Middle East Internet Group (MEIG), an e-commerce firm owned by Germany’s Rocket Internet and the South African telecom operator MTN, plans to expand in the Middle East as its revenues in the region soar.
Already having a presence in all six Arabian Gulf countries, MEIG is set to expand into at least Lebanon and Jordan next year after its revenue increased fourfold this year to date, said its chief executive, Eyad Alkassar.
The group might enter Iraq and Yemen once those countries stabilise.
MEIG has launched a number of ventures – e-commerce store Wadi.com, beauty appointment booking service Vaniday.com and online marketplace Kaymu.com – as part of plans to expand in the region.
“We will take our current companies to more countries,” said Mr Alkassar. “For example we just launched our online marketplace Wadi.com in UAE and our real estate online classifieds Lamudi.com in Qatar. Second, we are constantly looking for new models to take to the region.”
MEIG also has Carmudi.com, an online marketplace for new and used cars, taxi ordering app Easytaxi.com, and cleaning booking service Helpling.com.
E-commerce websites are blossoming in the Arabian Gulf region, where high GDP per capita and robust mobile penetration rates are fuelling a boom in online sales. The e-commerce market in the Middle East was forecast to be worth $15 billion this year, according to a 2013 e-commerce report released by electronic payment platform PayPal in conjunction with research firm Ipsos.
The Middle East’s e-commerce market grew nearly 30 per cent to $9bn in 2012 from $7bn in 2011, according to the report.
“We are in a market with extraordinary high smartphone and internet penetration,” said Mr Alkassar. “Second, we are serving a young and tech-savvy population. And third and probably most importantly, there is little competition and a real need for our services.”
Berlin-based Rocket Internet is famous for replicating internet businesses from Groupon to Airbnb, and bringing them to emerging markets. It formed MEIG in 2013 with the help of MTN.
Rocket Internet is behind online fashion retailer Namshi.com and online food takeaway market foodpanda.com.
Replicating businesses does not detract from the importance of the ventures being launched by MEIG, according to Mr Alkassar, who is also a co-founder of Namshi.com.
“We believe that we are serving basic needs of our customers: food; transportation; goods; cleaning services; real estate; cars etc,” said Mr Alkassar. “It is like opening the first supermarket in a country, nobody would claim all supermarkets are Walmart copies.”
Growth of the company, however, is complicated by the different legislation across the region, which has a common language but does not share a common customs system.
“We love the Arab market since the countries share a common language and to a large extend a common culture,” said Mr Alkassar. “However, on a legal and regulatory dimension we have to deal with high fragmentation. So we can have TV ads on a single station broadcasting to our entire target audience, yet once we want to ship to the same customers we have to deal with different countries, customs and currencies.”
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