With product options in the millions, the Souq.coms of the region may be in a position to fulfil just about any need of a Gulf consumer. But if he or she is still intent on looking outside for online purchases, there is the Mallfortheworld.
The promoter of the portal believes that there is quite a sizeable base of regional shoppers who would want to pick up American brands directly from a US retailer. And probably get favourable prices as a result.
These could typically be brands that are as yet unrepresented in the region but have managed to find some sort of following in the online space. Or they could be “brands (that have) representation but want a more streamlined and cheaper method to ship,” said Chris Folayan, CEO of Mallfortheworld. “And others have never worked in the region and are looking for an all-in-one solution to tap and access the market.”
Mallfortheworld currently showcases about 150 US-based retailers and their brands through its app. As such, it is a spin-off from the MallforAfrica, which works on a similar business model but caters exclusively on African eCommerce possibilities. MallforAfrica has been operational for about five years now.
It is only over the last year or two that more of the Gulf’s shoppers increased their spending on local/regional shopping portals. But even then, a significantly high number continues to place orders with global online vendors or niche overseas portals. What this meant was more orders might be placed with Amazon’s US or UK portals than with the regional options available at the time. (It even led to a trend where regional logistics providers helped set up US-based “addresses” to receive interim delivery on orders placed by Gulf based shoppers.)
Folayan reckons that there are still shoppers out there wanting to do so, despite Amazon’s recent acquisition of Souq.com and new players set to make their entry with massive merchandise options.
“We have brands that are represented and some new to the Middle East which we are helping launch here,” said Folayan. “With over 5,000 brands on our platform, they cross all spectrums — from $4 (Dh14.7) to $250,000.”
But there are significant differences in its business model as compared with a generic eCommerce vendor. For one, it does not carry any inventory directly. And, two, Mallfortheworld offers a “marketplace” approach for the brands it curates.
“MallfortheWorld has a different strategy than the Amazons of the world,” the CEO said. “We don’t have any inventory — so when a customer purchases a pair of shoes from Macy’s, it is getting shipped directly from Macy’s.
“This means you get to experience the retailer’s website, deals, sales, and, most importantly, inventory. By passing our customers to the merchant site, we give them access to their inventory, which equates to over 8 billion items when you add all the stores we have on our platform.
“Amazon doesn’t even get close to that number. Plus merchants like the fact that we help maintain and promote their brands.”
And what it wants to achieve with American brands, the Mallfortheworld hopes to make a similar case with UK labels ... and even those from Asia. “This is something we plan on launching this year,” said Folayan. “Asian stores will come right after we launch our UK stores ... so this is coming soon.
“At the end of the day, our goal is for our customers to think of MallfortheWorld.com first when shopping online from US, UK and Asia. We are the turnkey solution for merchants wanting to expand without any hassles, and the number one destination for customers who want to shop on foreign websites.”
Playing the role of the via media
* By being the access point and not carrying any sort of inventory, Mallfortheworld can keep a tight rein on its operating costs. But what is in it for potential shoppers wanting to give the app a try?
“Our mission is simple — shop global, pick up local,” said Chris Folayan, CEO. “Users can now shop directly on US sites without a US address and pay via local platforms.
“We have the best selection and prices by connecting customers directly with stores in the US. We’ve been extremely successful with MallforAfrica.com so we don’t feel this is a huge hurdle for our business. This is just an extension of a platform that works and is needed in all emerging markets.”
On whether the parent entity, MallforAfrica, is as yet profitable, the CEO said: “(As of now), we put all funds back into the company for expansion and growth across Africa and now with the introduction of Mallfortheworld.”