Philippe Abdeni is the Chief Operating Officer of Bellamysworld, an e-commerce platform established in Lebanon in 2003 for luxury luxury goods including jewelry, furniture and art
The e-commerce sector in Lebanon is growing rapidly, with more and more businesses setting up online stores. With simplified solutions now available, the process of creating an online store can seem like an easy feat. However, running an e-commerce business, especially outside of Lebanon, can be one of the most difficult tasks. There are daily lessons and many factors need to be anticipated to get the job started.
The world has become digital, with more and more customers going online to gather information and make purchases. Today, and more than ever, both small and large retailers are looking at the potential of the e-commerce sphere. The necessity of having an internet is clear and can no longer be considered a luxury.
When we set up Bellamysworld.com in 2010, we were one of the first companies in Lebanon to have an e-commerce store. We decided on an emergency, to create our own website and features because there was no simplified solution then. Our industry, namely antiques, luxury goods, art and high-end accessories, has added a layer of challenge to the company’s positioning. As is the case with most e-commerce companies, in order to gain scope, it is necessary to look abroad and try to reach an international audience. The local market, especially for premium products, offers limited growth opportunities.
Starting a business in Lebanon and focusing on online channels to drive sales is a challenge for any business owner. The recent and ongoing crisis that has shaken Lebanon is an example of the challenge for us as a business; a mood shared by most industries.
A key obstacle they face when selling to an international audience is facilitating payments through the website. Digital payment solutions are an integral part of buying in a safe and secure way. In the current situation in Lebanon, payments received from local and international clients are directed to local bank accounts, which limits your ability to pay and buy new products for sale online. Therefore, this is a factor to consider. Understanding market needs allows you to effectively manage your inventory.
Managing an international e-commerce site dealing with antiques and art has also required us to create strong links and partnerships with international professionals and bodies to validate our credibility as a company.
To overcome these challenges, we have sought to change our mindset and look for opportunities.
First, as far as payments go, any e-commerce business that ends up in Lebanon should have international payment gateways on the site. PayPal is an ideal option, but it requires an international body with a bank account. There are local solutions that are slowly growing, but the international payment approach creates a layer of trust, especially when sold to a global audience.
As the local client base in the field of art and antiques was quite limited, we had to deal with this problem in two ways. We first ensure that part of our offering includes expert services and content through consulting, our website and social media channels. Such an offer has created a connection with art and antique lovers from around the world. Second, we started targeting key markets overseas, we were interested in art and antiques. With the tools we currently have from Google Analytics to Facebook Pixel, ecommerce owners can identify which markets are most interested in what is for sale and target them accordingly.
However, from the experience, we were also quite surprised to see some unexpected customers visit our site and make purchases from countries ranging from Thailand to the Fiji Islands. We often hear this from Lebanese entrepreneurs – that some of their biggest markets are the ones they never thought about.
Having a strong website, great customer experience, extending excellent customer service and a unique product offering expands the customers you can sell to. A reliable shipping company, as a partner, has proven to be very important. With reliable shipping companies, every shipping and return policy can be clearly divided, and the faster the customer receives the package, the better. This was a great asset to Bellamysworld.com
When we first set up online commerce, our understanding of search engine optimization (SEO) and digital marketing was in their early years. The focus on SEO sites and the use of digital marketing tools such as remarketing, Google Ads and social media ads have greatly increased visibility. It is important to continue to monitor engagement levels and adjust your brand strategy accordingly. All technology components need to be seamlessly coupled to create the optimum client journey.
However, after years of e-commerce experience, we have come to realize that outstanding services and personal touch are paramount to clients. When running an ecommerce business, customer interaction is at a minimum, so creative ways to communicate your brand might come in handy. So when the next shipment is shipped, add a note to it and see how far it goes.