In line with global trends, online selling in Pakistan has exploded in recent years, leading to a major focus on e-commerce prospects within the country.
While the Asia Pacific nation is still largely informal and cash-based, greater digital penetration and growing mobile banking offerings have created a fertile ground for digital selling.
Global and local sellers looking to capitalize on e-commerce avenues will relish the opportunity to grow with this young market and establish dominance early.
But successfully selling online is as much about good planning as being proactive when opportunity knocks. That’s why we have written this guide to help you answer a critical question: what are the best products to sell online in Pakistan?
Below, we’ll share our list of the top 10 best-selling online goods in the country and tips to get started. But first, let’s look closer at the massive e-commerce moment happening in Pakistan.
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For a long time, Pakistan operated a mostly informal, subsistence-driven economy. However, the 2010s sparked a change in the country’s economy with rising mobile phone use rates and a steady wave of digitization.
According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the country had 162 million cellular subscribers as of September 2019, with a teledensity of 76.56%.1 Those figures included 74 million broadband users and 72 million 3G/4G subscribers,1 which are textbook conditions for the growth of a digital economy.
Unsurprisingly, the same period witnessed a leap in the number of local e-commerce merchants and payments. Between 2017 to 2018 alone, the number of merchants nearly tripled, while e-commerce payments increased by 2.3 times.2 As of 2019, four banks in the country supported international payment gateway services (such as VISA and MasterCard), thereby facilitating cross-border trade.2
Online stores and B2B marketplaces are becoming common in the country. Alibaba.com is one of the largest B2B marketplaces in Pakistan and is a popular option for sellers. Here are some of the reasons why sellers pick Alibaba.com.
A youthful population (61% below the age of 644) is driving a growing consumer sector in Pakistan with rising B2C and B2B sales. And considering that Millennials and Gen Z are seen as the present and future of e-commerce,5 Pakistan looks to have a bright future in this regard.
The Pakistan government has accordingly taken note of these strong conditions and is working to enhance policy support for local e-commerce. In 2019, the government released its first-ever e-commerce policy entitled the “e-Commerce Policy of Pakistan”, in which it laid out plans to improve the local e-commerce sector.2
Action steps outlined under the policy document include globally standard e-commerce regulation and facilitation, greater financial inclusion through payment infrastructure, and global connectivity. Likewise, the government plans to create business support and trade development programs for SMEs alongside larger investments in data protection and ICT infrastructure. All bold plans that the global trade community will track with interest.
Consequently, e-commerce in Pakistan is reaching a pivotal point. With the steady growth recorded so far, the country is increasingly ripe for an online shopping boom – a period that will likely see rapid adoption and mainstreaming of e-commerce. That’s why there’s probably no better time to start selling online in Pakistan.
You now appreciate just how big e-commerce is in Pakistan. But how can your company penetrate the Pakistani market? We recommend starting with an inquiry into the top-selling products within the country.
It’s worth noting that most of the products on the following list are consumer-focused. The reason for this is the relative youth of Pakistan’s e-commerce market. Consumer goods transition quicker to online shopping channels because they involve relatively small amounts and can rapidly generate volume.
Conversely, business-focused goods like raw material inputs and machinery are high-ticket items. As a result, they attract lengthier negotiations and transition less quickly to digital channels.
Nevertheless, these consumer-focused goods still present an important B2B opportunity because the online retail stores providing them will need affordable and reliable supply. That’s where global sellers come in. With that said, let’s dig in!
Pakistani traditional home fittings and decorations are hot selling items on the local e-commerce scene. These items are usually characterized by their portrayal of the unique local culture and hundreds of years of tradition, which is why they are also coveted internationally.
Some of the décor items that enjoy attention here include lamps with aesthetically pleasing shades, woven rugs, and wooden calligraphy. Table covers and mats are also a Pakistani classic, and online stores typically stock these in all shapes and sizes.
The home décor market is an extension of the local handcraft trade. Handmade items like rugs, scarves, and vases are always in demand due to the intricate designs they carry and the unique skill that goes into them.
Previously, these items were only available physically, but their presence in online stores is a testament to how e-commerce increases these goods' reach.
Pakistan has an extensive history in the textile and apparel trade, and these items continue to form a significant part of the country’s exports. Textiles constitute 57% of Pakistan’s exports, and on the local scene, apparel generates between 32-35% in industry sales.6
Women’s clothing (such as gowns), men’s clothing (such as t-shirts and suits), and unsewn materials constitute sub-divisions of this booming sector.
