Is shopping, even if online, a big hassle for you? For most of us it is, especially when the weather is too hot, the roads are blocked or the online sites offering dodgy products and its difficult to decide.
Enter Shopsy.pk — a shopping search engine — that lets you discover products from a range of online stores without having to go through a hundred websites (along with a thousand tabs) and gives the best price available for each product. Just enter the thing you are looking to buy, say a polo t-shirt, and it will display all the relevant results with a product description, price and seller.
Shopsy.pk was launched in November 2016 by Usama Arjumand, who had recently returned from the United Kingdom and felt the need for an aggregator. Just the next month, it joined the acceleration programme of Telenor Velocity. The chief is flanked by Sanjay Kumar as the head of engineering and Faraz Khalid looking after the AI.
In Pakistan, e-commerce itself hasn’t picked pace and accounts for only a minor portion of retail, the State Bank is putting the total sales across local and international websites in 2018 at just Rs40 billion (roughly $256 million in terms of current exchange rate).
In contrast, the Philippines, which has a comparable total gross domestic product to us, recorded over $800m in revenues in 2019 whereas Egypt — often regarded to have similar economic conditions as us — last year hit over $5bn of e-commerce sales.
How much sense does it make to have a price comparison website in the first place? “Things have been slow traditionally, yes, but now they are moving forward. The biggest player in the country is hitting as much as 10 million visits a month so the demand is constantly on the rise, thus creating a need for someone like Shopsy,” says Arjumand.
If history were to serve as a lesson though, price comparison is perhaps not the best business to venture into. It has been tried before, including by the Islamabad-based JustPrice.pk and Comparebox.pk from Lahore, but both eventually had to shut down. What makes Shopsy fit to tread a path that others weren’t able to?
“It’s a difficult business with complicated technology, especially the categorisation, and a hard-to-crack monetisation scheme, but we have now built a solid platform which tackles the two,” he argues.
Among the local functional price comparison websites, PriceOye is the biggest player with website visits at around 1.21m — much higher than even most of the major online stores — but Arjamund is not concerned about competition from that front. “We both work differently: they focus on phones and electronics and unlike them, our portal has more of a search engine interface where you can look for any product,” he explains.
Isn’t the former’s focus better though given how electronics and related items are most likely to be searched and researched online? “Lately there has been quite a noticeable increase in make-up items and lawn suits for example. We want to be an all inclusive platform,” he says.
And there is certainly a degree of truth in his claim. According to a recent Google publication on the future of e-commerce in Pakistan, as many as 72 per cent of shoppers said they went online to seek information on skin care products and 89pc for female wear before making purchases. However, most of those searches might not be converted into a sale for the online store SHOPSY.
The area Shopsy.pk plays in, that of a search engine, is pretty much captured by Google which is basically the go-to portal for anyone looking for products and their prices on the internet. But Arjumand hopes to beat goliath at its own game.
The startup was initially bootstrapped until August when they raised an undisclosed seed round from a local business process outsourcing company — Sybrid — which is going to be channeled towards marketing, scaling nationwide and product development, especially further upgrading AI.
So how do they make money is a question worth asking. There are a number of streams they hope to generate revenues from: pay per click (like Google), commission through affiliates and featuring advertisements on the website. Which of these, if any, are already reaping the fruits, the CEO wasn’t particularly clear about that.
At the moment, Shopsy has over a million products from some 30 online stores. And what qualifies a store to be listed on the website? “It depends on their reviews, history, product range among other factors. Some reach out to us themselves while we actively look for players too and always try to index stores that cater to unique categories which we want to add to our platform,” Arjumand says.
Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2019