On a recent Monday morning on the fourth floor of an office building off of Kantipath, Udhab Khatri was getting ready to make a delivery to Patan. Khatri, an office worker for Harilo.com, grabbed several labeled envelopes and a Nintendo Wii video-gaming console and headed downstairs for the company van. The Wii would soon be delivered to the home of a Harilo.com customer who, several weeks earlier, had ordered the system online from Target.com for $64.99 USD. Thanks to Harilo’s innovative supply-delivery chain, the customer could purchase a Wii from the United States, have it shipped to Nepal and delivered to his doorstep, something that was not possible only a few months ago.
Since its launch in August 2010, Harilo.com has changed the face of online shopping in Nepal which, in the pre-Harilo days, was largely closed to Nepalis and expatriates living in Nepal.
But just when Nepal’s shoppers seem to have been forever relegated to roaming the jostling and dusty roads around New Road and perusing the aisles of Chinese-imported foods at Namaste Supermarket, along came Harilo.com. All of the sudden, the shopping landscape in Nepal wasn’t so bleak anymore.
Harilo’s business model and services are changing the way Nepalis and expats shop and receive goods from abroad. The process is simple and accessible, even to those without a credit card. Say, for example, a customer wants to buy a new iPhone. She can search any major online retailer until she finds the phone she wants. She then copies and pastes the iPhone URL and sends it to Harilo’s staff via their website. Within 24 hours, Harilo will send her a quote for the phone, which will include shipping, customs and V.A.T. If the price is right, she will then pay for the phone with a credit card, wire transfer or with Nepalese rupees and Harilo will purchase the phone for her. It will be shipped to the company’s warehouse in Florida and then sent to Nepal. Once it arrives, usually within two to four weeks, she can pick up the phone at the Kantipath office, or have it delivered straight to her doorstep. No bargaining on New Road, no asking a friend to bring it back from the U.S. in an airplane bag and no wondering if the phone is a knock-off. This is the future of online shopping in Nepal.
The entrepreneurs behind the Harilo operation are Akshay Sthapit and Kim Smith. The two met through a chance connection on a Kathmandu forum soon after Smith and her husband relocated to Kathmandu from the U.S. Sthapit, a Nepali architect and engineer with a PhD in robotics who has spent a good portion of the last 10 years in the U.S., had become frustrated with constantly asking friends to bring things back to Nepal from abroad.
“Almost everything in Nepal is imported, so it doesn’t make sense that you can’t find what you need,” Sthapit says. After the initial idea was spawned, he spent the next 3 months building the website.
Just months after its launch, Harilo is getting thousands of hits per day and a constant deluge of quote requests. The site, which includes a forum for users, shows the real-time activity of what their customers request quotes for and order, which range from electronics, to kitchen goods to clothing. Harilo.com users can make major purchases, like a laptop, but the site also allows customers to buy small, cheap items that can’t be found in the Kathmandu bazaars, as there is no minimum purchase price.
According to Smith and Sthapit, they’ve seen some people buy high-ticket items, but they say most of their customers are purchasing more mundane, everyday things like pots and pans or vitamins.
In Nepali, “harilo” means lush. Just as Amazon.com changed the face of online shopping globally, Harilo.com has brightened the online shopping landscape in Nepal. Whether it is a $700 pair of shoes, a $1 pen, a blue-tooth enabled helmet or a GAP sweater, items widely available in the U.S. are now no further than a few mouse clicks away. Nepal’s online shoppers have reason to rejoice: their wish is Harilo’s command.