Jashanmal, one of the region's oldest retailers, has taken its book stores online, making it the latest entrant to the region's growing e-commerce marketplace. Jashanmalbooks.com, which was launched on January 16, allows users to browse titles, order items for pick up at its stores and add reviews. Home deliveries in the UAE will start on Monday, said Narain Jashanmal, the general manager of Jashanmal Book Stores.
"If you look at the history of e-commerce, books are actually what kicked off e-commerce with Amazon.com," he said. "Within our group it was an easy place for us to start. We are using this to evaluate what would be the right way to approach online for the rest of our businesses." While online retailing has grown steadily in North America and Europe, regional shoppers have been slower to adopt the retail medium.
A lack of reliable online payment systems and slow internet have been the main setbacks. But as broadband internet availability has increased and consumers become more comfortable shopping online, a wave of entrepreneurs has launched online retail websites in the past six months, from Nahel.com to Emiratesavenue.com. Still, few major brick-and-mortar retailers in the region have gone online. Jashanmal dabbled in e-commerce in the late 1990s with hadaya.com in Bahrain, but there were too many challenges, said Mr Jashanmal.
"There was no broadband internet and payment gateways were hard to set up," he said. "The main challenge facing e-commerce in this region is the lack of viable payment solutions from service providers here." It is a challenge that remains, said Simon Simonian, a technology analyst at Shuaa Capital in Dubai. "The culture in the Middle East is still a cash economy," he said. "They like to pay their bills by cash. There is still a learning curve."
Jashanmal Books's online sales will still be cash on delivery. But with the large number of expatriates in the UAE who are used to shopping online, there is a huge opportunity for retailers, he said. On average, UAE online shoppers each spent US$1,193 (Dh4,381) in the fourth quarter of 2008, said a Mastercard survey released last June, the first time the credit-card company measured such spending in the region.
Mr Jashanmal said that while he hoped the new website would generate more revenues, the main motivation behind the launch was to market their stores online, and benefit from the information that web hits can provide, namely where their customers are from and what they are interested in. "There is no other marketing channel that gives you that much insight into customer behaviour," he said. @Email:email@example.com