BEIRUT: With its myriad of advantages that include affordable advertising and exposure, along with a specialized selection of a target audience, the internet market is attracting a growing number of Lebanese into becoming online business owners
In the pre e-commerce era, being a business owner required having an actual, physical retail store. Nowadays, having adequate knowledge of the intricacies of the internet and a readiness to face up to the rising challenges of the online market are the first steps to becoming an online entrepreneur.
When viewing the business market through the eyes of a 21st-century commerce visionary, the benefits of the internet as a commercial center prove enticing.
However, the demands of the online market are as laborious and challenging as those of the offline market, and not everyone who enters the internet marketplace becomes an instant tycoon, whether in Lebanon or anywhere in the world.
According to the UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index of 2018, Lebanon is ranked 5th on e-commerce readiness in the Middle East and 56th worldwide.
A supporter of the positive prospects of the Lebanese digital market is Aaron Oliver, head of emerging payments at Mastercard Middle East and Africa.
Oliver explains: “Online shopping in Lebanon is certainly following an upward trajectory and one of the key drivers of this gradual but steady growth is the introduction of secure and innovative electronic payment solutions that have opened the online shopping avenue for consumers in Lebanon.”
According to him, the e-commerce industry can play a pivotal role in the growth of Lebanon’s economy. “We are seeing more companies exploring the online shopping platform to grow their business,” Aaron said, adding that financial institutions in Lebanon are focusing on supporting the growth of the digital industry by “developing customized payment solutions that will eventually raise awareness amongst consumers about the convenience, speed and safety of their transactions while shopping online.”
For many of the online businesses Annahar interviewed for this article, online shopping is convenient and timesaving, with the availability of a huge variety of products separated by only a few mouse clicks and tabs.
For those reasons, multitudes of local online shops are taking their chances with strengthening their business ventures, improving their customer service, and expanding their range of available products.
HiCart.com, a renowned online marketplace that was launched two years ago, informed Annahar that the strategy they use to understand their customers and fulfill their needs is a “multi-digital channel approach with an important focus on personalized customer touch points through Marketing Automation to deliver a seamless shopping experience.”
Lebelik.com, a growing local online fashion shop, also believes in making their shoppers feel powerful, as its co-founder Louise Doumet told Annahar: “Online shopping is a transparent and intelligent way to shop.”
The purchasing made from the client’s comfort zone, she believes, adds to the comfort factor of online shopping. “After they get to surf the net to discover what’s available,” Doumet added, “the clients can buy anything from anywhere they are in the world, with manageable return and exchange policies.”
Lebelik.com was founded by twins and business partners Michel and Louise Doumet in 2011.
The two started it as a “passion project” and faced some difficulties in turning the hobby into a business. “We started seeing how people were attracted to the charm and freshness of Lebelik,” Co-founder Louise told Annahar, “but we had to turn it into a profitable, professional business in a way that sustained what attracted people to the website in the first place,” she continued.
Many internet entrepreneurs agree that the monetary affordability associated with having a website or a social media account instead of an actual retail store is one of the most advantageous facets of becoming an online business owner.
According to Harout Melkonian and Janine Sarkissian, founders of an online accessories store, Glammy Touch, it took them six months of careful planning to decide that opening an online shop was the better alternative to actually buying or renting a location.
“A huge responsibility comes with becoming online shop owners, it’s definitely not a walk in the park,” Melkonian told Annahar. “The low-cost procedure of initiating the business and reaching the target audiences is amazing indeed. However, offering a professional and unique service to online shoppers who search for trustworthy stores is key to sustaining one’s place in the increasingly competitive online market,” he added.
A challenge that all internet businesses take is building a healthy relationship with their shoppers through gaining their trust. After all, no one wants to lay their personal details in the hands of an online business that seems unreliable.
To address similar concerns, many online businesses offer the options of refunds, cash-on-delivery, and free returns.
Joyce Tchokaklian, founder of Craft Machine, an online personalized-gifts shop, told Annahar that the challenges online shops and regular ones face are similar. “However, the additional challenges with online shopping might be the fact that shoppers tend to be hesitant about products that they can only see through pictures,” she continued.
“Therefore, this gives us the extra task of maintaining our credibility with our products, as well as having effective communication with our customers and taking extra good care of the product delivery,” Tchokaklian said, adding that an online shop owner’s mission to gain and maintain customer trust must never cease in importance.
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