Shelvies builds on Instagram's momentum in Saudi to promote ecommerce

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During my meeting with Khalid Al-Issa, the young developer told us how he built, an Instagram-based online stores platform that classifies stores in Saudi Arabia and makes it easier to search and purchase from them.

Safar Ayad: First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and your project 

Khalid Al-Issa: I am a Software Engineering graduate from the University of Ottawa in Canada. I launched after graduating in late 2013. It is my only project so far. I learned how to develop websites by working with and I am currently pursuing my Master’s degree.

Safar Ayad: What is Why did you choose this name?

Khalid Al-Issa: Shelvies is a platform that helps Instagram merchants promote their products, thereby allowing customers to find their desired products more efficiently. ‘Shelvies’ here refers to ‘shelves’. I chose this name since products are often displayed on shelves in stores…. I wanted an expressive name that reflects the nature of the platform’s work.

Safar Ayad: Where did you get the idea? Do you manage the website by yourself?

Khalid Al-Issa: I was wondering whether I could use Instagram’s software interface to build a useful and promising tool. Then I started looking for similar platforms that do the same work. I found several platforms that operate independently but I couldn’t find any that serves store owners on Instagram.

I am currently working on the website by myself during my free time, but I ask for others’ feedback.

Safar Ayad: What is the role of Shelvies and how does it work? Is it as an intermediary between the seller and the buyer or a place to buy and sell?

Khalid Al-Issa: Shelvies is a platform that gathers products in one place, so it is more like a market or a bazaar, but it does not require sellers to pay any fee or commission to participate. Shelvies differs from other platforms in that it only specializes in Instagram products. So it does not ask the seller to use a new platform but rather to continue working in the same way.

Shelvies’ work depends on the type of users and whether they are sellers or buyers. If the user is a seller, they can add their products to the platform using the hashtag #Shelvies on the product’s image on Instagram. Once they use the hashtag, Shelvies will display the product’s image. As for the buyer, they can easily browse the website and its categories.

Safar Ayad: What was your biggest fear when you were developing the website? What were you excited about the most?

Khalid Al-Issa: I was afraid of the idea of maintaining the website and marketing it. For maintenance, I made sure to develop a small website with basic features only. By doing this, I was able to focus on the maintenance and modification of the main parts of the website. When I launched it, all I did was display product images and their links on Instagram. With time, I created a page for each merchant and for each product. Another important area to work on is marketing the website, which takes much of the time and effort dedicated to the project.

I felt that this platform would give an added value to both sellers and buyers. And all those I consulted before starting the project were impressed by the idea, which made me more enthusiastic about working on it.

Safar Ayad: What about merchants’ feedback? Organizing an unorganized market sounds difficult. Tell us about your experience.

Khalid Al-Issa: A large number of merchants liked the idea, especially since it does not require them to work a lot or to change the way they communicate with their buyers. On the other hand, some merchants were unwilling to participate for a number of reasons, including the fact that not many people follow Shelvies’ account on Instagram.

Safar Ayad: Why do you think shoppers prefer local merchants despite the presence of stores? What is their competitive advantage?

Khalid Al-Issa: I think that buyers are turning to local merchants for several reasons, including the lack of some goods at large stores and markets and the buyers’ belief that the procedures are easy compared to buying from foreign websites. As for food, the reason can be attributed to the availability of pictures in addition to reviews from people who have already tried the dishes.

Safar Ayad: Instagram merchants are often accused of charging expensive prices. Does this affect your relation with buyers?

Khalid Al-Issa: Buyers usually visit our website knowing that it is not our job to fix or set prices, that is why prices do not affect our relation with buyers.

Safar Ayad: Will you add other networks than Instagram, such as Facebook and Twitter?

Khalid Al-Issa: Most individual shops in the Gulf use Instagram as a platform to display their products. Therefore, I think that focusing on this platform and developing further features for it is better than building a somewhat general platform.

Safar Ayad: What is your vision for the future of the website?

Khalid Al-Issa: I am trying to make Shelvies a very easy platform to browse products on Instagram and make it the perfect place to help small shops find more buyers.

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