On the anniversary of the first massive protest in Tahrir Square, Egyptian e-commerce company books.com.eg is making it easier for readers around the world to buy Arabic books on Facebook, the platform that first brought protestors together to rise up against the Mubarak regime.
Today the site launches a social bookstore, designed to make it simple for readers to select and purchase books directly through Facebook in both English and Arabic.
"The fans who like books on our Facebook page will now find it very easy to make an order," says co-founder Mostafa Abou El Nasr. "There's no hassle, there's no leaving Facebook; they can chat and buy a book at the same time. Hopefully it will make a big difference in the way people see how e-commerce."
Launched in May of last year by Abou El Nasr and co-founder Khaled Imam, books.com.eg mostly sells Arabic books to the Arab World, but also offers English books. Beginning as a small operation, it gained momentum during the aftermath of the revolution and now boasts 300,000 fans.
"Books about the revolution were one of the reasons we had a boom in traffic, registered users, and sales this year," explains Imam. "People wanted to read more about the Mubarak era and about how the revolution happened."
The revolution's galvanizing effect on social media in the Arab World also helped the co-founders easily market their store without spending a lot. The number of Facebook users in the Arab world increased by 30% in the first quarter of 2011, with Egypt adding more users- 2 million, of an estimated 16 million online users- than any other country during that time period, according to the Arab Social Media Report. By the time books.com.eg was ready to launch, they were able to leverage the growing trend. "There are now close to 10 million Egyptians on Facebook," says Imam.
While the e-commerce site began by directly serving this Egyptian market, it also went global around five weeks ago. After signing a contract with Aramex to handle international shipping, books.com.eg opened an online payment system and began displaying localized currencies, with the goal of tapping into the expatriate market.
"Arabic expatriates order more Arabic books as compared to English books than customers living in the region. They want to stay in touch with their own culture and teach their children about their home culture," Imam illustrates.
Persuading users to buy online has not been hard. While they note that their payment gateway with the Arab African International Bank adds an extra navigation step to the process online, the co-founders say their primary challenges have been setting up operations, not convincing the Arab market to trust e-commerce.
"Even people in Egypt who have the option to pay cash on delivery, prefer to pay online," says Abou El Nasr. "If they believe you have a legitimate business, they will pay online."
When asked if they are positioning themselves for the possibility of a future exit, Abou El Nasr says no, advising other entrepreneurs to stay focused. "Our main goal is to build a profitable, sustainable business. If you keep dreaming about an exit from Amazon, you'll achieve nothing at the end of the day."