Panelists at the Everything Mobile forum hailed the growing importance and prevalence of mobile commerce (mCommerce) with more customers demanding better mobile and online services and one entrepreneur blaming banks as an obstacle to progress.
ictQATAR’s eBusiness Consultant Shadi Eideh explained the importance of mCommerce to today’s businesses, saying that mobile services are “something you have to have. It’s no longer an accessory. It’s no longer a nice feature that you can give to your customers. If you don’t provide mobile commerce, if you don’t provide some mobile experience, then you are lacking, and it actually affects their loyalty towards you.”
LivingSocial Middle East managing director Dan Stuart had a point when he said that many people in the Gulf move beyond the traditional credit card before even getting one.
“There are a lot of people that don’t have them. One of the big challenges I face is the myth that people are afraid to use their credit card online, that they’re worried about security.,” he told the audience.
“I used to work at the biggest job site in the region and on a daily basis Amazon.com in the US would get more traffic than that jobs site.
“People are travelling virtually to the other side of the planet to use their credit card to buy things because there is nothing to buy online in this part of the world.
“A lot of it, to be honest, is the fault of the banks because they present such a poor product when it comes to payment gateways, Stuart said.
“If I was creating a phishing website, I would actually do a better job creating it than the payment gateways used by the banks here. It doesn’t help entrepreneurs whatsoever, in that sense, for taking payments.
“They know they have a poor product, they know they’re not being helpful, they know that there’s a growing industry that they could have potentially had champions for - and they have people like me now who say that the banks aren’t helpful.”
Stuart founded Gonabit, a Dubai-based online service that allows people to prepay for products and services with lower prices or other incentives.
It was the first such service in the MENA region and the first to be offered globally in Arabic.
Gonabit operated in nine markets in the UAE, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, and had 45 employees when it was sold to LivingSocial, an international company with the same vision as Gonabit that offers daily deals to 640 markets with 60mn members.
LivingSocial provides deals on everything from a pizza to a holiday trip to Kilimanjaro.
Stuart pointed out that even Paypal would not allow Egyptian or Lebanese users to create an account, and so Stuart had to go back to the banks and help them create solutions that would fit the business model.
“They also had to pay $75,000 as collateral against charge-backs, a requirement for a lot of payment gateways in the region, which is $75,000 obstacle for entrepreneurs who will effectively never get their money back,” he elaborated.
However, Stuart has good news for services requiring online payments because, as of August 2011, 69% of respondents to a survey said that they preferred credit/debit card transactions to cash, with 75% saying that they felt confident buying from locally based websites.
He said that the UAE is predicted to have 70% smartphone penetration by 2016, compared to 47% today. However, only 5.9% of online transactions are through smartphone apps, compared to 17% in the US.
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