e-Commerce is still in its infancy in the Gulf. Although thanks to efforts such as government commitment, retailer investment and – most importantly – a young population open to trying new technologies and innovations, this is changing. Barriers like payment security concerns faced by the countries in the region, including Qatar, had been hard to ignore so far. The sentiments have, however, changed by an interesting twist to the concept of e-Commerce as being used by local business through Instagram.
According to Go-Gulf, an international online web application design and development company, 88% of the online population in the Middle East uses social networks. Instagram has been named one of the top five social networks in the Middle East by Go Gulf. The usage of Instagram in the Gulf varies from personal and marketing reasons, to humorous and religious ones. But mostly it is used for e-Commerce. Small businesses, start-ups or new entrepreneurs are displaying their original merchandise on Instagram and providing phone numbers or a website to place orders. The merchandise varies from jewelry to clothing to food. A large percentage of these entrepreneurs seem to be homemakers.
The entrepreneurs post pictures of the merchandise on Instagram and if something interests customers, they call or WhatsApp them their orders and the company delivers it. Payment is usually done through
Western Union or directly, since majority of these businesses operate locally. This is great e-Commerce! Especially because it bypasses the issue of security since the transaction isn’t made online and allows homemakers to be entrepreneurs working from home.
Mohammed Al Kubaisi, a Qatari father of five, has used Instagram a few times to order cakes. Recently when he was planning a birthday party for his son, he did not hesitate a moment to order the cake through Instagram. We asked him why he preferred Instagram? “Instagram lets me see the product and makes it easy to order. And of course it’s delivered straight to your house,” he said, adding that the merchandise showcased in Instagram has a more “homely and personal feel to it,” the cakes feel homemade and much more personal than ones that may be mass-produced or made in a factory.
Although its good going for local businesses to use Instagram as their e-Commerce platform, there is still the issues of quality control, reliability and assurance for the consumer or the retailer. Unlike official websites that sell third party merchandise, such as eBay and Amazon, businesses on Instagram don’t have quality assurance. There is no way of getting your money back if the seller does not get you the correct item or to make sure the consumer pays for things he orders. These Instagram shops are based completely on the customer and the retailer’s mutual trust.
Layal Mansour, a regular customer of Instagram entrepreneurs, describer her concern the first time she bought something online, “First time I ordered something I was worried that I won’t get the correct item, so I asked the seller if I could see the merchandise face to face before paying.” Same can’t be true for those who order something from another country. Past reviews by other customers, and word-of-mouth recommendations help to some extent but this would mean new retailers may be left out.
Disadvantages aside, making your goods and services available through Instagram is a neat little idea and if you have a useful business concept, go ahead and start selling online – through Instagram if you like or through a proper website with full suite of e-Commerce. Whatever you decide, don’t forget to share your experience with us.