Reduced mobility during the COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted the worldwide digitization of several industries. As e-commerce businesses expanded, selling online is no longer an eventual decision to be taken, but one that needs immediate tackling to keep your business relevant and running.
To clarify the process of making the e-commerce move, we’ve reached out to the experts at Ecomz, a powerful award-winning platform to create, manage, and grow your online business.
Here’s a quick roadmap they’ve built for you to understand the time, money and resources to make the digital leap.
Starting your online business in Lebanon
The majority of people selling online in Lebanon still use Facebook and Instagram as well as other social media platforms to sell their products or services, and even if it sounds like a smart and money-saving idea, social media is still an amateur method to sell.
Using social commerce only to sell is closer to a hobby since it keeps the vendor limited when it comes to brand promotion or any other sales-boosting tool, it does not give accessibility to order management, follow-ups, reports, SEO, branding, etc. But, luckily things are changing and having your own professional store for a minimal cost is easier than ever today.
Since we’re tackling this process in Lebanon precisely, we prepared a list of features that you should focus on, to help you tweak your plan towards success.
Should I sell in US Dollars (USD) or Lebanese pounds (LBP)?
Unfortunately, due to the currency crash of the Lebanese Pound and the banking capital controls, Lebanese merchants have to deal with 3 currencies:
- Lebanese Pound
- US Dollar in cash (fresh)
- US Dollar locked in the banks (lollars or Lebanese dollars)
With the current exchange rate crisis, it is best advised to use LBP as the main currency in Lebanon. However, internationally you should still use the USD or other currencies.
To avoid getting local dollars (lollars) by credit card, you must be able to activate or deactivate the payment options at checkout. For example, for local shoppers, you must show only the Cash On Delivery (COD) payment options, and for international shoppers, only show the Credit Card options in USD.
Do I need a registered company to sell online?
If you are a startup and simply experimenting in the market for a limited time to test your product or service, you do not need a registered business to start in Lebanon. But, if you are here for the long run, you have to be a legitimate business or collaborate with one.
The registration of your business is a must in order to accept credit card payments since your ecommerce website will require a payment gateway, issue invoices, and to allow shipping through renowned shipping providers such as Aramex or DHL who might offer you a business-specific deal.
In order to legitimize your work and avoid any issues with the law or the banks later on, you have to operate under a real company which is registered in the Ministry of Economy. You can also obtain a “financial number” from the Ministry of Finance for a cheap price and start processing credit card payments as well.
What are the popular payment options?
Cash On Delivery (COD) is still popular in Lebanon, people still feel safer paying directly upon receipt of the product which technically prevents scams. Nevertheless, if you are planning to sell your products abroad, it is better for you to offer the credit card payment option.
For COD payments, local shippers (such as Wakilni and LibanPost) are already offering tools to collect the money for you, you can also choose COD for international shipments (like Aramex) but it is quite risky because international buyers can simply change their mind about the purchase and refuse the shipment, leaving you with the transportation fees.
Moreover, payment solutions are fully aware of the banking and credit card situation in Lebanon and offer COD as a method for your customers to pay.
Here are the most popular payment solutions to integrate with for Lebanese merchants selling locally or abroad.
Local recommended solutions:
- Areeba (popular)
- Bank of Beirut (BoB) (popular and offers competitive rates)
- Cybersource by BLOM Bank (reliable and good customer service)
- Net Commerce (offers competitive rates with ecommerce specialization)
Bank of Beirut and Net Commerce are giving very competitive rates for international orders (close to 100% of fresh money for international orders), however we recommend you call them all to get the best offer for your business.
Regional and international solutions:
- PayPal (Strictly for international payments, must have a bank account outside Lebanon)
What are the best shipping providers?
Historically and geographically, Lebanon has been described to link the east to the west when it comes to trading.
Local shipping costs start for 7,000 LBP per shipment for small packages and they can go up to 30, 000LBP for larger packages. As for COD, some shippers don’t charge extras for collecting the cash however you can expect up to 1% fee with a minimum of 1$ per shipment. In all cases, these are only estimates and you should shop around and compare the services and costs for shipping.
If you are shipping locally, we recommend you integrate with the local shippers while If you are shipping internationally we advise you to opt for the regional or international shippers.
