In the cozy corner of a Srinagar home, where the gentle scent of cardamom wafts from the kitchen, and the melodies of a lullaby create an atmosphere of tender anticipation, Noureen, a first-time mother, cradles her newborn daughter in her arms. Like any parent, she wants nothing but the best for her child, and even before she was born, Noureen’s journey into the world of online shopping began with a simple quest—a quest to find the softest, safest, and most beautiful essentials for her precious bundle of joy. As she perused virtual aisles of baby clothes, cribs, and diapers, Noureen marveled at the choices available at her fingertips.
In a time marked by rapid technological change, Noureen and her husband discovered that online shopping held the key to convenience in an era of ever-increasing demands. “The convenience of browsing through endless options without leaving my home is a blessing. The discounts are an icing on the cake, and now I even purchase formula milk, which is easily available in my neighborhood stores, through online markets,” Noureen said, adding that she shops during naptime, effortlessly compares prices, and even has the purchases delivered to her doorstep. For her, the stress and hassle of traditional shopping seemed like a distant memory.
“This trend is not confined to urban areas alone. We’re delivering more parcels than ever before, and it’s evident that online shopping is gaining a strong foothold in Kashmir. From the urban hubs to the remotest villages, e-commerce has become a part of daily life,” Tanveer Ahmad, a courier service provider in south Kashmir’s Kulgam said. “Sometimes we even deliver 2000 parcels in a day.”
Unicommerce, an e-commerce enablement SaaS platform in India, in its report ‘India E-commerce Index’ 2023, highlights the consistently rising consumer inclination towards online shopping. It reported a significant 26.2% year-on-year increase in order volume and a 23.5% rise in annual GMV (Gross Merchandise Volume) compared to the previous fiscal year, indicating a maturing e-commerce landscape in the country. Experts project that this market will expand from US$ 38.5 billion in 2017 to a staggering US$ 200 billion by 2026.
Rage of smartphones in Kashmir
Experts opine that the rapid proliferation of smartphones in Kashmir has played a significant role in fueling the boom of online shopping in the region. As smartphones become increasingly affordable and accessible to a wider population, more people in Kashmir are now connected to the digital world and able to engage in online activities, including e-commerce.
“The region has witnessed a significant surge in the demand for smartphones,” Aasif Ahmad, a mobile tech sales expert in Kashmir said, adding that consumers in Kashmir now have access to a wide range of smartphone options, including budget-friendly models as well as high-end flagship devices from renowned brands. “Even a 5th grader has a phone now,” he said.
According to Aasif, the easy availability of fast and reliable internet connectivity has facilitated seamless browsing, making smartphones even more appealing to users who seek to engage in online shopping.
Over 97 percent households in Jammu and Kashmir possess mobile phones while 58 percent households have access to the internet, the National Health and Family Survey-5 (NHFS-5) had reported. The data from Stats of India—an independent e-resource providing socio-economic statistical information of India, 75.2 percent women in Jammu and Kashmir own a mobile phone which is the 12th highest ratio in India.
Impact on local economy
Many think that when individuals choose to make online purchases, they often divert financial resources away from their local communities. For instance, if a consumer decides to buy a gift from a platform like Amazon rather than a nearby local business, the money spent goes into the coffers of a national trader rather than contributing to the economic vitality of the purchaser’s community. However, economic analyst Ejaz Ayoub notes that this shift has mixed effects on Jammu and Kashmir’s economy. “The region heavily relies on imports due to its consumption-driven economy, with an annual import size of around Rs. 60,000 crores and around 1o lakh people are associated with the trading sector. What is currently being impacted by changing consumer behavior are the profits and margins earned by the trading sector,” Ejaz told Kashmir Observer.
“Nonetheless, there is a growing trend of young entrepreneurs adopting modern business practices that can benefit the local community’s revenue generation,” he added.
But is e-commerce killing offline retailing?
