We’ve all seen TV ads promoting gadgets that make you look better or make your life easier. Think of that enthusiastic man sitting upon dirty couches with a vacuum cleaner that makes everything sparkly again, or that svelte woman who’s goofily happy with the weight loss brought about by her slimmer belt. Such products are what Jordanian startup Ashyaat is selling, and it’s working.
Launched in 2015, Ashyaat (‘Things’ in Arabic) is a free online store that sells bodycare and household products. Since then, the company grew from two to 70 employees. Its 750 daily orders (originating in Jordan itself as well as in the Gulf region) reflect the high demand for what it offers.
Even though credit must go to the startup itself, but such growth also reflects the region’s increased endorsement of ecommerce at large.
The revenue of the ecommerce market in the Middle East and Africa is expected to show an annual growth rate of 12.3 percent, resulting in a market volume of $27 million in 2021, up from $17 million in 2017.
Capital away from the capital
Thanks to a deal with courier company Aramex, Ashyaat delivers its products to all provinces in Jordan, knowing that 40 percent of the startup’s local orders come from outside Amman.
According to cofounder Mamoon Sabbagh, there are three main reasons that encourage potential customers living beyond the capital to use Ashyaat.
First, they can avail themselves of various channels to place an order, including Whatsapp, Facebook, Google Forms, and the company’s website. Second, the $5 delivery fee applicable to all regions of the country is quite affordable. Third, payment is made upon receipt of the goods, not beforehand. In a country where credit cards usage is still at its infancy where only 1.5 million debit and credit cards were circulating in 2014 (Ashyaat is only now entering into a digital payment deal with Payfort), this last factor assumes a great deal of importance.
After anchoring their company in the Jordanian market, the two founders had the green light to grow abroad. The company started operating in the Gulf last summer, and now has warehouses in the Saudi capital (Riyadh) and Dubai.
“Succeeding in the desert means that we can succeed elsewhere,” explained Sabbagh in an interview with Wamda. “We were able to enter the Jordanian market, where the majority of people do not shop online, and the economy and infrastructure for ecommerce are lagging,” he continued.
Less is more with ‘social selling’
When they started, Mamoon and his partner Ahmad Al Haj made a conscious decision not to invest in a website or an app, but to sell on social media and Google forms instead. At some point, and to their surprise, they realized that Google forms had come to cover 50 percent of their orders.
"We didn’t want to force people to use channels they are not familiar with. They are already using social media and so we wanted to find them there rather than have them find us elsewhere,” Sabbagh said.
Social media is affecting the customer’s online behavior in the Arab region. 52 percent of shoppers say that receiving promotional offers through social media influences their shopping decisions (compared to 44 percent globally), and 63 percent think more highly of their favorite brands after engaging with them on social media (globally, it’s 43 percent).
Although 70 to 80 percent of orders from the Gulf are channeled through Ashyaat’s website, which was only launched this year, 80 percent of sales in Jordan occur through social media forms such as personal messaging. “If we didn’t focus on social, we wouldn’t have succeeded,” Mamoon elaborated.
Paying through social media
In the US, social media is driving much bigger increases in retail traffic than any other online channel, with its share of ecommerce referrals increasing nearly 200 percent between the first quarters of 2014 and 2015.
However, top social media sites, specifically Facebook and Whatsapp, are showing a keen interest in playing an even bigger role in the market. Rather than contenting themselves with remaining referral and marketing tools, they want to become a more efficient selling platform.
With 450 million people visiting ‘buy and sell’ groups on Facebook each month, the company has overhauled its features accordingly. It has developed chatbots, which sellers can use to automate customer care, embedded a marketplace to showcase products on its website, and added a ‘buy’ button to its system that enables one to pay without having to switch apps or re-enter the relevant information. Whatsapp also announced last year that it intends to facilitate business through its messaging service.
Although apps and websites might prove more advanced on a technological level, the effectiveness of social selling should not be underestimated. Social media has become a familiar zone for 93 million people in the Middle East. Additionally, even when it comes to purchasing something they want, potential customers are often too lazy to download apps or pick up and move from one webpage to another.
Feature image via Pexels.