In contrast to much of the fraught wider economy, online commerce is booming in Iran. In the first 10 months of 2019 alone, some 10,000 businesses obtained "E-Namad" – a type of digital accreditation from the Ministry of Industry – followed by 28,000 more in 2020, a year when Covid saw the overall economy shrink by 4.6 percent.
A recent survey by Iran Open Data looked at the dynamics of this growing trend. Of the 789 respondents, most of whom were based in cities and especially Tehran, about a third said they used the internet to make money and just under half, 47 percent, said either they or a family member had an online business.
The pandemic seems to have turbo-charged the practice, with 60 percent of owners saying they moved their business online, and 23 percent saying they’d started up from scratch, in the past two years. Across the board, the average monthly spend on running an e-commerce venture was 2.5 million tomans ($600), the average takings 4.5 million ($1,100). Half of respondents with a business said it was their only source of income.
Instagram was the most popular platform for online shops, hosting 27 percent of reported trade. Ranked next were the Iranian online marketplaces Divar and Digikala, followed by Telegram, WhatsApp, and cryptocurrency exchanges.
The average age of participants was 34, of whom 67 percent were male. Notably women reported only earning about a third of their male counterparts, and in a surprise result, the few online businesses run by people based in villages earned twice as much as those in urban zones.