In Anantnag’s Lal Chowk, Faheem Ahmad, a clothing shop owner looks upon his meticulously arranged shelves, filled with a variety of textiles and garments. Once a flourishing trader, Faheem finds himself grappling with the challenges brought about by the onset of online shopping. The bustling streets that were once filled with enthusiastic customers have transformed into quiet lanes, and he witnesses a noticeable decline in footfall and customer engagement.
Faheem acknowledges that the charm and character of his shop seem to have lost their allure amidst the rapidly changing consumer behavior. “Customers often compare prices with online platforms, not considering the transportation charges, taxes, and other expenses that physical stores bear” he said. Despite their lack of realization, Faheem understands that he cannot stop customers from shopping online.
He shares his frustration, “You won’t believe, there are days when I struggle to sell even one item. People blame inflation for the same, but the significant shift towards online shopping has a major part to play.”
Other local traders, whom Kashmir observer talked to, also shared that the rise of online shopping has put a downward pressure on prices, leading to reduced profit margins or difficulties in maintaining pricing levels. “Online platforms often offer lower prices due to factors like lower overhead costs, direct sourcing, and bulk purchasing. This puts pressure on us to offer competitive prices to attract customers,” an offline retailer said.
Extending beyond trivial products, the availability of EMI (Equated Monthly Installment) options has made it possible for people to purchase a wide range of products, including electronics, appliances, furniture etc. “EMI’s make it more affordable for individuals to spread the cost of expensive purchases over several months. I recently purchased an air conditioner from one of the leading online shopping sites using EMI option without bearing a substantial immediate financial burden,” Wahid Ahmad, a student said.
Despite the increasing popularity of online shopping and the rise of smartphones in Kashmir, there remains a section of people who prefer traditional offline shopping. These individuals continue to embrace the experience of visiting physical stores and examining products in person.
“E-commerce has undoubtedly lured customers away from conventional retail stores, but I believe that it will ever reach a point where it entirely replaces them. Traditional stores are unlikely to vanish,” 40-year-old Ghulam Nabi Bhat, said. “It is crucial for physical retail stores to adapt rapidly in response to the current situation.”
Need for digital presence
As the dynamics of commerce evolve, many local traders have recognised the importance of embracing the digital realm. Offline stores have started to establish a virtual presence through websites, social media platforms, or e-commerce stores that allows them to tap into the growing online market. The Unicommerce report stated that during FY-2023, the number of stores in India that implemented omnichannel operations rose by 58.4% as compared to the last financial year.
Saima Jan, a small business entrepreneur from Srinagar runs an offline ladies’ store. But she started leveraging platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp to promote her products. “Social media has helped me connect with consumers from different parts of Kashmir and even from other regions. Virtual presence makes it easier to meet the expectations of digitally savvy consumers,” Saima said.
“I click good pictures of my products like bags and upload them with detailed descriptions, images, and prices. Now, most of the sales I make are through online selling.”
Walk into any neighborhood shop nowadays and you’ll notice something new – a small black and white QR code (quick response code) discreetly placed near the cash counter. These codes represent a significant digital transformation that has swept through local markets and quaint corner stores. “Recognizing the importance of integrating technology into businesses, shopkeepers are now upgrading their stores with modern contactless payment processing. The adoption of digital payment methods, including mobile wallets and UPI (Unified Payments Interface) has facilitated transactions,” Saima said.
E-commerce sites flourish in Kashmir
With an aim to bridge the gap between traditional businesses and the digital marketplace, several local e-commerce platforms and marketplaces like Koshur store, Kashmir Box, Kashmir origin, Jhelum Cart, Kashmir sales mart etc. have emerged in Kashmir.
koshurstore.com, an e-commerce marketplace founded in 2019 by 23-year-old Morris Shahmiri in Kashmir, has diversified into new markets, such as food, online pharmacy, and groceries, and successfully acquired other businesses, including Khen, Groceries-Daily, and Shoob. Koshur Store attained funding from angel investors, becoming the youngest company to secure such investment. Multiple reports suggest that the company has experienced exponential growth, with a net worth of ₹900 million and the founder’s personal net worth reaching ₹630 million in 2023. These numbers highlight the immense potential and opportunities that lie ahead for the e-commerce industry in Kashmir.