Living life as a teenager in Pakistan back in the 1990s, the concept of ‘online shopping’ was rather vague for us. Whatever little we knew about it was through cousins who seldom visited from abroad and spoke of advancements in the western world that left us in awe. While we had already hopped on to the bandwagon of online connectivity, with Orkut opening the gates to social media networking, shopping online was still quite an alien phenomenon. It wasn’t until much later, when I had moved to Qatar along with my family that I actually made my first online purchase. Owing to the times that my cousins had incessantly raved about Amazon and it’s like, I felt a sense of pride upon receiving my first order. It would be interesting to add that I also happened to be the first one in the family to have ventured into the realm of online shopping. It was the ease and convenience of having received something I desired in a matter of days that had me sold on the idea. Last year, when we moved back to Pakistan after more than 10 years of lived abroad, one of my biggest concerns was being able to enjoy the same services that were available to us readily in the Middle East. A friend added me to a women-only group on facebook called Sheops and I was rather amazed to see hundreds of women selling products online and negotiating for costs. With this discovery, I too immersed myself in the online shopping trend in Pakistan and there has been no looking back. A frequent shopper at some of the biggest ecommerce players in the industry Yayvo.com by TCS, Daraz.pk and OLX Pakistan, I find no substantial difference between the kind of products being offered to consumers in Pakistan and elsewhere. How quickly the trend has picked up and how e-shopping has become part of an average person’s weekly routine is intriguing. As an average consumer, the single most attractive feature of this entire mechanism is the Cash-on-Delivery aspect. Considering the recent cyber attack on Pakistani banks, which has been termed as the biggest ever security breach in the history of the country, our people might think twice before making any kind of e-payments. The latest findings of a State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) reveal that the total sales of ecommerce merchants in Pakistan increased from Rs. 20.7 billion in 2017 to Rs. 40.1 billion in 2018 – highlighting a phenomenal increase of 93.7 percent While we look at ecommerce at surface-value, there are a lot of intricacies that intermittently bind the whole mechanism together when thousands of orders are made on a particular website. At the ecommerce solutions provider’s end these orders are channeled through an “order fulfillment” protocol. This would be defined as the necessary steps that are taken to receive, process and deliver orders to the customer. In simpler words, what actually happens before your parcel reaches you? This is an interesting question that ought to be asked, particularly when the latest findings of a State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) reveal that the total sales of ecommerce merchants in Pakistan increased from Rs. 20.7 billion in 2017 to Rs. 40.1 billion in 2018 – highlighting a phenomenal increase of 93.7 percent. A recent conversation with Ana Israr who works as a Product Analyst at TCS Ecommerce Solutions, made me realize the magnitude of the operations that occur at the backend and it is safe to say that not many of us are aware of this. The ecommerce solution provider serves as the bridge between the retailer or seller and the customer in that it provides warehousing facilities, where the items are stored as well as fulfillment centers where the items are sorted, packaged and delivered in a systematic manner to thousands of customers a day. In addition to managing these orders, the Ecomm solution provider offers an e-retail portal to retailers as a one stop solution for their businesses. On this system, retailers can easily feed in details of their orders, check order status, billing and shipping information, track their orders and see their account summary with just a click. If desired by the retailer, orders that are plugged into the system are picked up from the retailer by dedicated couriers to be delivered across the country. Similar to the practice in many advanced countries around the world, the local ecomm solutions provider such as TCS has more than 800 express centers nationwide that also facilitate order delivery when the receiver is not available at the address of delivery. Israr said, “We fully understand that a significant fraction of our consumers are individuals who work 9 am to 6 pm everyday and may not be able to receive their orders, and in order to make sure their parcel reaches them we send it to their nearest express center. Under a service called “My Collect” customers can pick their orders from these centers and are reminded about this for three consecutive days.” This flexibility that has been incorporated in the ecommerce processes has led to a growth of e-shoppers. TCS alone has delivered 800,000 shipments within a span of 30 days during Black Friday sales in 2017. Every year the business is growing by 50 per cent, Israr highlighted. People actually look forward to certain events such as Azadi sale, Mobile week and Black Friday that constitute the highest number of sales for e-commerce players each year. In the present age of online retail portals, one really does not need to navigate through crowds and to wait it out in queues to get discounted products. In this backdrop and with new players entering the realm of ecommerce in Pakistan, one can only see the industry growing. Recent reports also suggest that the current sale value of the industry has reached the Rs. 100 billion mark which it was projected to reach by 2020. Moving forward, as an average consumer we are in for exciting new online marketplaces to open doors and a diversification of features to occur that would allow for a more enriching e-shopping experience. The writer is a journalism graduate of Northwestern University in Qatar. She works as a communications specialist and blogs at Reflections of a Momalist on Facebook. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, December 29th 2018.