Let us take a look at some traditional businesses that could do with a beginner level digital transformation:
Pharmacies: Drug stores are important during the pandemic, yet these small family-owned shops struggle when Viber could very well be their virtual shop counter. While some shops have switched, many have yet to start selling medicine via messaging apps, sending photos of tablet strips without having to type out complicated names, as well as having delivery to residents within a 3km radius.
Flower/Plant Sellers: Gardening was a booming hobby during the first few months of the pandemic, during which nurseries saw new customers interested in setting up rooftop gardens to grow their own vegetables. Restrictions on gatherings also meant that flower sales saw a sharp decline with no weddings, or events. Online flower businesses could help with important family events being held at home as well as those looking to gift fancy bouquets without visiting a flower shop. Product photos can be easily sent over, and video calls can help make colour and wrapping choices. Even better, a flower vendor in Kathmandu can cater to a wedding at home in another district, provided they tie-up with an inter-city delivery partner.
Book and Stationery Shops: The publishing industry was already suffering before the coronavirus crisis. But now many people would rather download an e-book or watch a movie. But books, unlike clothes or shoes, are a product category that enjoy low chances of getting returned, with customers usually receiving exactly what they saw on the WhatsApp image. The same goes for stationery items like notebooks, pens, staplers, geometry sets, etc. These business owners need to get going by collecting contact numbers of regular customers and asking Facebook page visitors to message them with the title or category of the book they are searching for. This is only the stepping-stone towards e-commerce websites, which some Nepali online booksellers like booksmandala.com and laibary.np already have. Nepal could someday have its own staples.com, an online store of a global retail chain that houses stationery and office supplies.
Paper Products: Thanks to e-commerce, plastic packaging is contributing to mounting piles of garbage. Nepali paper, recycled paper or lokta are a part of our cultural aesthetic, and an industry that needs revival – especially due to the sharp dip in tourists buying creative paper goods made in Nepal. If paper goods manufacturers used multimedia messaging to take orders, the market may see an upward trend in affordable paper lampshades, pretty gift packaging and photo frames.
Festive Decor: With Raksha Bandhan, Krishna Asthami and Tij around the corner, as well as major festivals like Dasain and Tihar coming soon, festive decor, puja items and related paraphernalia will force people to visit crowded markets in Asan and Patan for affordable deals, further spreading the virus. But what if small businesses chose to pre-book orders via WhatsApp and Viber, bundling both decor and puja goods for customers to shop efficiently without wasting time and risking their health? pujaservice.com is your one-stop-shop for religious ceremony requirements, but festive shopping is a massive, rich territory that is yet to be properly tapped.
Hair, Skin and Beauty Services: Neighbourhood barber shops, kiosk-based mehendi artists and local beauty parlours have all seen a drastic decline in customers because they need physical proximity. Home visits and doorstep services might be the way forward for them. After all, smaller businesses thrive on their efficiency, not their brand experience. These businesses can benefit greatly from booking appointments using messaging apps, and carrying a kit to their customer’s home, while also charging extra for personalised at-home services. With innovative platforms like UrbanClap and HouseJoy seeing tremendous success in the Indian market, Nepal could also get started. But for now, getting a haircut on the home driveway, thanks to a simple Viber message to a trusted barber, is a solid beginning.
If you want to help your local small businesses take a step towards post-Covid Nepal, volunteer to help set up their phone, teach them to create a Facebook post or show them the magic of in-stream video and voice messages, and see where it takes them.
Who knows, this could be a ‘one tiny phone tap for a Nepali shopkeeper, one giant leap for Nepal’.