Amazon and Souq on Wednesday announced the launch of Amazon.ae, which replaces Souq.com in the UAE nearly two years after the US giant's $580 million (Dh2.13 billion) acquisition of the e-commerce platform.
"It's a great day. I think first for our customers, it's really amazing. We bring a lot of the local know-how of how our region works with a lot of what Amazon offers globally," Ronaldo Mouchawar, co-founder of Souq and vice president of Amazon Mena told The National.
Customers who visit the Souq website are redirected to the new domain with a message from Mr Mouchawar, who founded Souq in 2005, initially as an auction website linked to internet portal Maktoob.
In the message, Mr Mouchawar says “there have been many milestones for Souq over the past 13 years and today, we have another to share with you. We are proud to announce that we are now Amazon.ae”. The new website “features over 30 million products, including those previously available on Souq and five million products from Amazon US".
He added that the team in the region "has grown to over 3,600 people, and each and every one of us is thrilled to invite you on this journey", and said many new products and services will be added in the future.
For the first time at Amazon, Arabic language has been introduced to both the mobile app and the website. As a first step, the Kindle was made available in Arabic on the Souq site about a year ago.
“This was a big focus. While a lot of the content in the UAE is consumed in English, we did want to make sure that we are super localised, not only in the language, but also in the payments, delivery, logistics,” said Mr Mouchawar.
“A merchant sitting abroad who wants to list in this region can put his catalogue or item selection on the site and in a few days, it gets translated for him in Arabic."
The Egypt and Saudi Arabia websites will remain as Souq.com with no plans to shift to Amazon yet, but Mr Mouchawar said “it’s a journey”.
Before the change to Amazon.ae, Souq had 9.4 million products and now has increased to more than 30 million products, inclusive of five million from Amazon US and the rest from local and international sellers.
Mr Mouchawar said Amazon.ae will include a much larger selection of books, with 15 million titles listed that will be available to ship from abroad within “three to five days at very low or free shipping”.
Amazon.ae will continue to accept cash on delivery and customer data, such as address and payment information, has migrated to the new site. What will change is that customers will be given recommendations based on their searches and be able to build wish lists.
“They will see that, as the site knows their location, they’re going to get more accurate promises, better delivery services,” said Mr Mouchawar. “We will deliver most of the products in this part of the world within a day, so we have same-day, next-day services … they’ll see the low-cost shipping, they’ll see fast shipping.”
Amazon Prime is not yet available, but Mr Mouchawar said: “We’ll be launching different services at different times. What we launched today is the foundation for many new services.”
Souq has been attracting 45 million visits per month with its product categories including electronics, fashion, perfumes and beauty, home and kitchen, and supermarket.
With localised operations in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Souq opened a new 40,000-square-metre fulfilment centre in Dubai South in September, adding more than 650 new employees.
Mr Mouchawar said the shift to Amazon.ae has been in the works since the acquisition, but it accelerated recently with many employees working overnight on Tuesday to prepare for the launch. The steps in preparation included unifying log-in information, bringing in more products through the global store, providing vendors and sellers with localised tools and finally Arabising content.
“We didn’t have a timeline in terms of when this had to happen. We made sure that whatever we’re launching with is what our customers would expect from Amazon,” he said.
Commenting on future expansion, Mr Mouchawar said, “We still feel e-commerce has a long way to go in this part of the world. We’re super focused on our current markets. Today Souq has local sites and Amazon in the UAE, in Saudi, as well as in Egypt, so we want to make sure in these markets we serve our customers extremely well.”
The region’s e-commerce sector is growing at the fastest pace globally, with online sales expected to double to $48.8bn by 2021, according to a report by Fitch Solutions Macro Research. E-commerce spending in the UAE is expected to increase by 170 per cent to $27.1bn in 2022, from $9.7bn in 2017.