Facebook dominates Afghan e-commerce

SAID SALIM, a 26-year-old entrepreneur in Kabul, Afghanistan’s mountain-fringed capital, recently opened his first shop. On the top floor of Dawoodzai mall, one of Kabul’s fanciest shopping destinations, he stands behind a counter stacked with his best-selling products: bottles of hair-loss lotion from Russia; posture-correcting devices from China; children’s toys from the United Arab Emirates. Missing, however, are customers. The real storefront for Mr Salim’s enterprise is Facebook. His “Global Online Shop” takes virtually all its orders over the internet. Its deliveries go out to customers by motorbike.

Few Afghans surf the internet. Although mobile phones have spread rapidly—and enterprising firms have put up masts even in places beset by fighting between government forces and the Taliban—only one in ten Afghans uses them to access the web. At least in big cities, though, that is changing fast. Younger, more affluent Kabulis are addicted to their phones. In the absence of e-commerce giants such as Amazon or Alibaba, small online retailers, who import products in bulk and sell them on, have stepped in. Facebook, access to which mobile-phone operators throw in at no extra charge, has become the country’s premier internet bazaar.

Online business in Afghanistan faces the same grievous problems as the offline sort....



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