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Fashion site Namshi.com has designs for the region

Namshi.com, an online fashion store, evaluates plans to expand across the Middle East and North Africa region as it targets what it describes as an untapped multibillion-dollar market.

A fledgling online fashion store is evaluating plans to expand across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) as it targets what it describes as an untapped multibillion-dollar market.

Dubai-based Namshi.com, which is funded by a Berlin-based internet firm, launched in December and sells clothes and footwear to GCC countries and Egypt.

Louis Lebbos, the co-founder of Namshi, said online stores had an opportunity to increase their share of the retail market.

"It's a multibillion-dollar opportunity in a market that is untapped," he said. "We are not aiming to capture a portion of the e-commerce market. We're aiming to capture a portion of the retail market in the region."

Muhammed Mekki, the other co-founder of Namshi.com, said the site was evaluating a region-wide presence, although he did not give an exact timeframe on launching delivery services in other markets.

The site currently offers free delivery of goods across the GCC and in Egypt, using Aramex as its shipping partner.

"The Middle East and North Africa region is our target market. Subject to our analysis of each geography, we're planning on expanding our operations," he said. "From our perspective there isn't a player that is serving the broader Mena region for fashion e-commerce in the way that we plan on doing it."

Namshi is building its inventory to include about 20,000 products distributed from Dubai.

The site has attracted investment from the Berlin-based firm Rocket Internet. Mr Lebbos declined to specify the amount of funding, but described it as a large investment.

Rocket Internet was unavailable for comment.

According to the research firm Euromonitor, consumers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt spent US$1.01 billion (Dh3.7bn) on internet retail sites last year. That is forecast to grow to $2.09bn by 2016.

Euromonitor's figures account for spending on local and international sites, but exclude daily-deal services such as Groupon.

Many local sites, such as Emiratesavenue.com, Aido.com and JadoPado.com, stock electronic goods.

But only a handful of fashion sites have sprung up serving the region. These include the Jordanian company MarkaVIP, a specialist in discount clothing, which said last year that it had obtained $5 million in funding from US investors.

Another fashion site, Sukar.com, also offers discounted clothing and footwear.

Barriers cited for the relatively slow adoption of e-commerce in the region include low internet penetration, a reluctance of consumers to transact online, difficult logistics and lengthy customs processes.

However, Mr Mekki said that there was growing demand for online retail use.

"The market isn't used to e-commerce. But all the indications we are getting is that customers are hungry for something like this," he said. "There is no major player focusing in on fashion e-commerce. Nobody is doing the bread and butter e-commerce for fashion, which is a proven business model around the world."

Though analysts have long predicted greater online spending among consumers in the Middle East, Mr Mekki said the market was finally ready. "2012 is the year of e-commerce," he said. "We mean it this time."

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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