medium businesses like Maya Handicrafts Jewelry and Glambisque use social media sites like Instagram and Facebook, to market their products. Increasingly, more companies are also using e-commerce platforms like Daraz and Sastodeal to advertise their goods.
Payments are usually made via e-wallets (e-Sewa, Khalti, IME pay) or by cash on delivery. Goods are either home delivered or couriered if clients are outside Kathmandu.
“Nepal was already transitioning to e-commerce and digital market, but the pandemic sped up the process and provided a much-needed boost,” explains digital marketer, Saniaa Shah.
“Even so, businesses with a hybrid presence are ahead of the others. Also, certain categories such as healthy food, fitness and gadgets which are directly on the rise due to the pandemic are more popular,” she adds.
Many people turned to organic produce and super foods during the pandemic, with the hope of building immunity against coronavirus. The inclination towards a healthy diet and fitness caused online grocery and health stores to thrive.
The increasing need to stay ‘online’ has also had an impact on businesses selling electronic items. People have been upgrading their smartphones and computers for webinars and online classes, which increased business for gadgets and repair shops.
Hamrobazaar online classified has seen 40% increase in overall traffic since the pandemic. Categories like computers and laptops and two wheelers — because public transport is now considered unsafe — have the most enquires in this Nepali version of eBay.
Covid-19 seems to have made people health conscious as well as tech savvy.
Bibek Neupane of Juas Health Food Store says, “Before the pandemic, people interested in our products used to ask for our physical stores. Now they call us up for home delivery of ayurvedic items like shilajit, and Keto diet ingredients.”
Capitalising on the growing online market, former Miss Nepal Anushka Shrestha also recently launched Makkusé, an online dessert store that specialises in Nepal's authentic and traditional sweets (such as Gundpak and Pustakari) with modern touch.
Not all businesses have found the trend towards online shopping as encouraging. Despite demand and overwhelming enquiries, Misumi Korean cosmetics in Labim Mall has not been able to stock up because they haven’t been able to import goods due to lockdowns and restrictions. The recently launched online handicraft store, Durbar Square, is also still waiting for sales to pick up.
Even so, Suresh Shrestha of Ratna Books says the shift towards online shopping has other benefits besides a growth in sales. “It has also allowed us to understand the taste of our consumers. This is an invaluable information for better future planning,” he says.
Nepal’s proposed Electronic Commerce Bill is expected to standardise online transitions while protecting user data and privacy. It also has provisions for easy return, exchange and refunds, and traders found violating the rules will be fined up to Rs300,000.
As per the draft, e-commerce businesses will need to be registered with the Company Registrar Office and obtain a licence to operate, which needs to be renewed every year.
Despite the entry into Nepal’s online retail market of China’s Alibaba through Daraz and India’s Flipkart via Sastodeal, e-commerce is still at a nascent stage. But one of the side effects of Covid-19 is that it is set to grow in the next few years as more people find online shopping safe, convenient and time efficient.
“This boom in online shopping is driven by pandemic-induced need. It might be challenging to sustain it, but not if we improve consumers’ online shopping experience,” says Manohar Adhikari of Foodmandu.
“Stocking up on quality goods, and improved infrastructure with a reliable street address system would be key in upping the online shopping game," he adds.
Sonia Awale is Executive Editor of Nepali Times where she also serves as the health, science and environment correspondent. She has extensively covered the climate crisis, disaster preparedness, development and public health -- looking at their political and economic interlinkages. Sonia is a graduate of public health, and has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong.