Jad Haidamous worked in telecoms in the Middle East for seven years before doing an MBA at the Spanish Business School, Esade. On his return to Dubai, he worked as a consultant for a skincare company. There he realised that it wasn't easy for customers to buy skincare products online in the UAE. He launched Basharacare.com in February to meet the growing demand for e-commerce in this particular niche.
What exactly were the problems that online shoppers were facing when buying skincare products?
Customers were forced to place orders from outside the UAE, which meant suffering long delivery times and products that may or may not be authentic.
How do you get around this?
Our strategy is to work with local suppliers. We don't import any products ourselves. We want to make sure all the products are registered locally and approved by the Government of the UAE and the governments of the GCC once we expand. This is to give confidence to consumers that products are authentic and kept in a cool area and not travelling for two weeks in some hot spots. In skincare this is very important. We work very closely with our suppliers so we know the demand. We want to delver in two, three days; this is also why we need the proximity factor. For delivery to the customer we work with Aramex. That gives us the option of cash on delivery [COD].
Is that important?
COD is very import in this region especially for a new company like ours because people want to build their confidence first. Usually people make their first order based on COD and on their second or third order, they switch to credit card.
But still, given the ease of finding products in the many malls, do people really want to shop online?
The selection of brands we have is very limited in terms of access. Most brands we carry are sold in pharmacies, clinics or luxury spas. What we are doing is giving accessibility to those brands.
In the United Kingdom and the United States, it's customers who live in remote areas [that shop online] and we have seen this in the UAE too; or they are very active people living in the city who work the whole day so going to the internet is much quicker and much more convenient than finding a shop that stocks the products. We also offer free delivery and we give free samples. We have a very attractive loyalty programme; we are not a discount store but even on their second order customers will get a discount. The more customers buy, the more points they accumulate and the more discounts they get. So it is attractive for people to be loyal to the website and repeat their purchases. Also, the skincare industry has high growth globally, expanding at about 5 to 5.5 per cent per year even during the financial crisis. In this region is it growing at around 10 per cent and in UAE in particular at about 12 per cent. And e-commerce, it grew by more than 40 per cent in 2011-2012. The e-commerce market is still small but the potential is huge. Internet penetration is very high - especially in the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait. Saudi is a little behind. No other website offers the same range of brands that we do. Until a year ago most of the e-commerce in region were big generalists, Amazon style. What we are trying to do is have a specialised shop. We chose one industry and focused on that.
And I understand you don't just see Basharacare.com as a shopping cart but also as a platform for education?
We choose our brands very carefully and we are also very selective about our suppliers. We want to make sure they have the capacity to train our staff and the customer service people, the marketing people, our bloggers. We provide a lot of education because we want people to have the confidence that they will find the right product. We also work with a dermatologist, Dr Hassan Galadari, who is assistant professor of dermatology at the UAE University and the board's chief adviser.
And do customers buy again from you?
We have around 30 per cent repeat customers. And sales growing by 40 per cent per month.
So at the moment you serve only the UAE but do you plan to broaden your geographical scope?
At the beginning of 2014 we will expand to other GCC countries. In October of this year we will launch a version of our website in Arabic. We are also increasing our portfolio of brands. We launched with 35 brands but we will have 45 by the end of this year.