By Mohsin Hasan
At the end of this week, Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving and then immediately following it by fighting and pepper spraying each other for merchandise available at exceptionally cheap rates. If you haven’t figured it out already, this phenomenon is called “Black Friday”.
Since last year, this concept of “Black Friday” has risen in Pakistan with some of the biggest e-commerce retailers in the country putting up their own desi versions of the same sale with the same hype if not the same level of discounts, products, ease for customers or customer services.
In fact last year, the largest e-commerce website in Pakistan broke several records in terms of sales (even if they were insignificant in terms of global or local retail economy). As unavoidable as this hype is, many consumers still remain skeptical and avoid buying online.
In fact, according to surveys conducted last year after the sales event, over 50% consumers who visited the online retailers did not buy anything because they either thought the discounts weren’t deep enough or the products they wanted were just not on sale.
So to put this in to numbers, if a retailer get a million visitors on the day of sale, it has automatically lost over half of them due to inefficient discounting strategies or for not having the right product mix. Another approximate 10% couldn’t place orders due to technical issues. That simply means the online retailers are ill equipped to handle so much traffic on their websites.
To cut the story short, only one-fourth of the customers felt satisfied with the sale.
So what exactly is wrong with these huge online sales?
While they seem to be overwhelming in the US, whom our e-commerce retailers are trying to copy, they seem to underperform by every measure in Pakistan.
Here are a few factors online retailers need to look at:
The first thing you need to address in a market like Pakistan is not price, it’s psychology. Online retailers have a huge trust gap and it is not entirely their fault. In a country where we believe “Sasta hai to ghatiya quality hogi ya rejected maal hoga” i.e. “If it’s cheap, it must be low quality or rejected product”.
The deep discounts in certain product categories can play a negative role. What additionally hampers the trust is the non-clarity of how the product can be replaced or returned in case of fault or damage.
As compared to the brick and mortar model where you can walk in to a shop with the defective product and have a physical target for your shopping woes induced anger, yelling on the phone and banging the keyboard while chatting is just not as satisfying.
Bad Customer Service
Immediate after the trust deficit, comes my personal favorite gripe (since I worked for CS for 11 years) which is Customer Services.
While the whole world is shifting towards better customer experiences and it is being considered the key differentiator of the future in all measures of service, only a handful of companies are actually working on it in Pakistan.
The problem with copy pasting an online sales model is that you don’t actually get to see what is going on behind the scenes to make it happen.
Personally, two of my close friends were delivered defective products and it took 1 month for a friend to replace his bought product, and it took 3 months, yes 3 WHOLE MONTHS for the other friend to get a refund, a refund which he didn’t initially want but the CS was so amazing that he just got fed up.
Discounts for the Sake of Being Sasta
You just CANNOT put a discount on 100 products which are worthless and no one cares about and call it a sale. Last year, when the hype caught on to smaller retailers, that is exactly what they did, put Rs.100 or Rs.200 discounts on crappy products that no one cares about.
Sale discounts need to be very targeted, especially in a country like Pakistan where we are always looking for high quality stuff on ever dropping rates. There needs to be proper time and input given to what needs to go on discount and how much of a discount can be given.
In the US, retailers not only have surveys to gauge what customers are looking for, they order excessive inventories well in advance to meet the demand.
Desi Black Friday is quite the opposite. That is why 50% consumers opted for Microsoft Window(s) shopping (yes that’s a pun).
Inability to Handle Website Traffic and Order Delivery
Last but not least, due to the improper inventory models and most online retailers not securing their own inventory but rather selling straight from other retailers, people have received their orders with up to 2 weeks of delays whereas the promised delivery times were a maximum of 3 to 7 days.
These delays were also, in certain cases, caused due to technical issues where sites kept crashing due to excessive loads and orders being stuck in digital limbo, only to be processed a day or two later.
To wind this up, I as a consumer who really wants to buy online but is reluctant due to the aforementioned issues and one who wants to see newer ways of buying usher in to Pakistan, hope that the e-commerce giants (mini-giants if there is such a thing) can learn a thing or two besides how to put up a sale.
Remember, now is no longer the era of just sales. It is the first and foremost an era of consumer experience.
So give the Pakistani online consumer an experience they can trust, enjoy and do so while buying what they want to, not what you have put on discount.
Mohsin is a customer care professional with over 10 years of experience with an OCD for good CS processes. He is an avid gamer, technology enthusiast, movie/tv buff and an occasional writer.