Dubai's YaDig Focuses on Customer Interaction to Boost the Power of Reviews

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UAE-based YaDig has launched a hip new business review website to redefine the business-consumer relationship in MENA.

Founded in 2010 by Emirati-American Saif Al Zarouni, YaDig (yes, it's pronounced like the American disco-hipster phrase "ya dig?", hence the mascot) allows users to review their experiences at businesses across region, while allowing businesses to response directly to users via on-site messaging.

A concept similar to Yelp in the U.S., YaDig is throwing in some ingredients of their own to make reviewing more interactive between users. Describing themselves as “part social network, part review-based website,” they have ambitious plans.

The site has gained in popularity since its launch in January, currently boasting 1,000 reviews a month from over 10,000 registered users, 80% of which are from the UAE, 5% from Saudi Arabia, 5% from Egypt, and 10% from the rest of the region. 

Its focus on customer satisfaction and interaction has made a difference, especially for one popular burger chain in Dubai that was charging extra for mustard – an unheard-of fee in a traditional burger eatery. After a YaDig reviewer wrote a negative review of the restaurant and its fee, and spread it on his social media channels, the restaurant responded to the review on YaDig, changed their policy, and welcomed consumers back. 

Expanding the Platform

Having built the initial product, YaDig is now hoping to expand regionally with few new tweaks to their online and mobile presence, Marketing Director Andrew Miller reveals. By the end of November, they plan to add an Arabic version of the site, and a mobile app that will feature geolocated listings and enable users to review businesses quickly in real time by snapping a photo and adding a caption. 

It will also add sponsored listings, allowing them to generate revenue by offering businesses the chance to pay for higher ranking on the site on lists for their cuisine and type. 

With around 30,000 venues listed on their site, the YaDig team also plans to incentivize useful reviews by adding “gamification” elements like features and rewards. By mid-October, users will be able to earn karate-like belt levels for each review; a black belt is given for 700 reviews. After 200 reviews, users will be invited to attend special YaDig events and receive an exclusive discount card; Miller says that they have over 70 partners from across the region signed up so far.

A Market Challenge

YaDig will have to seriously deliver on its planned enhancements in order to compete with current review sites in the region, especially Jeeran, which has recently become one of the region's largest local review sites, with over 1.5 million users in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, and Egypt. around since 2000, pivoted in 2010 from a content portal to a local reviewing site due to monetization concerns.

Yet Miller believes YaDig offers something different. “We are the only wholly review-focused community portal in the Middle East,” Miller explains, marking a difference in experience between Jeeran and YaDig.

The competitors will both have to tackle the issue of monetization; Miller says that in the future, YaDig may go beyond advertising to experiment with a premium user model (currently the site is free).

The web versions of both platforms feel fairly similar, with critical differences- Jeeran has an Arabic site and a very easy-to-use mobile app, both of which are very popular. We'll have to wait for the YaDig mobile app to review it, and see if YaDig can capture some of the social aspects of interacting over reviews that Jeeran has not focused on.

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