Isma Gaity is typical of internet shoppers in the Gulf: she rarely buys online and admits to not fully trusting what she sees there. "Actually, I'm not that into second-hand stuff," she said. "But on souq.com you get a good feel for how the furniture will actually be." Value for money is especially important in this economic environment and Ms Gaity said she was able to purchase a 40-litre refrigerator for about Dh400 (US$108.90), compared with buying a new one at three times the cost.
Making novice internet shoppers comfortable with online commerce is part of souq.com's niche, said Ronaldo Mouchawar, the website's founder. "We didn't want to make it too complicated," Mr Mouchawar said. "It's an early adaptor platform." Souq.com is similar to the US online marketplace e-Bay except that payment is not made through the internet. Instead, buyers pay sellers directly and souq.com simply matches them.
"Some buyers don't trust e-commerce so we don't get the service charge until the buyers receive the item," Mr Mouchawar added. "We do a lot of cash-on-delivery." Souq.com was founded two years ago and was spun off from the Web portal Maktoob last year after Yahoo bought the portal. Souq.com became part of the Jabbar Internet Group and received a US$20 million capital injection. Since the split, souq.com has been expanding, Mr Mouchawar said.
This year it became available in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Mr Mouchawar said he hoped to move into the rest of the GCC by the end of the year. The largest proportion of deals at souq.com involve electronic gadgets, clothes and cosmetics. The website has more than 100,000 items, including vehicles, listed for sale. Ms Gaity was persuaded to try souq.com when she saw a bedroom set a friend bought on the website.
The privacy available when doing business makes the site especially popular with women in the region, Mr Mouchawar said, to the chagrin of husbands who are then sent to pay for the items and pick them up. "I have a few of these friends who don't like what I do because of this reason," he said, chuckling. firstname.lastname@example.org