Surprisingly, bedding has emerged as one of the leading e-commerce categories in recent years. From comforters and blankets to pillows, mattresses, and bedsheets, sales in this sector have maintained a high level.
However, the sector is characterized by a high degree of niche requirements and specifications. For instance, therapeutic mattresses and pillows might have more demanding specifications. Therefore, sellers would do well to drill down into the specifics of these items before deciding on them.
Like many Asia Pacific countries, jewelry plays a significant cultural role in Pakistan. Women will mainly wear bold jewelry on cultural holidays and celebrations as part of their traditional look.
In addition to the demand for these ethnic pieces, there’s a growing appetite for dainty, western-style jewelry.
Pakistani e-commerce stores constantly list mobile phones and phone accessories amongst their top-performing goods. For instance, out of the top ten best-selling products listed by Daraz, only three relate to categories other than phones and their accessories.7
Models by well-known Asian brands such as Redmi are trendy options amongst online shoppers.
Pakistan is also developing a strong appetite for consumer electronics carried on the back of rising digitalization. Items like Bluetooth speakers, podcast microphones, laptops, and accessories attract top e-commerce traffic.
Likewise, there will be a contingent market in spare parts and the maintenance of these gadgets.
Like other fashion items, footwear in Pakistan carries a distinct cultural flavor. So there’s a healthy trade in traditional style shoes, but that’s not to say western-style footwear isn’t playing a role.
Quality leather shoes and sandals are everyday online shopping items but at reasonable prices.
While Pakistan continues to be a primarily traditional society, there’s a growing embrace of modern trends, particularly in beauty and personal grooming. Beauty products, which generally perform very well online, have attracted growing e-commerce attention in the country.
Keep in mind that the popular preference is often for understated looks that enhance natural features rather than bold beauty statements and products.
Lastly, male grooming products such as beard oils and creams also attract e-commerce traffic. The preference is typically for organic products carrying well-known essential oils like jojoba and castor oil.
So that’s it. With this list, you have a practical resource to plan your entry into the Pakistani market. However, always remember that this list functions best as a starting point. Be sure to conduct detailed research into specific product segments and their historical performance.
Even with a clear idea of what products to sell online in Pakistan, success can still be elusive without a good plan for entry. The best sellers go one step further to understand their market, buyer traits, and local realities, so they don’t get surprised. Here are five tips that can help with this.
Nothing takes the place of market research when it comes to starting an online business (or any business). Even if you have been selling online for long, entering a new market requires learning the market's features, challenges, and opportunities.
You can find the information you need from sources like the Ministry of Commerce,8 the International Trade Administration,9 and industry reports from reputable organizations like the World Bank.10
Pakistan has a varied market base with different tastes and purchasing power. As a result, it will be critical to understand how your chosen product caters to these categories and where your best sellers will target.
Consider if you want to provide mass-market products that target the low to lower-middle-class or goods that include the upper-middle class. Of course, luxury products will usually have only the upper class as their target, but there might also be sub-classes here that you need to target separately.
Marketing is what brings your products to the attention of buyers. But it won’t do that job if your marketing strategy is poorly-planned or executed. Likewise, marketing doesn’t do its job if targeted at the wrong set of people.
So it pays to sit and carefully think about your marketing strategy. For example, do you want to implement organic strategies like search engine optimization (SEO), or would you rather explore paid marketing options like social media and search ads? You might also consider using a mix of the two for greater effect.
Pakistan is still mainly a cash-based economy, so it’s important to remember this when structuring your e-commerce payment options. As the State Bank of Pakistan reports, roughly 55% of Pakistani e-commerce customers prefer cash on delivery (CoD).2
So, while digital payment options (such as debit cards and international payment gateways) are growing in acceptance, it’s still necessary to plan for a CoD option. People are demanding online products and payment structures that don’t stress them out. With a CoD process, you can serve your customers in ways that they find convenient, which will let them trust and rely on your business.
Finally, it’s vital to comply with the law of Pakistan as you set up your online store. This includes registering for a National Tax Number that identifies your business and helps the government assess your tax obligations.
Remember that it’s businesses who lay a solid regulatory and legal foundation for themselves that will have the time and space to enjoy the profits of their hard work. So, be sure to watch out for and fulfill all of your legal obligations.
As one of the top five e-commerce websites by traffic in Pakistan, Alibaba.com is a massive B2B marketplace where sellers can meet buyers in their thousands. Taking your business global can be easier than you think with the tools and support that Alibaba.com provides.
Would you like to put your brand on the world stage? Take the first step today: open a seller account on Alibaba.com.