“The lockdown had a very heavy impact. I had to close the shop; I could not work,” said Farzana Rahim, a housewife and a small business owner based in Karachi.
In March, as the nationwide lockdown was announced following the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic, Farzana Rahim and thousands of other sellers like her were forced to shutter their shops and halt operations indefinitely.
“Businesses have been affected in every way. The number of customers has declined – nobody is interested in clothes right now,” Rahim adds. For the past three years, she has been running her own women’s apparel business.
The full extent of the havoc that the pandemic will wreak on Pakistan’s economy will reveal itself with time but there is a strong possibility – and a fear – that the small-and-medium enterprises sector – which accounts for 40% of the country’s GDP and 80% of non-agricultural employment – will bear the brunt.
In the last week of April, after weeks of a complete lockdown, the government eased restrictions on businesses, allowing owners to operation online. While the announcement came as a welcome solution, it also presented challenges for businesses that have operated as brick-and-mortar establishments for generations and lack the operational, technical and logistical expertise to shift towards online retail.
“We believe that we have a responsibility now more than ever to contribute to the economy. Our focus shifted towards efforts that can help restart the economy,” said Ehsan Saya, Managing Director at Daraz Pakistan.
In order to help small-and-medium enterprises during this period of economic downturn and uncertainty, Daraz launched the Humqadam program with a subsidy of PKR 4.5 crores and invited businesses across the country to set up their shops on the platform with dedicated one-on-one support and access to free business consultation.
Within the program, Daraz is offering businesses access to free-of-cost education and training on ecommerce operations through Daraz University – an online portal. The platform’s mission is to make it easy for anyone to do business in the digital era, and it focuses on education to ensure sellers are able tooptimize their digital ventures.
The new program is offering an expedited sign-up process, enabling businesses to start retailing on the platform as early as within two days. Furthermore, Daraz will not be charging these sellers any commission (0%) for the months of May and June. Sellers will have access to free analytics tools which will help them optimize their digital ventures and they will also be provided with marketing promotion which will increase the traffic to their Daraz shops. Furthermore, discounted packaging material will be made available to them.
“When I heard about the Humqadam program, I signed up. With the commission being waived, it will be a big support,” said Farzana. She is now considering adding to her business’ portfolio, including a larger variety of products to sell online through Daraz.
“I want to be able to reach more customers and I have to expand the scope of my business,” she said.