Why It's Easier Than Ever to Break into E-Commerce in the Middle East

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As logistics company Aramex continues to expand globally, with its acquisition of South African courier company Berco Express yesterday, it’s now providing access to a platform tailored to empower small businesses. 

For those looking to enter the market, it's easier than ever to break into e-commerce, says Aramex's Regional Manager of E-Commerce, Hassan Mikail.

Why? Consumers are hungry.

“It's a myth that customers are scared to buy online. They are actually more than willing to use credit cards to buy something halfway across the world that they've never heard of. Vendors coming from a legacy mindset are scared to dabble in e-commerce, because they're afraid it will encroach on their brick-and-mortar stores. Or they don't realize the benefits of using online as a value-added selling channel to support their brands. But consumers are ahead of the game.”

Costs are low.

Those looking to leap into e-commerce can sign up via REDe, Aramex's technology solution point, and within 10 days they could be selling their merchandise online, using Aramex’s delivery solutions that are already integrated into their new online store, says Mikail. 

“It's not a high cost endeavor- it's actually a lot cheaper than they might expect. Our stuff is out there and it's ready to go. You're talking about sign-up costs around $300-400, and depending on the package, it could cost $200-$700 more.”

Customs challenges can be solved.

Customs systems in the Gulf and MENA are not set up for individual orders when it comes to cross-border land transport, says Mikail. But Aramex has designed special rates for dot-coms, leveraging its existing infrastructure to deliver a cost-effective air express service.

Aramex is also working to shift broader policies. “Banks need to relax their payment gateways,” he says. “That's been a huge obstacle. Banks in the Middle East will ask for a 1 million dirham deposit for an e-commerce company.” But that's changing at leading banks in the UAE, he says. And Aramex is subtly putting pressure on policy makers to make e-commerce-friendly laws. "Dubai is also rising as a solid and dynamic e-ccommerce hub, ready to serve the region, Asia and Africa."

Tools to Empower E-Commerce Entrepreneurs

Aramex is also launching a series of new tools and pipelines that will empower entrepreneurs. “We're doing all we can to create tools that enable small enterprises to start selling online,” says Mikail. 

Here are some of the benefits:

Small business can now ship items from China. Shop and Ship, Aramex’s consumer shipping service, provides members with a local and personalized address in the U.S. and U.K., so that buyers can have online purchases in those countries forwarded to homes or offices around the globe. Aramex has now added the possibly of shipping from a Chinese address as well, in Shanghai,  which will open up a pipeline for small businesses looking to buy from China.

Small businesses selling online can access a broader market- especially in Africa. Aramex has made Shop and Ship available in Kenya, Uganda, and Egypt, and Libya, is exploring opening the service in South Africa and expanding into Morocco next year, so that consumers in those countries have easy access to goods bought online abroad. This offers a larger market to any small business who can ship via the U.S., U.K., or Shanghai.

Aramex’s expansion into South Africa is the perfect entry point for those looking to enter Africa, says Mikail.  “Once you crack South Africa, you’ve pretty much cracked the whole continent. There will always be challenges ahead; however, this is a great start.”

Aramex’s integration tools for its logistics and package tracking are getting even cooler.

This January, Aramex will launch Tweet & Track (currently under testing), a function that allows buyers to follow and direct message Aramex’s twitter account (@Aramex or @ShopandShip) with their Airway bill and get automatic tracking updates via Twitter.

In the first quarter of 2012, the company will also launch Shop & Ship APIs for e-tailers, so that any customer purchasing from the U.S., U.K., or Shanghai can directly checkout using their Shop and Ship account credentials.

Coming soon are also Shop & Ship apps for Blackberry and Android, to complement the iPhone app released this summer, and the Windows Phone 7 app that just launched in beta. The same is also in progress for Aramex tracking apps.

With around 32% of the region’s near 72.5 million internet users buying online, the e-commerce market of 23 million buyers is still young. Launching into a nascent sector (or one's that's not so nascent, if you look at travel e-commerce), may seem daunting.

But skeptics will come around, says Mikail. “E-commerce is absolutely set to boom. You cannot go on with your daily living without buying something online, whether it's an airline ticket or something else. It's not a trend; it's a way of life. There will be wealth creation for people that never imagined it.”

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