- Wakilni (popular and specialized for ecommerce)
- LibanPost (can serve both local and regional needs, competitive solution)
- SkyNet by Net Group (flexible solution & cost effective with warehouse fulfillment)
For international shipping:
- LibanPost (can serve both local and regional needs)
- Aramex (popular regionally)
- DHL (popular internationally)
All of the shippers offer Cash On Delivery options.
What skills do I need? Should I hire an expert?
Building your online store from scratch is very challenging. You should have experience in website setup, design, coding, and performance. Your website needs to have a friendly user interface and a smooth user experience to optimize the shopping experience and make sure that your customers don’t face problems or delays on your website.
Simultaneously, you should also be focusing on growing your business and creating promotions and campaigns to get traffic to your website.
You can either opt to create your website on your own or have a team of experts build it for you based on the time and knowledge you have and the kind of support you need.
Is it safe?
You need to choose a platform that is secured, constantly updated, and not managed by random agencies with no legitimate background. This is critical to avoid scams, hacks, or frauds since you’ll be risking your money and your business.
Ecomz, for example, is PCI level 1 compliant and uses the standard security measures adopted by banks and governments so everything you store or earn will inevitably stay secured. All credit card payments are tokenized and will never be revealed or stored at any point in time while processing transactions. In addition, Ecomz supports a fraud analysis system which will detect and flag any suspicious order on your online store and pause it for manual verification and processing.
How much will it cost?
When it comes to any online business, appearances can make the difference between a purchase and a simple surf. This is why people invest, directly or indirectly, in the look and functionality of their online store. Choosing to do the whole work from scratch (in other words, using a self-hosted platform) will cost you a lot if you don’t have the skills to build it yourself or the time to do so. You will need to either budget for it or opt for a platform that simplifies the process for you.
Should I have my content in English or in Arabic?
The main language in the ecommerce business in Lebanon is still English, which is a good thing since it’s a common language that almost all the world uses to communicate in the business domain. When dealing with countries other than Lebanon but in the same region, Arabic is also common.
How long does it take?
Despite being radically different from brick-and-mortar stores, building an online store on the fundamental level is practically the same. You have to invest your time, your money and yourself into your store.
The most challenging part of moving your business online is to build your digital product catalog. This is a lengthy process since all products have to be properly and professionally photographed and images should be edited and compressed before being ready to be uploaded. In addition, all product contents should be properly classified in categories or collections. Product titles must be simple and descriptive and optimized for search engines. All product variations (such as color, size, shape) and product attributes should be well thought out as well. In general, you should have all the content in an excel file and ready to be imported to your platform.
Assuming you have the content, and if you choose a hosted and managed platform such as Ecomz, you can expect to have your website ready in less than a week or two.
If you opt for self-hosted or open-source technologies, you should expect 2-3 months for the same result.
Finally, if you choose to accept credit cards on your online store, you should also consider the time it takes to set up your online merchant profile with the bank which also takes 2-4 weeks.
When should I start?
E–commerce is here to stay. If you are still hesitant about starting or moving your business online, keep in mind that thousands of online stores are already selling in Lebanon and the most successful ones can reach tens of thousands of dollars in revenues per day.
The first movers’ advantage applies when it comes to online presence. The earlier you launch your store, visitors will get to know your business first, the higher you will be ranked on Google.
Ecomz is a smart and fast way to set up your online store with a guided and intuitive website builder solution. Built-in features and add-ons allow you to efficiently manage your store and optimize its performance. Their platform provides solutions to your pain points, from switching between currencies, different set up plans, multilingual support and high-quality service and technical support. Head out to their blog for more insights and tips or contact them to speak to their experts.
Ecomz is an award-winning ecommerce platform that allows merchants to create their dream store, manage it like a pro, grow it better and faster. It is the only solution that offers the ultimate shopping experience to customers thanks to an AI recommendation engine, a suite of advanced marketing apps, and innovative multi-channel capabilities.
Ecomz operates in more than 55 countries, serving more than 7,000 merchants helping them generate over $50M in sales. Named 2018 Top 5 B2B website by Seamless Conference, 2017 Top 10 Business by ArabNet, Ecomz has also been recognized by Google, Disrupt San Francisco (TechCrunch) and MIT Silicon Valley Program for its achievements and has been awarded by the 2018 Touch Innovation Program (TIP) and BLC Bank’s 2018 Brilliant Lebanese Award (BLA).