Meet Ronaldo Mouchawar, who runs the Middle East’s biggest home-grown website. With Souq.com expanding tenfold over the last two years alone, what does the all-conquering e-commerce giant have in store for the future?
Even that growth is being easily surpassed by Souq.com, which aims to beat that 60 percent “by two or three times”, Mouchawar says. The kind of growth that the site has been posting over the last couple of years might sound fantastic, but it also creates problems in terms of scalability and matching customer service with demand.
Mouchawar declines to talk about profits, pointing out instead that “margins are always a challenge because you are giving great value to the user.
“You also have to have the infrastructure, and the reason we go out to raise the capital is because the infrastructure needs to suit those very huge growth numbers,” he adds. “Some companies talk about growth rates in single- or double-digit terms on a yearly basis — we have to do that almost month in and month out.”
Right now, the platform is available in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, with a technical and development office in Jordan, and another technical back-up office in India. The focus is on continuing to build out those markets — after all, as Mouchawar points out, those four markets add up to some 120 million consumers — but more geographical expansion is on the way. Souq.com will be rolled out to Qatar and Bahrain “ideally within a quarter” with the plan to extend to Jordan and possibly Lebanon in the future.
When questioned as to how the site might expand even further in the future, the chief executive hints that the transactional experience his team has built up might be used to build up new brands outside Souq.com.
“We have a lot of know-how to add to the value chain,” Mouchawar says. “But the internet connects a lot of people, so maybe we don’t connect it with the brand, maybe it’s the know-how, the technology. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a replica of what we’re doing, it could be one of the layers that we have.
“Maybe payments could be extended, so airlines from the region could use our payment services, or something like that. There’s definitely room there, especially if you look at our investors, like Naspers, they are keen on e-commerce in the region and that sharing of know-how and capability allows you to think outside the box.”
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