The eBay of Lebanon – that’s what Samir Hanna, CEO of Bank Audi, called their new innovative online shopping platform eMall. Launched on Sunday night at a glitzy cocktail reception held on Bab Idriss Street in downtown Beirut (blocked from public use for the occasion) the event was well-attended – with over 200 attendees including senior bank managers, company directors and media figures – despite the ongoing clashes in the southern city of Saida.
With a violinist and a pianist in the background, Randa Bdeir, head of electronic banking and card services at the bank and the driving force behind the initiative, presented the platform. eMall allows merchants registered with Bank Audi to sell their products online and have the items delivered to consumers’ households by shipping provider Aramex. So far over 90 stores have signed up, including those selling designer items, food and beverage, and electronics.
In Lebanon e-Commerce is in its infancy, with a recent poll putting the percentage of people regularly shopping online at less than one percent. As such Bank Audi are seeking to capitalize on a burgeoning market.
Audi’s profits are to be derived from the stores rather than the customers. eMall charges a 3 percent rate on products sold through its site, in addition to a set up fee and a monthly maintenance fee which vary on the category of microsite chosen. For the consumers, anyone can buy products from the platform but Bank Audi’s clients will have access to special deals and discounts. As such, expect the bank to bite into other local banks’ market share.
eMall also provides shoppers with additional features such as ordering items from the United States shipped to their homes in Lebanon and donating to non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations Development Program. The US service seeks to bypass the problem many Lebanese face as their cards are not accepted by American firms through a partnership with the website MyUS.com.
To launch the new eMall site, an indoor space on the corner of the banks’ headquarters is presenting a simulation of the site – on laptops, iPads and iPhones – and of other payment technologies, for a period of one week. The highlight of Sunday’s event was the mind-blowing 3D display, which brought to life Bank Audi’s main headquarters.