Hi my name is Zhila Shariat, and I’m Desert Mannequin’s very first contributor!
*jazz hands emoji*
As a Muslim American of Iranian decent, and having grown up in Oklahoma of all places, I was keen to seek out like minded women upon moving to Dubai to help me grow personally, and professionally (considering I’ve also just launched my own ready-to-wear label).
As many of you may know by now, Anum recently moved to Dubai and is currently multi-tasking like no other to get her life sorted, and back on track post-move. Between setting up a new home, transitioning to a new city, and continuing her now full-time job at Desert Mannequin, she’s been rather unhappy about not writing as often on her site, which she’s hoping will evolve into an open platform where woman, and men, can come together to share experiences, discuss current/ relevant issues, and just help this space mature into one of the largest friendship circles in the region, and world.
So as her first contributor, I’m extremely excited to share my first article with you here on DM.
*roll up sleeves*, and here we go….
The topic I’m keen to discuss today is the phenomenon of shopping with social channels. How did it start, and why are people doing it?
Lately I find myself shopping via unconventional methods. Let’s talk about the time I ordered a NoFuX label manteau in Tehran through Telegram. Or how about when I lived in NYC and got my Fyunka bag delivered in an Uber after seeing it on the brand’s Snapchat “sample sale”? (I was hoping Alaa would deliver it herself, so I could fangirl over her, but she smartly just sent a messenger, probably to avoid that exact situation.) And then of course after moving to Dubai, I got my SohaMT bisht through a series of WhatsApp messages. (Bisht please!) There was also that weekend trip to Amman when I bought a ZD Suzani scarf through Facebook. Okay, enough name dropping - my point is that with e-commerce being so limited in the region but social media being the center of our universe, it’s only made sense that independent regional labels in the Middle East have figured out a way to sell on social, and I’m clearly a fan.
I have a couple theories on why this is happening and why it works. We know mobile has replaced desktop, and Instagram has basically become the new way to window shop. We see unique, beautiful items tagged with the designer’s account and can immediately reach out through a direct message to find out more. We want “Insta”nt gratification at any hour and often get faster responses on social media than we would during normal business hours of a boutique or website. While it’s not exactly scalable for the designer to sell this way, it’s a lower risk than investing in and managing a full-fledged e-commerce site, and it’s also a good way for up-and-coming brands to sell directly to an audience that they’ve already captivated on an existing platform. For example, Telegram has exploded in popularity in Iran, with one in four Iranians being active on the app. (Iran’s population is 80 million, so that’s a lot of Telegram accounts, folks.) It’s known for being extremely secure and fast, and brands are able to set up channels where they can broadcast to unlimited audiences. The rest of the world is basically all on Whatsapp, so that’s a no-brainer as well. They just put their Whatsapp number in their Instagram profile and are open for business. And while Instagram recently announced via their blog that they are testing a shopping feature on the app, I love that savvy designers in the Middle East have already beat them to it.
So will it last? There are definitely problems with selling on social. Due to lack of logistical infrastructure like credit card penetration, and limited availability of mobile payment platforms in the region, cash-on-delivery is the preferred method of payment. This can lead to returns or canceled orders when the customer changes their mind about their purchase and refuses payment, which is not ideal for any retailer, let alone an emerging designer who is doing custom orders. Also, now that Instagram is adding a shopping feature to their app, all they have to do is block the ability to post a phone number in the bio, essentially forcing merchants to use the official shopping feature and thus having to pay a fee on every sale made.
There’s generally always risk involved when you depend on an external platform for your sales, rather than hosting the entire experience yourself, but the smartest sellers will evolve with technology and have already proven that they can manipulate whatever tools are available to them to meet their needs. My view is that shopping via social media and chat apps will continue as long as there are no barriers from the platforms and no faster, easier, and more convenient alternatives available for both buyers and sellers, and for now there don’t seem to be, at least in the region. What do you think? Would you buy from a local brand through social media, or do you prefer to stick to traditional online shopping? Chime in below.
So there you have it.
Illustration Credit: Joseph Amar