In the last few years the ICT sector in Lebanon has experienced something of a boom, worth an estimated $381 million in 2014 and growing at a rate of 7.9 per cent.
Traditionally, Lebanese talent tended to make its biggest impact abroad, with global diaspora estimated at around 14 million. However, this trend has recently started to shift, and we’re experiencing a “youth bulge,” with a new generation of entrepreneurs looking to start companies in their own country.
One of the initiatives fostering this movement is the recently launched UK-Lebanon Tech Hub, a 6-month accelerator designed to help some of the country’s best start-ups to expand their reach and break into new markets. This cohort of promising entrepreneurs recently landed in London to work with institutions such as Cambridge, UCL and Oxford to take their ambitious ideas to a global stage.
These ideas include several disruptions in the e-commerce space, ranging from social shopping to innovative uses of Big Data and a compelling new crowd-subsidising marketplace that gamifies the online shopping experience.
Slidr works by getting users to reveal a hidden price on their chosen item by using pre-purchased credits. Once the price is shown, users have 10 seconds to decide on whether or not to go ahead with the purchase before the price is hidden again. As more people click on the item, its price continues to plummet down, subsidised by the crowd’s collective credits.
“The user gets a great price from the start,” explains Slidr Co-Founder Fouad Assaf, a serial entrepreneur who founded and sold his first start-up in 1999. “We guarantee the starting price is lower than the RRP, but HOW much lower depends on how many people slide for it. It’s a fun way to shop that allows users to get fantastic value for exclusive items, and is basically a gamble that you can’t lose.”
This unique mash-up of shopping and gaming creates a much more rewarding – and addictive – shopping experience: “We’re an entirely new e-commerce proposition focusing on aspirational products and experiences, powered by our algorithm which analyses consumer behavior patterns and decides on the price drop accordingly,” says Marwan Salem, Slidr’s Co-Founder. “This is a place where users will be able to acquire the latest trendy, innovative lifestyle items at guaranteed reduced prices, but also have a lot of fun in the process.”
Over the next months, they will be seeking partnerships with exclusive UK brands and designers to make their products and experiences available on Slidr. They plan to keep a presence in London and run dual operations between the UK and Beirut.
Another startup that’s using the UK’s thriving online e-commerce ecosystem as a springboard to global expansion is thatsoyoo, which brings the missing social layer into online shopping by providing a platform where users share that experience with their network in real time. It connects people and brands seamlessly so that users offer and receive instant feedback on their fashion choices, crowdsourcing opinions from people they actually trust – their friends.
“We all know how convenient it is to shop online, but half the fun of shopping, specially when it comes to fashion, is in the social interactions that happen around it,” explains thatsoyoo Founder and CTO James Burbridge. “That’s a big problem with online retail, it can actually leave people feeling really isolated. So we built a platform where you can browse thousands of items from your favourite shops like TopShop, ASOS and Selfridges and get feedback from your friends in real time.”
The site’s chat panel allows shoppers to hold multiple conversations, video chat and watch live as friends view their favourite products. Users can build personalized shopping experiences, browsing hundreds of thousands of products from a wide range of brands, all in one place. “There’s also a huge opportunity for retailers here,” says Burbridge. “Nearly 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned, and we know that friends, family and social influences have a huge impact in those purchasing decisions. Making the entire process more fun and social directly translates into more sales and fewer returns, as the shopper is much likelier to feel confident and happy with their purchases.”
There are also sizable opportunities for retailers in leveraging Big Data, and Markelligent, another startup from the UKLTH delegation, creates smart solutions implementing and integrating software, hardware and data analytics in its Software as a Service (SaaS) offering. Brate, on the other hand, uses this type of insight to create a compelling consumer offering, by connecting the offline and online shopping experiences. Consumers can discover the hottest places to eat, drink, shop or visit based on what online users are searching for in over 120 cities.
The company uses big data analytics to identify the hottest trends and respond to customer’s needs and wants in real time, allowing retailers to offer consumers exactly what they want, where and when they want it.
“Brate brings together the best aspects of online and offline shopping in one platform. It transforms the retail experience by giving consumers much more choice, and brings a welcome boost to the high street by connecting outlets with impulse buyers.” said Managing Partner Shadi Tabbara
The service, which is available on web, iOS and Android, launched in San Francisco last August, followed by London in October, and has seen traffic triple in a year to 1.3 million.
“After launching in London last year, we’re excited to unlock the full potential of the UK market to help us expand the service,” said Tabbara.
According to recent figures from the IMRG, by 2021 UK consumers will spend more online than in the high street, but innovations such as these brought by the UKLTH start-ups shows how much room there still is for improving the shopping experience for both consumers and retailers.