Ranya Zaben and Enas Soussan came up with the idea of a hands- and hassle-free shopping service after an exhausting day of shopping for heavy essentials and the aftermath of carrying full bags to the car park. Akyasi, meaning “my bags” in Arabic, is a UAE-based mobile application that picks up purchases from Akyasi drop-off points in shopping malls and securely delivers them to preferred locations whenever you want to leave. All for between AED20-50.
Having just launched the concept in 2018, the founders speak to Arabian Business on their current and future plans for Akyasi.
Considering Akyasi is generally unique to other services in the market, what were some the biggest challenges you faced while setting up the business?
The biggest challenge was designing an integrated business model and mapping a seamless yet secure process flow in the most logical and cost effective way – from the customer’s purchase to successful delivery. Getting retailers on board was also challenging, since some of them have to go through a long process for approvals of utilising the platform. Others still do not fully understand the concept. Having said that, retailers bear zero cost in terms of the operational services, and can gain much more by the data collected via Akyasi, which gathers information on the shopping habits of customers.
Malls and shopping districts themselves have posed a challenge as well. The concept’s added value gets lost between misunderstanding regarding cost and revenue sharing.
When you first came up with the idea of Akyasi, you thought it would be logistically impossible. How did you make it work?
Yes, we initially thought it would be logistically unfeasible. But during later discussions, we figured out that creating an integrated platform via a mobile app would actually achieve our goal of connecting consumers, retailers, malls and delivery partners.
Concierge services are the only similar existing businesses to Akyasi. What is the growth potential in this niche sector?
The more the shopping sector in the region grows through the addition of new shopping districts and malls, the more likely that competitors will arise. Akyasi can never replace concierge services, nor do we wish to, as we can work in partnership to boost their services by integrating them with end users. In regards to competition, it is always expected. While we do have a “first mover” advantage in the market, we are also constantly enhancing the platform.
You’re currently available in two malls in Abu Dhabi. Are there expansion plans?
We are currently in Yas Mall and Dalma Mall in Abu Dhabi, but we do have plans to launch in Dubai in the near future and are already in talks with a few malls and shopping districts. The challenge is to get them onboard and show them how Akyasi can compliment the services already offered, without the need to invest in physical infrastructure. The longer-term growth plan is starting with the region and branching out globally.
How difficult was it to set up the dedicated Akyasi drop-off points in the malls?
It has required careful consideration so that they are visible enough to be noticed and identified without seeming obtrusive to the mall environment. The physical drop-off points required up-front investment and compliance with the mall’s safety and security rules, so this was challenging.
What was the costliest part of setting up the business?
The bulk of the costs incurred were related to the set-up of the platform, application development, the production of Akyasi bags with the unique QR codes and the creation of the drop-off points. Creating the app was also expensive because it’s an end-to-end integration platform from the user to the logistics operator and the delivery of purchases.
How have you funded this?
We’re self-funded. Once the system is fully operational, and its success evident, our plan is to seek further equity from investors to fund future expansion. The majority of investors seem to be focused on e-commerce, forgetting that the physical shopping market will never die – it is still a very viable industry. We try to show them the long-term benefits and practicality of the business model.
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