The world is constantly adapting to new ways of living a good life, and so does our Kashmir. The advent of the internet and the arrival of e-commerce technology in our lives has changed our shopping experience. We no longer have to battle vehicular traffic on the roads and wait in queues for long hours. Thanks to ecommerce technology, we have been empowered to shop anywhere just at the click of a button. But in past times, there was no concept of e-commerce in Kashmir. Smartphone availability to the general public was rare. The masses were not aware of the internet facility. There was no idea of online shopping, online transactions, etc. With time and the availability of the internet, e-commerce made its presence felt in the valley, but due to the slower internet connection issues like 2G and lack of awareness, people were afraid to buy things online.
It was back in the year 2008 when Flipkart became a buzz. Although the company had to go through a lot of hardships in the initial years of their business endeavour. It took some time for Flipkart to cut through lots of hurdles alone and get to success. As people gain access to quality internet services and advanced smartphone technology, new companies like Amazon, Snapdeal, eBay, and other local online stores, etc., jump in to tap into the growing ecommerce market in Kashmir. New start-ups in the line of e-commerce business are constantly coming up to tap the vast forming niche.
Over the years, there is a growing demand for e-commerce products and services in the valley. A majority of the local population, especially youth, have become capable of shopping online as they have gained access to the knowledge and use of advanced IT technology—such as personal computers, smartphones, and other means. That is why there is no better time than today for our youth to embrace e-commerce entrepreneurship in Kashmir. They can find plenty of business ideas for their new e-commerce start-ups. Almost all sectors of our economy await the attention of ecommerce entrepreneurs. As e-commerce is spreading all over Kashmir, people are now becoming used to it. Social media has added a taste to the wide advertising of e-commerce businesses in Kashmir. Today, even girls have launched so many start-ups in Kashmir like Tul Palav, Hangers, The Closet, and many more. From zero to a successful business, e-commerce has led to a huge jump in business opportunities over the past few years.
The present scenario of e-commerce in Kashmir
Kashmir has been doing well for itself for the past 3-4 years. In the past 3-4 years, we’ve seen Kashmiri youth making attempts at establishing E- Commerce businesses; some have foiled, some are soaring high. We’ve seen a hike in E-Commerce start-ups since Kashmir and the rest of the nation got rid of expensive and slow internet networks. The most important thing that really matters is the attempts that Kashmir has been making at setting its foot in the E- Commerce industry. Things seemed to be grim initially, but the present of E- Commerce in Kashmir is like the first ray of sunshine. We've got huge platforms that the rest of the world is using to conduct their business, e.g. Indiamart, Olx, Instagram, Facebook (Facebook Marketplace), Amazon, etc., and Kashmir has its presence on each of these platforms. Today we have Kashmiri start-ups serving the Kashmiri community very well. Kashmir is witnessing a huge number of start- ups thriving. Now, if we look at the brighter side, post abrogation of article 370, we saw a huge hike in start-ups mostly from the food delivery & logistics industry. These start-ups are basically desperate attempts to fulfil needs, eradicate unemployment and have the courtesy to be helpful to society in Kashmir. Currently, there are many e-commerce businesses operating in Kashmir.
The future of E-commerce in Kashmir
The year 2020 was a year of transition for the whole world. COVID 19 left all life and businesses paralysed. With the unfolding of very unfortunate and gruesome events all around the globe, the whole dynamics of our way of living have been turned upside down. The pandemic forced countries to follow a strict lockdown to stop the spread of the virus. That meant people stopped going to their offices, marketplaces, or anywhere else. But people have needs which cannot be postponed for any other time, and in order to meet those needs, everyone was forced to look at the alternatives to keep going. Talking specifically about Kashmir, the situation was no different. The e-commerce industry took a major leap in the tough times based on changing user habits. What first seemed to be a compulsion for people in the valley who did not rely on the internet for most things became the new normal because of restrictions in movement. The major focus of people remained the internet, and that led to the establishment of many online enterprises. Not just that, but the concept of “working from home” or “online classes” for students came into existence. Looking at the way forward, the potential of the e-commerce industry seems to be immense in the coming times. What started as an ideal alternative at the time has the possibility of becoming the future of Kashmir.
People started to become more aware of what can be done online, and the opportunity was very well used by establishments throughout. Be it the online delivery system for food and basic essentials or people working for organisations outside the union territory. The distance is no longer a factor, which has created a great number of employment opportunities for people living in the valley. Women have started taking up jobs online as well, because now it has become easier and the percentage is going to go up day by day. No need to wait in long lines for hours or to fill the hundred-page forms because now all that has been replaced electronic forms using internet.
In spite of the initiatives taken by Kashmiri entrepreneurs, there is a long way to go. There are still some areas to be explored and many more services to be provided. Many big things are anticipated to happen in e-commerce in the future. E-commerce in Kashmir is all about B2C services, but they will soon be obsolete. B2B e-commerce sales have huge potential in the near future. It is not more than just the manufacturers or wholesalers trying to sell to the retailers. B2B e-commerce means businesses selling to businesses online. These e-commerce stores can support huge orders, volume-based discounts, invoicing, and easy reordering to achieve greater success.
The fight for speedy delivery has never been fiercer. The expansion of shipping and fulfilment hubs around the valley is another slow-moving e-commerce trend with a lot of potential. As more people in Kashmir have started shopping online, fulfilment centres are needed to ship and deliver their purchases as quickly as possible. But the current e-commerce business sites in Kashmir are lagging behind in some essential features such as voice search and visual search. Entrepreneurs must ensure that their e-commerce sites are up-to-date and include things like voice search, image search, etc. For customers who want a product the same as another or in a specific shade, a visual search option may help them to find exactly what they are looking for in the shortest possible time.
Food delivery and online clothing have made up the significant e-commerce solutions in Kashmir. Other categories have also started to boom, but there is still a lot more to come. There is no start-up for medical services. This sector is falling behind in terms of e-commerce in Kashmir. Patients struggle to book appointments with various specialists in Kashmir. They have to visit the clinics and hospitals to book appointments with the doctors. Also, there are people who don’t have enough information about the various specialists in particular fields. In addition to this, online delivery of medication has become an absolute must, but it has not yet flourished in Kashmir as it should have. An e-commerce solution to the same will help the sufferers.
There is no such platform for local milk providers or local bakers (kandur). Setting up the same for local businesses will also be a great success in Kashmir. Kashmiri people usually don’t prefer packaged milk and bread for daily consumption. They want fresh products, and the food delivery apps in Kashmir don’t provide such products. An app for the same can help local providers as well as customers seeking such products. The people of Kashmir invest a lot of time, energy, and money in weddings. Be it food (wazwan), decoration, store management, catering services, cleanliness maintenance, grooming services, music arrangement and much more. Developing an app that provides a list of all these service providers along with their particular charges will help people to plan weddings according to their budgets. It will benefit the citizens as well as the service providers.
Although Kashmiris are leaving no stone unturned to provide e-services in all fields, there is a huge lack of awareness about the same. Many apps and websites are unknown to the majority, thus leading to less usage. This is a job for marketing people. Also, there are various trust issues among the people, and both these problems can be addressed by influencer marketing methods, wherein only famous Kashmiri personalities will endorse their businesses and create awareness as well as build trust among people for them. There are still a lot of gaps to be filled and a lot more to do when it comes to e- commerce with respect to Kashmir. But slowly and gradually, the industry is rolling up to be a huge success. That will entirely change the course of the future as we know it.
(Authors are students of the Department of Management Studies, North Campus University of Kashmir