Product is everything
When I first talked about setting up an online lingerie company last year, prompted by the whole male staff in Saudi lingerie shops issue, many people started wondering if it was viable after the decision by the Saudi government to start employing women. Many thought that there would be no need for any online store. Many advised me not to base my whole venture on a “negative” scenario. But isn’t that the whole point? The experience is terrible, therefore can I make it better?
People seem to forget that there was never any law against women working in lingerie shops, much like there is no actual law preventing women from driving. Cultural and societal influences are much stronger than laws.
Today several of my friends sent me a link to the latest developments in lingerie shops in Saudi. Namely that 100 of them were closed as they couldn’t make the switch from male to female staff. This means that there will be even less choice of lingerie for women.
And here is where ecommerce steps in to fill the gap.
Whilst retail is growing all over the region, there are other factors to consider:
There is only so much space in the malls . Often there is a waiting list. Many malls will not make space available unless you represent a well known and established brand
Buyers are not that experienced and do not stock the full range or sizes for customers here. Anyone who has tried to buy a decent pair of Nike Air Max for example or a funky female t shirt will find themselves at a loss.
People are hungry for new brands and products. The only way to fulfil this need given the first two points is to move to ecommerce
But people like to go to the malls I hear you shout. Yes but only because there isn’t any other option at the moment. With the right marketing and promotion and content, it should be fairly simple (although not an overnight process) to drive awareness of the other stuff you can get online.
At this point I would just like to point out that the more you repeat the “conventional wisdom” the more people will believe it. You must do cash on delivery, ecommerce wont work because people aren’t ready, people like to touch the product etc etc. Imagine if you repeated how great shopping online is and how you have access to many more products, then people’s opinions would change. When we say we don’t have enough content, this is what we mean actually.
So some tips on doing ecommerce in the Middle East:
DO look for products that aren’t available here
DO be prepared to build associated content over a long period of time. Advertorials, guest posts, professional reviews of the product vertical you’re targeting etc
DO become an expert in your product arena and become a reference point
DO curate content from elsewhere and other products which you rate highly, don’t just push your products all the time
DON’T charge 50% markups just because you can
DON’T use social media as your only marketing strategy
DON’T prioritize payment methods above product
Finally, you are not a logistics company, you are there to promote and sell product. Leave the logistics to the experts. If you don’t love your product, if you don’t know it enough to be an expert about it, if you aren’t boring your friends to death with the intricate details of it, then don’t bother with setting up an ecommerce venture. Once you build credibility people will readily buy from you.