Synergyzer: Entering the marketing field over a decade ago amid rapid digital marketing evolution, how did you stay updated and strategically navigate this evolution in your favour?

Urooj Ahmed: I entered the field of digital marketing at a time when it was still in its nascent stages globally, particularly so in Pakistan. There was no concept of dedicated digital teams or digital-first communication; instead, it was perceived as a ‘nice-to-have’ addition to every marketing campaign, providing me with ample room to experiment and learn on the job. In the past, brands focused on targeting younger audiences on social media platforms, using metrics like Likes, Shares, and Comments. However, the industry has evolved significantly, with digital becoming the primary growth driver. Localization is crucial, especially in countries like Pakistan, where platforms and communication methods differ. Strategies must be tailored to each brand’s unique audience and objectives, avoiding reliance on personal biases or replicating successful campaigns.

Synergyzer: As you transition to Alkaram, which differs from your experience at Daraz as it’s not a typical A to Z store, do you find it relaxing or interesting to manage a more focused range of products and services?

Urooj Ahmed: I would say it is a very exciting opportunity to get to shape a legacy brand like Alkaram as they transition towards expanding not just their e-commerce footprint but the entire retail footprint. The apparel market in Pakistan is worth PKR 1.5tn and is growing at a per annum rate of 9%. It is a highly saturated market, which means brands have to keep on evolving. Mass fashion brands are now taking a shift from being just ‘transactional’ to being ‘experiential’. It’s not just about selling clothes now; it’s about giving customers an experience for them to come back to you again and again. Many factors are crucial for the perfect customer experience: pricing, visual merchandising, on-site experience, demand planning, supply chain, and product design. It’s about maintaining a strong value chain that embodies your brand completely.

Synergyzer: Considering experience with e-commerce giants and the country’s economic, political, and social landscape, how do you view Pakistan’s current and future position in the e-commerce industry?

Urooj Ahmed: e-commerce penetration in Pakistan is definitely nowhere close to being where it should have been by now (roughly 2% of the overall retail landscape), hence the future has to be green especially as digital penetration continues to grow. I envision that the sector will shape quite differently in the country – established brands, especially in fashion, will play a critical role in helping e-commerce penetration expand, mainly due to the omni channel experience (users can see an item in-store and decide to order it online, or order something online and visit a store to exchange it). Alkaram’s e-com footprint has seen a 120% growth over the past one year; if you look at the top five or top 10 e-commerce websites in the country, you will see they are heavily dominated by leading brands. On the other hand, more direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands like Manto and Lama will emerge and expand via e-commerce, potentially opening physical stores later. Locally made brands, especially in Health & Beauty, will gain traction as consumers embrace quality local options.

Synergyzer: In today’s e-commerce and marketing industry, where women have become integral, how have social attitudes evolved towards them?

Urooj Ahmed: We often focus on women in urban areas, where progress in various fields is evident. Yet, in Pakistan, women in rural and semi-urban regions are also making strides. Through platforms like social media and e-commerce, they’re creating opportunities from home, showcasing resilience and the skill. It’s crucial for both brands and the government to support their economic endeavours. Achieving inclusivity requires addressing issues like the pay gap.

Synergyzer: Ever since you joined Alkaram as the head of marketing, what have been your biggest learnings about the fashion retail industry, and how do you envision it growing in the future?

Urooj Ahmed: The fashion retail industry in Pakistan is rapidly growing, with a market of 12 million in cities like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Faisalabad, and Peshawar. The target audience is young women and men aged 18-40, with 70% of them preferring unstitched clothing. This has led to mass brands modernizing unstitched collections. Demand for quality Western wear is also increasing. Alkaram, a leading brand in Pakistan, operates 63 stores across 30 cities, offering affordable yet stylish products.

Synergyzer: Reflecting on your journey as a woman in the industry, what would you consider your greatest sacrifice when you started, and did it ultimately pay off? If you could advise your past self, would you recommend making the same sacrifice again, and why or why not?

Urooj Ahmed: In my initial years of working, I was very focused on proving myself by excelling at my work, which sometimes came at the cost of my quality time with family or even my health. It took me quite a few years to achieve a work-life balance. When I see younger women entering the workforce today, their focus and prioritization impress me a lot. I haven’t sacrificed a lot, but if I could go back in time, I would probably go easy on myself.

Synergyzer: Having worked in diversified cultures, is the work culture here better for women compared to the social culture?

Urooj Ahmed: Undoubtedly! This shift did not happen overnight – several MNCs introduced the best global practices in the country, which eventually started getting replicated by local companies. However, the biggest role in making this happen has been played by more women taking on leadership positions, which is why I am a big advocate of taking chances on women and grooming them to lead. The challenges that we face on a daily basis at home or outside of work cannot be empathized with by even the most well-intentioned men. 40% of the Alkaram’s leadership consists of women where each one of my female counterpart is an inspiration for me every day.

Synergyzer: If a woman aspires to enter your field, what one warning and one piece of advice would you offer them before they step into the arena?

Urooj Ahmed: My advice would be to have faith in yourself and keep your focus solely on producing quality work and maintaining your work ethic even in the face of adversaries. It is very easy to fall into the trap of organizational dynamics, but I believe if you have proven yourself as a reliable professional, everything falls into place eventually.

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Afifa J. Maniar, the Karachi School of Art's design maestro, transforms words into creative works of art. With 25 years of editorial experience across 8 magazines, she runs the world at Synergyzer Magazine as the Editor. Her creativity genius has graced brands like Zellbury, DAWN Media Group, SMASH, Dalda, and IAL Saatchi & Saatchi. Her words and life choices are transformative, however the latter is questionable.