Attack of the clones: Group buying websites in the MENA region

Group buying websites have been gaining a lot of grounds in the past year worldwide and in the MENA region. You may have heard recently that Groupon raised, like, A Billion dollars and they have already started expanding their worldwide reach purchasing clone sites in South Africa, Israel and India which was only 3 months old at the time of purchase. That made me wonder if Groupon would hit the MENA region and decide to purchase one of the big (or even small) players given that there are 63 million users and counting online. It also raises another question of what it would mean to the existing group buying websites GoNabit and Cobone.

So I decided to get in touch with GoNabit and Cobone and see what their thoughts are, I asked them the following 2 questions:

(Just a quick clarification I asked them both the same questions, and the answers below are their exact words. No editing or opinions from my end. I will leave it up to you to come up with your own thoughts and please feel free to share them with us in the comment box below.)

Q1) With the recent news of Groupon raising almost 1 billion USD and purchasing group buying sites in South Africa, Israel and India (the last has only been live for 3 months). Is this something that would worry you, would it be possible for them to come in the region and compete with the likes of Cobone or GoNabit? If so how would you react is there a plan for such a case?

Q2) In the more likely event that Groupon would come in the region for a takeover rather than an initial setup would this be an option considered by the GoNabit/Cobone management? Taking into consideration that it has an established reach within the region with the likes of your main competitor would you think that there will be a bidding war?

Cobone’s CEO Paul Kenny’s response:

A1) Groupon’s approach to new markets is always aggressive. They have major capital backing and a wealth of intellectual property as a result of their reach, age and acquisitions. This will be enough to intimidate most competitors. However Groupon will probably understand that taking on the Middle East market will not be an easy task. While the market is growing rapidly, it just can’t be treated the same as neighboring markets. Every level of business operations in the MENA region poses different challenges in comparison. has invested heavily in making the site locally relevant. Our payment options, customer support, website language, social media strategy, deals and aesthetics are relevant and sensitive to the local culture. is the latest addition to the Jabbar Internet Group who have been in the region for 10 years. We also have sister group buying websites in Brazil, Mexico, Germany, India, Turkey and Australia so we can bring a wealth of local and international experience and innovation to the table

A2) There are obviously huge benefits in partnering with such a major international player in the group buying market. But within the region, Cobone have dominated the market considering cities live, sales, database size, partnerships, social reach and revenue. Such an acquisition may not be the best option while we have such momentum. There are also other group buying giants who are entering this market, with this in mind, I’m sure there will be many discussions on the table over the next few months.

GoNabit’s Co-Founder and COO Sohrab Jahanbani’s response:

We try not to spend too much time speculating on other companies’ strategies. There is no doubt that the group buying space in the Middle East is attracting many new players, which is testament to the popularity and strength of the model. As pioneers of group buying in the Middle East we look forward to 2011 with great excitement as we launch in more new markets and strengthen our offering.

Our focus is to continue doing everything we can to make sure we offer our nabber community a remarkable experience. We do this by sourcing great discounts, rewarding loyal customers with REDPoints, discovering new experiences for our buyers and making sure they can confidently transact with us online. Our success also rests on ensuring that our merchants are benefitting from their partnership with us. The assured marketing promise of GoNabit means merchants enjoy massive new customer generation with a known cost of acquisition. They receive dedicated online marketing via the promotion of their deal and the associated social media buzz gained from tapping into GoNabit’s extensive social media community. We are very hands-on in the consultancy we provide merchants to help create deals that deliver them measurable business value.

Continuing to look after our relationships with consumers and merchant partners will remain our priority in 2011. This approach will ensure our success in the year ahead.

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