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Google and Kantar – a data analytics and brand consulting company based in London – shared new research about the digital population in Pakistan. In a webinar titled “Journey to Digital” research, the speakers outlined how Pakistanis consume the internet and spend their time on digital platforms.

The research consisted of 2 stages, comprising 4,135 interviews with Pakistanis, aged between 15-55 years, in both urban and rural areas.

Some very interesting findings were highlighted from the research during the webinar. One of these was that Pakistan reached a critical mass of internet usage in 2021. More than half of the country’s population now uses the internet.

This boom was primarily driven by the pandemic and related lockdowns and the lower cost of mobile internet in Pakistan, the speakers said.

Furthermore, 46% of Pakistan’s total population accesses the internet every day. Out of the total internet-connected population, this percentage is 86 percent.

However, at the same time, the research found that not only are Pakistanis primarily using the internet for social media and entertainment purposes, but they are also much less aware of the useful potential of the internet. Most of the current internet users in the country expressed no desire to increase the amount of time they spend online.

That said, the intrinsic growth in numbers of Pakistanis that are now internet literate and use services like e-commerce have grown phenomenally over the past four years.

Founder and Managing Partner Indus Valley Capital, Aatif Awan, said in his presentation that their internet users in Pakistan have grown by 35 times in the past four years, primarily due to the low cost of mobile data.

He also noted that mobile data usage figures for Pakistan have been doubling every year for the past four years. He also linked this to the impact on the startup ecosystem and how the pandemic has shaped the avenues for venture capitalist funding in Pakistan.

While Pakistani startups had been able to keep a gradual but positive momentum for attracting foreign investments for the past five years, the year 2021 is likely to surpass the collective investment of the past five years.

Atif said, “Pakistani startups are on their way to bring in more than $230 million in investment capital in 2021, which is more than the past five years combined.”

Within the first six months of 2021, more than $100 million has already made its way to Pakistan through several startups, including fintech, telehealth, and e-commerce startups.

Another speaker highlighted how the usage patterns have also shifted in the past few years for Pakistan, in addition to the total number of internet users. The research revealed that most applications are also being used as multi-purpose tools rather than just for one purpose. For instance, YouTube is used in Pakistan for watching videos, news and for getting e-commerce information. At the same time, the Google Search tool is used for all these purposes – news, e-commerce, etc. – but also for watching videos and listening to music.

The Google search engine is primarily used for e-commerce reasons, even more than actual information research or any educational purposes.

Furthermore, while one-third of Pakistani internet users (33 percent) have made online purchases, and 27 percent have shown an increase in online spending during the pandemic, research revealed that online purchases have primarily been restricted to food and clothing, so categories are limited for now.

The bottom line remains that Pakistan’s digital landscape has a lot of potential for both businesses and individuals, but the users need to be sensitized and made aware of the internet’s potential in areas of accessing and spreading information, education, e-commerce, as well as startups’ proliferation and success in attracting foreign investment.