With just a few days left for the Nepali New Year to begin, several e-commerce companies are offering special deals for customers. Amid this, Daraz, one of the largest e-commerce companies in Nepal, is starting its New Year campaign 'Nawa Barsa 2078, Naya Barsa ko Bhabya Sale' from Sunday. In this scenario, Arpana Ale Magar of The Himalayan Times caught up with Lino Ahlering, managing director of Daraz Nepal, to talk about the new offers of Daraz for New Year and other issues related to e-commerce business in Nepal. Excerpts:

How important is the Nepali market for Daraz and why?

Nepali market has always been significant for us as Nepal is fully integrated with the Daraz Group. Our presence in Nepal, as well as in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, is good. It's not a half-hearted business here, it's a long-term business. Because e-commerce is a long-term game, you have to invest a lot of time as well as money to be successful. And it is a very conscious choice to invest in Nepal.

When you look at the population size, Bangladesh and Pakistan are significantly larger, but we are now fully focused with a stronger team in Nepal. We are not a start-up now and are going to nearly double our workforce to 1,000+ by end of the year. Currently we have 600 people working with Daraz. Nepal is a country that is growing quite a lot, with about 23 million population having internet access. With technology growing rapidly, we expect our business to flourish more in the coming days.

Could you please elaborate on the Nepali New Year deals?

As Nepali New Year is approaching, a large team is focused on the deals for the special day. Nepali New Year is always a big campaign for us. We just couldn't do it last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But now we are coming up with a big bang with lots of exciting deals, discounts, offers and mega giveaways. Due to the pandemic a lot of supply chains had been affected. But the good thing is that from last month it has improved significantly. So, many fresh products will be offered this New Year. We have mega deals with discounts of up to 60 per cent. A new exclusive offer for consumers this year is that apart from additional discounts on purchases via digital payment, debit and credit cardholders can also pay for goods on instalments at zero per cent interest. So, we are very excited and optimistic for this campaign.

Other e-commerce companies are offering New Year deals as well. Why should consumers choose Daraz over them?

There are obviously multiple e-commerce companies in Nepal but when you think about what you want as a customer, you want the right deal, you want the widest assortment. And we have got half a million products and there is no other e-commerce company that can come even close to our product variety. In terms of quality customer service too, we have a very strong delivery network. The most important thing is to shop smartly with Daraz. As we have a number of sellers selling their products, we advise consumers to check the ratings before purchasing and to give honest review of the products.

We offer different discounts and deals on different days. So, the consumers have to take the advantage of these offers to get more favourable deals.

What are the promotional strategies of Daraz for the New Year deals?

We are more focused on how consumers can find what they are looking for on our platform and how to be visible in the market. We are always available online but that is nothing new for the customers and most of them are from young age group. So, our focus is also on lots of entertaining games. We do a lot of exhibitions and public programmes to attract them. And of course, media visibility is one of our promotional strategies.

Can you please tell us about your delivery network?

People always think that Daraz is centred in Kathmandu, but in fact now we are present in 47 different cities of the country. Currently, 50 per cent of our orders are from inside the valley. So, our market is growing more outside the valley. But it is also true that we have to deliver goods based on the infrastructure. So, we are really trying to influence the ecosystem of our market. From our sellers, payment partners, local partners and our buyers, we are trying to expand and manage them.

What were the challenges during the lockdown and how did Daraz overcome them?

Indeed the lockdown period was challenging for everyone. A lot of sellers could not sell their products either offline or online as the restrictions were very strict back then. And looking at their struggle to sell their products, we cut back on our commission from our sellers - especially the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) - during pandemic. And this has still been continued.

Moreover, focusing on health safety measures, our team worked very proficiently during the pandemic, which resulted in very less number of our staffers contracting the corona infection. We are still following those health safety measures. Back then, we worked in shifts, we implemented work-from-home policy, and we did a lot of contact-tracing, PCR tests and orientations regarding working in crisis situation. In the beginning, our customers were mostly only young people, but now people over 35 are also buying online. Moreover, after the government lifted the lockdown, about 3,000 new sellers have been signing up with Daraz every month.

What are the changes you have witnessed in Nepali online shopping trend over the years?

It has grown quite a lot. Since 2018 Alibaba has been investing in Nepal. From then to now, we can see that there is rapid growth in technology and trend of online shopping. Back then we used to talk about thousands of orders, but now we talk in million orders and this number is growing significantly.

Tracing back to 2018, even the sellers were not as professional back then. And there was no infrastructure for digital payment. We were working on cash-on-delivery system only. Around 40 per cent of our customers are now making their purchases through digital payments. Nepal wasn't performing well back in 2018 and to make our ecosystem work well, we had to educate sellers and buyers and still we need to train them. But now, the good thing is that even the government has started making policies for e-commerce companies realising their importance. So, the situation is improving but there are still a lot of things that need to be done for the betterment of e-commerce industry.

What are the challenges for such online trading platforms in Nepal?

When we started here, there was no formal direction. But now because of the COVID-19 pandemic also, the government accelerated policy making for e-commerce companies. And I really appreciate the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supply for acting proactively in this matter.

So, somehow this has made the e-commerce companies work more efficiently. And the good thing is that Nepal is doing well in making e-commerce policies compared to its neighbouring countries. But the policy is still not enough. So, we need more dialogue to regulate this sector and to make the e-commerce companies sustainable in the market.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 11, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.