Dubai: Go to college? Been there.
Graduate? Done that.
Launch a business? Doing that.
Recent months have definitely been a whirl for Selina Ved… and that pace is not going to slacken any time soon. In April, Selina, who graduated in business management from a Canadian university in May last, will launch the first phase of her maiden venture – the ‘Nessa’ digital platform for everything to do with beauty and skincare products.
Now, what makes this quite different from any other venture from an aspiring entrepreneur is how this is being put together. Nessa is owned by Dubai-based Apparel Group, the retailing powerhouse that handles more than 70 global brands – the likes of Levi’s, Birkenstock, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.
Nessa thus marks the first move by Apparel – owned by Nilesh and Sima Ved, Selina’s parents - to create its own label and in a category were it has until now been under-represented – beauty and skincare. But Nessa will operate as a standalone venture, and with all the rewards – and risks – associated with a startup.
The potential rewards could be massive - the size of the Gulf's cosmetics market is estimated to touch $16.59 billion by end 2022, against $10.7 billion in 2017. And an increasing portion of these sales are happening online.
In short, Nessa will have Selina’s imprint all over it. “After uni, I immediately started working at Apparel’s ecommerce venture 6thStreet.com. But I realized that while fashion and footwear are great, I didn’t love it. But makeup was something I was into… right from when I was 15 or 16.
“That’s when I thought if I wanted to be in business, I would rather it be in something that I was passionate about. It was also something the group could benefit from.”
All in the foundation
The timing seems right for such a push, and specifically through an app. The pandemic phase has brought about changes in consumer behavior in just about all aspects, and it is apparent in the landscape populated by skincare brands. Ethical sourcing, no testing on animals, adherence to sustainable practices – all of that became as important for the shopper in knowing what her brand of choice stood for.
In parallel, brands are also dropping wordings and image stereotypes that had long defined the selling of beauty products. So, out goes ‘fair’ or what constitutes being ‘lovely’.
Nessa will offer a combination of legacy brands and those niche ones that are fast emerging through word-of-mouth in the whole social media ecosystem.
Go with ‘social’
“If you look at consumer online data, searches for things like ‘organic’, Retinol or Vitamin C were up,” said Selina, who specialised in consumer behavior for her graduation. “If at all there’s an ideal time for me to launch Nessa, it has to be now.
“The way I see it, there’s no other app like it in this market right now. We aim to bring in all the elements of ‘social commerce’ and give niche international brands that have zero presence here.”
The way Selina sees it, Nessa will offer both brands and all the associated info that future shoppers will find compelling – and make the buy happen right then and there.. This is where the social commerce comes in.
“While watching a beauty tutorial, you can add the products to the cart without leaving the app,” she added. “Social commerce for us is about educating the consumer, allowing them to watch the content they typically do on Instagram or TikTok, and placing that order – all within that one app.
“We are also on-boarding an AR (augmented reality) feature where you can see how the makeup will look on the user. Such a feature is known to have generated four times longer engagement time on similar platforms.”
The Nessa app, which was put together locally, will go live in the UAE and Kuwait in April, followed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in July, and with Bahrain and Oman to follow in October.
“When Apparel launches something, there’s nothing small about it – we go in with guns blazing,” Selina added. “That’s the way we have done it in the past, that’s how we will do it going forward.”
Number of stores operated by Apparel Group for its 75 plus brand franchises in 15 countries
More on the way?
With the beauty platform good to go, will Selina now look to other categories to get into? “I want to take off with beautycare – it’s everything that I love. So right now, there’s definitely nothing more planned,” said Selina.
“When we did our market research, we found there was hardly any wholly beauty-focussed app. If we to grow, we have to be focused. It wouldn’t make sense to add fashion or accessory to our vertical right now.
“What I do see happening, possibly, is for Nessa get into offline.”
Being a millennial, is Nessa an effort to tap a shopper demographic that she knows best? That’s not how Selina sees it. “We are trying to get brands that millennials would be aware of – but that doesn’t mean it’s for one single demographic. Beauty is for everyone – not for one age group, one ethnicity, or one demographic.”
- 20% of Middle East shoppers watch online videos to get info on products and services.
- 11% of all ecommerce-related retail sales are in the beauty and skincare category.
- 60% of all ecommerce shoppers have bought beauty products at least once.