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Classifieds online and ready to grow

The boom in online classified advertising that is credited with closing some newspapers in the West is showing signs of taking off in the MENA region.

The boom in online classified advertising that is credited with closing some newspapers in the West is showing signs of taking off in the MENA region. The latest company to join the regional online classified market is Bayt.com, the Middle East jobs site that launched a dedicated classified section last month. Bayt's entry follows the expansion of the online classified site Dubizzle to the Abu Dhabi market in February and Souq.com, the e-commerce site that includes classified sections, into Egypt in January.

"We definitely believe that it's still a market place that is open to more providers," said Omar Tahboub, the vice president of engineering at Bayt.com. "We think that the number of people in the region who take advantage of online commerce and online marketplaces is still a very small number." But it is growing rapidly. Souq.com is the top-ranked e-commerce site in the region, according to Alexa.com.

Ronaldo Mouchawar, the chief executive of Souq.com, said it was increasing its visitor numbers by between 8 and 10 per cent a month. The site now had 1.5 million visits a month and 1 million visitors to its online properties. "The traffic on Souq.com in some countries is bigger than that of the malls in that country, and the rent you have to pay at the mall is a lot higher than on Souq, which is actually free," Mr Mouchawar said.

Although Souq.com does offer traditionally structured classifieds for its property and car sections, in which it acts as a forum for buyers and sellers to meet but not make transactions, its main revenues come through the online transactions that its online sellers make in other sections, such as gadgets or clothes. In this way, it is more like an online mall than a message board. This is the model that Bayt.com is ultimately moving towards, although it does not yet have online transactions. But it has attracted an array of major companies to open online shopfronts, not just individual sellers of used cars.

"Ultimately, the objective is to evolve this into a complete marketplace," Mr Tahboub said. "We think classifieds is the right place to start because it does not involve the complexity. khagey@thenational.ae

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