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The allure of online shopping in Nepal during the pandemic

Arun Poudel

Arun Poudel

The allure of online shopping in Nepal during the pandemic

Just before the lockdown, e-commerce platforms Sastodeal and Daraz had seen an increased traffic to their sites and got more orders. Delivery has been a problem since the start of the lockdown though

Nepalis are unused to online shopping as card or online payment is still a cumbersome process for many of us. But shopping online seems to be the only safe option as the country finds itself under the grip of Covid-19 pandemic.

Supply of daily essentials has been a major national concern after the country went into a lockdown on March 24. The Ministry of Supplies called an emergency meeting of the business community on March 25 to discuss ways to ensure supplies.

“We felt in the meeting that the government is serious about ensuring supplies,” says Amun Thapa, CEO of Sastodeal.com, a prominent e-commerce business in Nepal. “The situation is going to be more difficult in the days ahead. At least two million people live in the capital, and we have to make sure they get their rations.” Thapa says he is more worried about places outside Kathmandu that are beyond the reach of online platforms.

Just before the lockdown, Sastodeal and Daraz Nepal, another e-commerce platform, had seen an increased traffic to their sites and got more orders. “We saw a strong increase in demand and search queries for groceries, as well as for products related to the prevention and possible treatment of the Covid-19 virus,” says Lino Ahlering, managing director of Daraz Nepal.

“Page visits and orders had almost doubled in the week prior to the lockdown on March 24,” says Sastodeal’s Thapa. “But after the lockdown, we are trying to figure how to resume our business.” On its landing page, Sastodeal says deliveries will be made only after the lockdown is over. Likewise, Daraz has asked customers to expect delay in delivery if they have already placed an order.

At the moment, Daraz has been limited to selling digital goods such as mobile, Netflix, and Google Play top-ups, which do not require physical delivery. “Two weeks prior to the lockdown, Daraz also saw a sudden increase in orders,” says Natasha Baidya, Daraz’s marketing manager. “Some sellers wanted to increase prices and unduly profit, but we quickly delisted them.”

For Sastodeal, the system automatically detects and prevents price hikes of over 10-20 percent. “We have a content monitoring team to check both the prices and the quality of products,” says Thapa.

Is the delivery safe?

Former Foreign Secretary Madhu Raman Acharya recently tweeted about purchasing rice from an online store. And there were concerns about viral contamination.

“That delivery guy might have touched thousands of viruses on the way,” commented ‘Bibek Writes’ on Acharya’s tweet. Acharya was also concerned about the safety protocol during physical delivery of the items purchased online.

“When we buy online, we don’t have to go to the market. That way, we can help stop the virus spread,” says Acharya. “But the delivery people of online sellers take cash on delivery, which is risky. And we don’t know if they have followed required safety measures.”

Daraz says there is no need to worry. “We have taken a number of precautions,” says Ahlering. “Before the lockdown, we had an increased hygienic standards for our employees, sellers, and customers. For instance, we offered hand sanitizers to our customers at the time of delivery.”

Need for online payment

Cash on delivery is the biggest safety loophole. There are a few digital wallets and online payment portals that people have started using, but they are far from the reach of the majority. eSewa is the biggest and most popular option right now. Khalti, IME Pay, and other platforms are also coming up.

“Our customers can pay through eSewa, which they find most convenient,” says Sastodeal’s Thapa. “After the Covid-19 pandemic, we have stopped requiring customers to sign or touch any device when they get their orders.” But the cash on delivery option is still there, nevertheless.

“The way to reduce cash transaction is to promote online payments,” says Madhu Raman Acharya. “We can do that by, say, giving 10 percent discount on the use of online apps or wallets. That will reduce cash transactions, and help track legal transactions.”

Daraz’s Baidya says the platform is encouraging online instead of cash payment. “Although we don’t collaborate with online wallets such as eSewa or khalti, customers can pay through their mobile and online banks”