The advancement in internet and mobile technology has not only enhanced communication and information sharing culture among the Bhutanese, but it has also led to an exhilarating growth of doing business online that was unimaginable a few years ago.
Goods and services are literally being sold online today and an increasing number of Bhutanese are leaving no stones unturned to acquire whatever they want, albeit at affordable prices and conveniently. Online shopping websites and mobile apps such as Flipkart, Myntra, Snapdeal, Amazon.com, AliExpress, Myntra and other local sites on the social media, among others, are most frequented by Bhutan’s urbanites these days.
A housewife and a mother of two in Thimphu, Chencho Dema, is a perfect example of people who are hooked into this online business. She started her own clothing business by buying bulk of clothes online from other shopping websites and sells these at local sites.
“I never thought I will start by business by shopping online,” she said. She reasoned that online shopping allows people to shop from the comfort of their homes without the pressure of a salesperson, and online marketplaces provide a new and more convenient venue for the exchange of virtually all types of goods and services.
For 21-year-old Tashi Wangmo, a college student, it’s about good quality and most importantly sizes that she prefers online shopping.
“I used to buy clothes mostly from India earlier. It’s difficult to get waist size of and above 34 in Bhutan. For fat people like me, we have no other choice but to do shopping online because we get the clothes according to our sizes,” she said, adding that Bhutanese shop-owners don’t know how to deal with their customers.
“Most of the shopkeepers have attitude problem. They are either with take it or leave it kind of attitude, which is not going to work anymore,” Tashi Wangmo said.
According to Sangay, the proprietor of Drukbeez, a local supplier who delivers customers online purchased products from online stores in India such as Myntra, Flipkart, and Amazon across Bhutan, they receive around 10 online registered packets each day. The customers are then informed of the packets. Along with the actual price of the product, they charge an additional Nu 150 as transportation fee. The customer has to make payment in Indian currency, or otherwise pay an extra 5% if the payment is made in Bhutanese currency.
Both the people into such businesses and customers, meanwhile, acknowledge that online shopping is cheaper and convenient. However, there are also people like Pema Choezom, who have become prey to cases of scam on the internet.
A housewife by profession, Pema Choezom, said, she ordered two pair of jeans one time from a local dealer, who is into selling clothes online.
“She told me to deposit the money in her account and I did. She said it will reach within two weeks, but it didn’t. It took almost two months and when I got the product it was not the one that I had ordered. And when I asked her to refund my money, she refused,” she added.
A similar case happened to a corporate employee, Tshering Zangmo.
“I ordered a t-shirt and it was torn and of very low quality. I told her to refund the money and she deleted her account and also switched off her phone,” she said.
However, Sangay from Drukbeez cautioned that the customers have to be careful about the apps and local sites. “They should know the brand. If not, at the end, it will cost you money.”
Many shopkeepers, who run shops with business licenses, meanwhile, are complaining about online shopping and people doing such businesses online.
“It’s affecting our business,” said Phub Zam, who has a garment shop in the town. “Just the other day, a young girl asked about the shoe price and when I told her the price, she said she will get two pairs of shoe in that price online.” “Well if this online shopping goes on, I don’t think I can run this business,” she added.
On the other hand, Thinley Dorji, who owns a general shop in the main town, said it’s fine if customers chose online shopping.
“What I don’t like is local people selling products through social media. Everybody is selling something online and that is also without a business license. It’s unfair,” said Thinley Dorji. “If these online businesses increase, then we are doomed.”
Many shopkeepers that Business Bhutan talked to feel that the government should do something about the people who sell goods online without business licenses. Unlike them, they say these people don’t have to pay taxes and that it wasn’t fair.
However, trade director Sonam Tenzin said they are trying to come up with framework guidelines on how to regulate the online business.
Pema Seldon from Thimphu