Souq empowering people to trade online

ABU DHABI — The concept of buying services and products online from branded companies is hardly new. People are finding it easier to check out the cheapest flights to Beirut on the Internet rather than bother with a travel agent. At least you’re still dealing with Emirates, Etihad — or Elusive Air. Be serious, would anyone buy an airline ticket from an unknown carrier with a dubious name? To take the thought to its extreme, would you consider buying a house or a car on the Internet? Ronaldo Mouchawar, Managing Partner in suggests that it’s time you did.

By Robert Flemming

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Published: Sat 11 Mar 2006, 9:53 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 7:28 PM

Rolled out in July 2005, already has some 4,000 products online, 15,000 buyers/sellers and the web site has topped the 1.5 million in terms of hits.

‘It’s empowering people to trade and although it’s virtual, the products at the end are very real. Basically buy the house or the car offline but bid online,’ advises Mouchawar. ‘In the States I bid online for a Porsche Boxster but then I went to see the car before I actually bought it. If it hadn’t been any good I would have complained.’

It’s taken over four years for to appear on the web but that is due to the efforts that the team have made to ensure that all the pieces are in place.

‘Having been in the US, I was already familiar with the auction platform. If we took the e-Bay model and copied it exactly, we thought that there would be a lot of problems and that it would not be suitable for this part of the world. We looked specifically at payment, Internet penetration and mobile usage. People are not always on the Internet in the way that they are in the States, so we looked at the issues and decided to integrate more mobile aspects in the design. We have a lot more integrated direct services than e-Bay: we take the product and deliver it you, accept cash payments … The concept is the same as it’s still an auction platform but the difference is in the way that the service is tailored and rolled out. We’ve simplified the platform deliberately so that people can understand it more easily while retaining all of the functions. Plus we had to study the issues that relate to the Middle East. We feel that users in the region are ready for the next step, up from e-mail to services, commerce and product delivery.’

The principle is simple: to provide an electronic environment where communities can sell by auction. But while individuals can sell the occasional item, Mouchawar’s vision is more of a commercial set of trading communities. The name was no idle choice.

‘The tradition of souqs was that they were groups of family shops: the gold souq, the spice souq and so on. We have the same categories and every one is like a community. That’s where we see going; regular traders with multiple and vertical sellers in the market adding content to the site. Of course the consumer aspect is there and you’ll find all sorts of things on the site but we need the small and medium businesses so that we can grow to be the e-commerce site that we want to be. And all these souqs interconnect.’

The opportunity therefore exists for new companies to use as an outlet without the massive overheads of the street or mall. It also allows the established ‘realtime’ retailer to investigate another possible pillar for sales.

‘Use it as a try out,’ encourages Mouchawar. ‘Exchange information, build a community around your product, get recommendations and build up relationships. It’s fun bidding and making deals.’

Interestingly every souq employee has to be a souq user and Mouchawar makes sure that each one is trading.‘That’s how you learn and that’s how you understand,’ he says.

Are you ready to souq?

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