It’s hard to pin down the exact value of the global online apparel marketplace. Depending on the source, it can vary anywhere from $1.4 to 3 trillion. What is certain, however, is that it is growing fast. The world’s largest online apparel market is China, with the US a close second. Online apparel in Pakistan is also growing, with virtual stores popping up with very few or no physical locations at all. JIT inventory management, an increasing number of strategic fulfilment facilities, delivery options and a multitude of payment tools give impetus to the ecosystem to grow.
GuriyaAnsar began in 1988 as a small boutique and workshop operating from the designer’s house in Islamabad. At the time there weren’t many fashion houses in the city and thus the brand gained significant popularity in a short span of time. The brand opened its second outlet in Islamabad in 1992. In the following years Ansar relocated to Lahore along with her workshop and began stocking collections at multi-brand outlets across the country along with exhibitions in Pakistan and the Middle East. While the brand, style and name are strongly hers, the newer generation has grown into the fabric of the business, stitch by stitch.
Zain Ansar, her son and head of all things marketing and digital at the brand, says that the move to the digital landscape was more than obvious. Sewing fresh ideas into family businesses, the exposure and experience to move towards digital is fast changing a lot of companies.
40 million Pakistanis have access to the internet and the annual e-commerce sales show a rising interest in the population. “The physical store landscape is becoming increasingly overcrowded with new brands launching on a daily basis,” says Zain. “The brand felt its reach becoming extremely limited having being stocked at only a few locations across the country. On the other hand, the digital world looks extremely promising. There is immense opportunity available for the brand in a digital market space whereby people from all over the country can place orders and receive packages at their doorstep.”
Like many businesses worldwide that opt for a digital model, Ansar’s business has channeled the utility costs involved in operating a physical location to marketing the brand. Giant retailers like Amazon ship out orders instead of opening stores in locations across the world which makes their reach global. Expanding operations does require building locations for storage such as warehouses and that is something which Zain acknowledges.
“Ours is a family business in its truest sense. We work with an extremely close-knit team of family members and friends, bringing intimacy and trust into the business. However with the steady growth in sales, we recognize our need for expansion. For this, we will need to increase the scope of our operations and our team.”
Buying clothes online is a new experience for most shoppers in Pakistan. Some pain points with readymade clothes involves the lack of customized sizing, which can result in the buyer not really knowing for certain whether their purchase is going to fit them. This results in the returns requiring vendors to figure out their rate of return, refunds and exchange policies. “We regularly receive queries from potential customers asking about our physical location. However, this is a time-contained challenge since Pakistani consumers are still adopting the idea of online shopping and many are weary of the nightmarish online shopping experiences they have had in the past. We believe that over time, businesses and consumers will become more familiar with the digital purchasing.”
GuriyaAnsar follows a supply-if-demand policy which allows for swift action on orders received which are processed by the end of the day and prepared for delivery. It is reminiscent of the ISO 9000 standards that have served businesses for over 30 years, regulating demand and supply.
For every business, there is only so much control a business can have over its supply chain. Even with visibility across the entire supply chain, the last mile can prove to be problematic and like every company, it’s important to be clear what the core line of business is. Once the core business is strong and streamlined, partners in the ecosystem need to be ready to enable transactions and exchanges to be complete. These partners include courier companies and payment companies. As the ecosystem grows, so will the stakeholders in it.