E-COMMERCE | Without the ability to charge credit cards online, it is hard for Jordanian retailer to set up shop on the web, Ahmad Humeid reports
When this whole ‘internet thing’ started in Jordan In the mid 90′s, I was involved with a pioneering project to develop one of the first Arab web portals. The internet was still so new that we had to give people a little lecture about ‘what-on-earth-is-this-internet’. “You know it’s a bunch of computers across the globe connected with wires..”.
One of our sales pitches to get customers exited to join our portal was convincing them that, using the internet, they can set up a virtual shop and “sell to customers all over the world!” Our favourite example of what Arabs can sell online (no, it wasn’t oil) was Arab handicrafts!
Needless to say, the first Jordanian e-commerce ventures were actually online shops selling, you guessed it, Arab handicrafts and sweets.
Although this has become a cliché, the concept of being able to do business and sell anywhere is one of the most potent promises of the net.
Almost a decade on, this promise remains hard to fulfil for Jordanian retailers. I was reminded of this issue by the recent inquiry of a friend who knows that I am in the ‘internet business’ and who’s starting his own online shop. The first thing people like him ask about is: how can I collect credit card payments from customers around the world.
The answer should be straightforward, but, in Jordan, it sadly isn’t! The straight answer would be to point my friend to his bank or to a specialized online payment collection company. Instead I had to go into my traditional consultant’s speech, giving him the choice between a Lebanese company who provides an online payment gateway, a US company and a Jordanian company who offers a partial service, covering only one kind of credit cards.
One rather primitive solution I came across recently while trying to advise an organization on online payments, was getting a credit card machine, like the one used by retail shops, to manually type in the credit card numbers received from their website. Thank goodness, the credit card numbers were being sent from the site to the email box of the site’s administrator using a secure connection. This solution does work, although it does not allow for immediate authorization of the card. How frustrating.
I am sure that many small businesses in Jordan can make a decent living selling all kinds of products and services online, both inside Jordan and outside. It can go beyond Jordanian handicrafts into other areas like books, art, translation services, Arabic coffee, Dead Sea salt, printing services and a thousand other things. But the lack of a secure, easy to set-up, Jordan-based online payment service makes opening a web shop cumbersome.
Perhaps this also explains how dead local e-commerce is in Jordan. I always challenge people, who use the web and have credit cards, to name just one product they bought online from a Jordanian site. I am yet to hear an answer. Let me know if you did at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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