Shopping : Myanmar heads to the web

Some companies have simplified shopping online down to just one click. In Myanmar, it’s not that simple – but that hasn’t stopped people from taking their business to online stores.

For the past few years, connectivity in Myanmar has been scaling and the practice of selling clothes, electronic devices and other products has gained popularity in the country, particularly in Yangon. Now, as more and more people go mobile with Ooredoo, Telenor and MPT, customers have an easier time shopping online on consumer websites and Facebook.

And while shopping in Myanmar’s second largest-city usually takes the traditional form, with people heading to stores to buy whatever they need in person, those living in Mandalay have also shown a budding interest in online shopping – a process that for them involves searching for goods online, making orders, settling payments via banks and waiting a week to 10 days for purchases to be delivered.

Ma Nan Lae Lae Soe opened her clothing shop Hello Queen in 2007. Driven by the encouragement of regular customers from all over Myanmar, this past year she tested out an online store.

“My customers are not only from Mandalay, but also other cities such as Taunggyi, Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw, Monywa and Myintkyina,” she said. “I used to connect with them and send photos of new designs available at my shop via Viber. Then they suggested [I set up] an online store.”

She has created a Facebook account for Hello Queen, which she uses to post photos and prices for clothes and to take orders. Her online store also offers delivery service to homes or bus stations for those that buy items costing K50,000 or more.

Ma Nan Lae Lae Soe said more people know about her shop in Mandalay than before and that sales are up. She notes an online store can reach a wider audience than advertising in newspapers and magazines.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Su Pyi Kyi Thar Hlaing created an online fashion store not to sell her own styles, but to connect friends with all the web has to offer for fun.

“I’m often tired of searching fo] updated designs at shopping malls and other fashion shops, but I can find them on the internet’s stores,” she said.

Ma Su Pyi Kyi Thar Hlaing said she often buys clothing online and then shares pictures of purchases on Facebook. “My friends who like the way I dress request I order from online stores on their behalf,” she said, adding it’s been about six months since she started shopping for others. Now she has regular customers.

Though she has established an online shopping page called Unicorn and Rainbow, she posts content and takes orders through her personal Facebook account.

Clearly, customers are interested in browsing and buying online. However, shopping on the web does carry risks for both vendors and consumers in Myanmar, where neither online nor mobile banking has been established.

Instead of waiting for payment, in the past Ma Nan Lae Lae Soe had customers pay up front. “I used to send customers bills via Viber and then ask them to transfer money from their nearest bank,” she said. “After about two days, I delivered the item to the customer’s home or a bus station.”

Meanwhile, the online looks themselves present challenges, as consumers can have trouble deciding what to buy based on photos. Sizing, as well as garment quality and appearance, can prove tricky as well for both buyers and sellers.

If a piece of clothing that gets ordered comes in too big, vendors can potentially size it down. But if it’s too small, they can’t sell it to the original intended customer; instead they have to sell it elsewhere or give it away.

Ma Ei Lay, who opened Mandalay’s Little Things She Needs Fashion Shop in 2011, said she doesn’t like online shopping but will incorporate it into her business soon to accede customer demand.

“I don’t like [online shopping] because the colours of some clothes are not the same as in the photos … Then, there are delays in the delivery system,” she said.

And though the World Wide Web can connect customers with the stuff they can’t find anywhere else, Ma Ei Lay doesn’t recommend buying it all.

“Online shopping is better to buy things that are difficult to buy in the market, but it can’t be convenient to buy everything there,” she said. “I never order clothes for myself. I ordered beds and pillows.”

But the downsides to starting an online business – problems with payment and potential lost sales – are met by practical upsides such as a low barrier to entry, according to Su Pyi Kyi Thar Hlaing, who said she started up her online store with K1 million.

“Most people who don’t have enough money to open a shop are [going online to run businesses] at a manageable size,” Ma Ei Lay said.

The ticket price of starting a business presents a major obstacle to all entrepreneurs, while launching one virtually means cutting costs on rent and staff, as owners don’t have to pay for online property.

Online shopping and online selling can make sales easier for vendors and customers. But it won’t replace traditional buying altogether, especially in Mandalay, where according to Ma Nan Le Le Soe, people can get most of the things they need on 73rd Street, 35th Street, 69th Street and at Diamond Plaza.

But no matter how convenient a stroll to a store, Ma Ei Lay thinks that in time people will start shopping online. It’s a sign of the times, one linked to the spread of connectivity over Myanmar.

“At the moment, there are affordable phones … Internet can be used by people from all social strata,” she said. “Online shopping will [get] gradually popular in Mandalay.”

– Translation by

Thiri Min Htun and Zar Zar Soe

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