As tourism plummets, Bazaar in Egypt brings traditional handicrafts to the US

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Bazaar in Egypt

Back when Western tourists went to Egypt, typical souvenirs bought from street vendors – ankhs, hieroglyphs, mini Sphinx figurines, etc. – was the highlight of many a trip. But beginning with Egypt’s revolution, and in the turmoil since then, the tourist flood to Egypt has slowed to a trickle.

To help feed the West’s hunger for Egyptian handicrafts, and help Egyptians struggling in the economic downturn, some undaunted entrepreneurs – like Bazaar in Egypt – have successfully taken this souvenir trade online.

Offering a wide range of traditional Egyptian souvenirs and gifts, as well as special ornaments for the holidays, Bazaar in Egypt was launched ten years ago by Mohamed Farouk Riad and two anonymous partners as an e-commerce website with the help of MRCO Egypt, a company specialized in the developing, designing, and marketing websites.

MRCO Egypt specializes in tourism, helping founders understand the purchasing behavior of tourists in Egypt and to develop corresponding e-marketing tools. MRCO Egypt also distributes flyers in the US and sends catalogs to clients who’ve registered on its site, offering them products and services, like those sold by Bazaar in Egypt.

Due to targeted marketing campaigns, the US has become an essential market to Bazaar in Egypt, representing 85% of total sales. Riad and his partners are not targeting consumers in the Arab region; they think Egyptian souvenirs are more appealing to Westerners.

The number of unique visitors to the website is not very high, only around 31,000 per year. Sales on the website are better, around 200 products per month, of the 400 products available exclusively on the site, with an average price of $300 USD.

Despite these relatively low figures, Riad said that the sales allow them to earn modest profits, around $50,000 USD per year.

What is notable is that 70% of customers return to buy something else. “The secret of our success is our ability to convince the US consumer of the Egyptian product quality thanks to e-marketing campaigns and building trust with our clients. We have also succeeded in upgrading these handcrafts, competing with American, European, and other Asian products.”

Other platforms, such as the Emirati shopping center, Ananasa, rely on the same bazaar vibe to attract Western consumers. Offering products made by regional designers and artisans, Ananasa achieves similar figures to Bazaar in Egypt, but the prices are lower, averaging only $100 USD.

Bazaar in Egypt team doesn’t fear competition from US-based e-commerce sites. Riad says: “there is no doubt that websites [like Kohl’s and others] offer prices we can’t compete with because of shipping fees. But we rely on the passion of the US and Western consumers for Egyptian heritage.”

He adds: “The trust between Bazaar In Egypt and its clients have secured enough sales thanks to our delivering products in good condition and on time. Contracts between MRCO Egypt and shipping companies allow [us to only charge the bare minimum for shipping].”

In an attempt to preserve the high quality of products, the company performs a number of quality control tests with products from Khan El Khalil suppliers, whose artisans are famous for their handicrafts with a popular Pharaonic touch. Products, which are often glass or crystal, are then carefully packed for shipping.

Riad’s advice for new e-commerce startups is to prioritize learning about consumer behavior. He also recommends hiring an SEO specialist so as to best target customers.

Riad also stressed the importance of improving and developing products to keep pace with changing consumer needs. He pointed out that Egypt is full of excellent handicrafts ready to be exported to the world. But staying on trend takes intense marketing efforts and constantly renewed innovative ideas.

Despite the fact that Riad and his partners are satisfied with what they achieved till now, they are still trying to attract investment that will help them further tackle the US market as well as the European. This year, they plan on opening a specialized store on Amazon as well as exhibiting their products in the US and Europe.  

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