“The first time I got an Uber in San Francisco, my driver greeted me with a ‘Hey Mo, how are you?’ You’d never get that from a traditional taxi; it inspired me.” So says Mohammed Johmani, the chief executive and founder of Cary, a UAE mobile marketplace.
Online companies worldwide have been learning the hard way that it’s still real people making the decisions, and they want the human touch. As a result, “human to human” is replacing the more traditional business-to-consumer and business-to-business models.
Mr Johmani is a 34-year-old Syrian entrepreneur who has been in Dubai since he was 17 and launched five businesses, Cary being the latest. “Brands such as Airbnb and Uber are moving towards the human to human approach, but e-commerce is also shifting and Cary is capitalising on this. Souq.com is for merchants, Dubizzle is classifieds … Cary is a social, mobile marketplace for listings within 20 miles.”
Selling on Cary is as simple as uploading a photo from your camera roll, adding a little item information and placing it in one of just seven categories – motors, Apple products, sports, home (TVs), gadgets, accessories and “everything else” (“people are lazy in finding a category”). Cary started out in 2013 with cars but that, says Mr Johmani, meant a focus on resellers and showrooms such as Al Aweer – and he would rather focus on users than businesses.
Cary, he says, is following in the footsteps of two US mobile marketplaces, 5Miles and LetGo, which are taking on the e-giants eBay and Craigslist. Cary goes a little farther than a five-mile radius of 5Miles, but its localisation still allows its 50,000 users to shop within a single emirate. And 20 miles (32km) will create a good city limit when the company expands into populous countries like Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the next year or so.
Robert LoCascio, founder of the live online chat tool LivePerson, says that consumers around the world want to feel like a valuable customer, not like a click or a conversion for a website. “We know that today, only 2 per cent of visitors actually buy. They fundamentally want to feel special, and that starts with service.
“Even Amazon, at one time the most low-touch brand in e-commerce, has realised that they have to use service as a leader to create a long-term engagement. That’s what you’re seeing with Mayday, their remote tech support system for the Kindle.”
With Mayday, a support person pops up in video on your screen within 15 seconds of a call. They can actually look at the screen through your eyes – like having real tech support at your desk.
The regional e-payment gateway Payfort says e-commerce is booming, and estimates the market will reach US$13.4 billion in the Middle East and North Africa in the next five years.
“Personalised content, advertising, products and services have a 70 per cent higher engagement rate,” says Omar Soudodi, Payfort’s managing director. “We see many opportunities driven by innovations in customer service, marketing, product delivery and payment technologies.”
The UAE’s first home-grown classifieds site, Dubizzle (known as OLX elsewhere in the region as it expands), is also aware of the need to humanise. Barry Judge, the general manager of Dubizzle UAE, says: “We have a host of features that add the human element – a carousel on the home page that renders content based on previous search history, and a saved search notifications feature. And the tonality of the website is very personable (like the terms ‘habibi’ or ‘habibti’) and makes users feels as though they are spoken to directly.”
Mr Johmani’s inspiration, Uber, says it too is committed to “fast, consistent and reliable service”. And it’s paying off: requests in Dubai alone have increased tenfold in a year. Jambu Palaniappan, regional general manager for the Middle East and Africa, says this extends to “all touch points – drivers and riders, online and offline. It’s often as simple as an Uber driver greeting you by name but we’re always looking to take it a step further”.
For marketplace site JadoPado, the human touch is “a subset of customer service”. “Far too many brands pay lip service to front line customer service and see it as a cost centre to be managed and minimised,” says Omar Kassim, the chief executive of JadoPado. “I think you need exactly the opposite approach. That is what has allowed us to stand out in a relatively crowded space.”
Says Mr LoCascio: “I believe we’re at the edge of digital commerce radically changing. Mobile is going to provide a fresh start – it’s going to allow us to create a cool, emotional connection with our brands.”
Cary is one of those businesses counting on mobile to be the winning ingredient to humanise e-commerce, as it sets its sights on a million users and looks to raise $1 million in Series A funding in 2016. “We live in a fast-changing environment and plans can change overnight,” says Mr Johmani. But count on those human touches remaining part of the formula.
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