When the Ras Al Khaimah resident Morrad Irsane decided to purchase a pre-owned car last year, like most “netizens”, he began scouring online marketplaces. What he imagined to be a straightforward process of narrowing down options and a few phone calls to owners soon turned into a stressful experience and a dead end. Frustration led the French national to create an app to make life simpler for himself – and 7,000 UAE residents who want to buy and sell everything from cars and furniture to electronics and handicrafts with one swipe on their mobile phones.
A marketplace for smartphones
Melltoo Marketplace is a smartphone version of the classifieds section of a newspaper that combines the connectivity found on social-networking websites. Melltoo hit the Apple and Android stores this year and has already been downloaded by 30,000 people in the country.
“The idea came about when my husband was shortlisting different used cars and went through all these websites and classifieds sections in newspapers,” says Irsane’s wife, Sharene Lee, who is the co-founder of the app. “The process was so tedious and to top that, calling or emailing the owner was causing delays. Most of the time we wouldn’t even get a response.” Instead, Irsane began sending them messages on the messaging service Whatsapp and found that to be a more effective way of communication to seal deals.
Dealing in real time
That aspect of real-time messaging is one of the main components of their app.
“We began researching the different channels where people buy and sell items and found they all had similar complaints. Take, for example, doing this exchange on Facebook, which is very common at the moment,” says Lee, 34. “Facebook groups have more than 15,000 members buying and selling among themselves. They prefer this method because of the trust that can form in these groups and it makes for a friendlier experience.”
But an inherent drawback of such big groups is that posts and items for sale can be lost in the noise.
“That’s where our app is different,” says Lee. “It provides the convenience of getting to know the buyer, while giving your item enough prominence so that it is snapped up quickly.”
At the same time, the app ensures the privacy of users.
“When you create a profile and put your item up for sale, the only way anyone can get in touch is through the in-app chat. So there are no numbers or other contact details. This way, the user gets immediate updates on their phone from interested buyers and can decide whether they want to go forward with a deal,” Lee explains.
Users can also file a complaint if they are being scammed and get users blocked.
While the app provides a sophisticated marketplace for buying and selling items, the creators have taken the concept one step further to provide an integrated and free support system for users. The Meltoo website updates its blog with advice from guest experts on how to manage excess, declutter and promote items on sale.
They are currently working with Shelina Jokhiya, who runs Decluttr Me (www.decluttrme.com), and have created a series of "webinars" to provide organising tips.
“Naturally, the first thing for us is that users declutter their space for them to realise the unwanted items around,” says Lee. “We have also collaborated with artisans from the Arte Souq in the past to promote our M-Boutiques section, where they can sell handcrafted stuff.”
Lee says they will continue to collaborate with other similar start-ups to strengthen the buying and selling eco-system in the Emirates.
How to use it
You can create an account by signing up directly to the app, or through Google+ or Facebook. The home page lists items based on proximity, tracked through GPS. Each item in the Auto, Rentals, Electronics, Designer Fashion, Home, Share and Exchange, Mobile Devices, Babies and Kids and M-Boutiques sections (for handicrafts) displays “likes”, a description and reviews. Links to the items can also be shared on different so cial networking sites. Engagement features on the app, such as the “Like”, “Comments” and “Chat” options are similar to those on Instagram and Twitter. “We monitor what goes up there and filter inappropriate posts,” says Lee. “Right now, most of our entries are product and community-based. Moving forward, we would like to create more customer services, such as tie-ups with logistic companies for transporting items for users, too.”
• To find out more about Melltoo Marketplace, visit melltoo.me