Q&A with Marka VIP’s Ahmed Alkhatib (Part 2 of 2)

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This is a continuation of our previous article about Marka VIP’s operations and marketing the questions are answered by the founder and CEO Ahmed Alkhatib.

General & Operations

How does MarkaVIP view e-commerce in the region?

The current state of e-commerce in the Middle East is comparable to the U.S. 10 years ago or Turkey seven years ago. However, despite the relatively nascent state of e-commerce in the Middle East, we firmly believe the untapped potential of the region far outweighs the current barriers to entry.

If you look at the projected figures for online users in this region, the growth potential for a business like ours becomes quite clear. For example, in 2010 there were 135 million users online in the Middle East and North Africa, and this figure is expected to grow very rapidly to 241 million by 2015. If you also factor in the young population in this part of the world – take Saudi Arabia for example, with 40% of its population under 25 – the potential for success in this market becomes very clear.

By bringing global standards of e-commerce to the Middle East, we believe we are contributing positively to the development of a robust and trustworthy e-commerce sphere.

Why should users use MarkaVIP over their competition Sukar?

At MarkaVIP we overcome logistical cross border issues well known in the Middle East, by establishing a distribution hub in each of our markets. This ensures we have the fastest delivery times for our business model in the region.

We have experienced buyers on our team from some of the world’s top department stores, who source premium products for us to offer to our members at great prices.  Our buyers’ have a strong network of leading suppliers and are experienced at identifying emerging brands and stand out items, meaning that our members benefit significantly from our hand-picked product selections.

Because we have limited payment gateway options in this region, we created our own secure payment gateway through Belgium which ensures a fast, trouble free check-out process for our members.

Our commitment to not spam consumers, to protect them online, offer a slick and secure shopping experience and ship goods efficiently from our in-market hubs, are all examples of the steps we have taken to ensure a world-class shopping experience for our members.

And what is the percentage of return buyers?

Our return rate at MarkaVIP is less than 5%, a figure which we are very proud of. We believe this figure is low due to the fact that our buyers select great products, we take care to photograph them accurately, and include useful sizing charts and photo zoom functions, allowing our members to really know what they are buying before they commit.

How is MarkaVIP planning on dealing with the customs and tax issue within different countries?

We avoid hassles around customs and taxes by shipping from our in-market hubs, ensuring the fastest shipping time for this model in the region, and meaning that the customer is not surprised with any hidden costs upon delivery.

Marketing:

What is the marketing model followed? Is it purely online? How did MarkaVIP manage to become one of the biggest brands on Facebook at 140,000 users?

We heavily target our online advertisements – mostly to people between the ages of 18-34 who are internet and lifestyle savvy.

Social media and word-of-mouth buzz are the main ways in which people discover our website and become members. Actually we recently reached 150,000 fans on Facebook, which is quite significant given we have only been in operation since November 2010. Because you need to be invited, referred or approved to join the MarkaVIP club, our members are keen to keen to refer their friends and spread the convenience, value and quality of our offering though their social circles.

We also have exclusive deals for our Facebook fans, which helps to increase the numbers of our engaged and active Facebook community.

What should start-ups from the region focus on when marketing their products/services?

They should focus on being local, understanding the target market’s needs and sensitivities and creating awareness through PR. Customer care cannot be underestimated and it is also important to be transparent and reachable through social media channels.

What are the main differences when marketing such a website in the region vs. in the US/Europe?

There is not as much need for market education around the private shopping club business model in the US as there is here in the Middle East. In the US, the method of sale is already well established and understood – but in this region, in order for our business to succeed we also have to invest time and resources into educating people about the model and how it works. Generally speaking, people in the region are not as accustomed to online shopping as they are in more mature markets, so part of our message also has to be about the convenience and security of shopping online with us, to help instil e-commerce confidence in our members.

We’d like to thank Ahmed Alkhatib for taking the time to answer our questions, and we wish him and the entire Marka VIP team the best of luck with their future plans. If you have any comments or feedback let us know.

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Having worked with top digital agencies in the MENA region for the past several of years I'm now looking now to venture on my own with small side projects in online, social and mobile. Things I like include: gaming, sports, technology, social media, start ups, funny things and reading about new bright ideas.