A common characteristic in Cairo’s outskirts is its unpaved roads and poor infrastructure. For the tens of thousands of small shop owners in these areas, ordering essential products can prove to be a logistical nightmare. This results in inflated prices and low-quality goods, hurting shop owners and more importantly, customers.
The large trucks used to deliver goods can’t navigate the uneven and narrow streets easily and struggle to find the shops they need to get to. Larger manufacturers are less inclined to devote resources delivering products to these areas as a result. Compounding this problem further are the various middlemen these goods pass through as they make their way from manufacturers to rural areas. This results in inflated prices and low-quality goods, hurting shop owners and more importantly customers.
One Cairo based startup is aiming to solve this problem through its digital marketplace and logistics solution. Founded in 2018, the startup delivers products to shop owners in rural areas at a fairer price and without the hassle. MaxAB offers a variety of advantages beyond the convenience of ordering electronically. Shop owners can order products in a variety of ways. MaxAB, according to Belal El-Megharbel, co-founder and CEO, “Saves them [shop owners] time and money and offers them better quality goods at better prices.”
Shop owners can download MaxAB’s app and browse the catalogue of goods before placing their orders digitally. Alternatively, they can contact the startup’s customer service team or message them on WhatsApp to place an order. Gone are the middlemen that inflate the prices of everyday goods as MaxAB connects manufacturers with shop owners directly.
The startup takes products directly from manufacturers, stores them in their warehouse, before shipping them out as they receive orders. Furthermore, shop owners aren’t forced to bulk order goods, MaxAB will deliver goods no matter how small the shipment size is, similar to Amazon and Souq.com. This gives shop owners the freedom to order the quantity of stock they need. The company also benefits manufacturers by offering them deep insights into what products are popular and where allowing them to optimize their production based on demand. Deliveries are also made more efficient as the company leverages GPS data and route optimization to ensure shipments are completed on time.
“We’re trying to reduce the challenges faced by traditional retailers in Egypt when doing business with FMCGs and wholesalers – saving them time and money and offering them better quality goods at better prices.”Belal El-Megharbel, Co-founder & CEO, MaxAB
Mahmoud Ismail is a shop owner in Al Qalyubia and uses MaxAB’s app regularly. He says the biggest problem he previously faced was the fluctuation in prices when ordering stock. This, combined with tracking multiple deliveries from different suppliers, proved to be a logistical burden. After learning about the new app, Ismail loved the convenience of ordering all the products he needed at once, and no longer needed to barter with middlemen. MaxAB also gives him flexibility on when he can order, and how much, thanks to the startup’s 24-hour delivery service. Ismail says he could place an order for as little as 10 EGP ($0.60).
The Rise of E-commerce Across MENA
MaxAB is just one example of the Middle East’s growing e-commerce sector, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt being key markets. In 2017 the MENA e-commerce market was worth $8.3 billion. By 2022 the market is expected to grow to $28.5 billion, more than doubling its current valuation. Leading this growth are large online retailers such as Souq.com, which Amazon bought for $580 million in 2017, Noon, Jumia and others. One of the main drivers behind this rise is mobile shopping, with more than one in two online shoppers ordering items through their phone in the region.
In less than a year of operations, MaxAB has managed to make an impact. They currently serve over 30 areas across Cairo, Giza and Al Qalyubia with plans to expand to Alexandria and Mansoura. The company’s Growth Manager, Wael Leheta, says roughly 1 in 8 vendors use their app in the districts they serve – a phenomenal statistic given how new the startup is.
According to its website, the startup has completed over 40,000 shipments to 9,000 retailers and offers close to 700 products on its platform. Co-founder and COO Mohammed Ben Halim says they can take their platform further, expanding to other African countries like Morocco and Kenya who could benefit from what MaxAB offers. The startup is a demonstration of how rural communities can be better served by leveraging data-driven technology.
If you see something out of place or would like to contribute to this story, check out our Ethics and Policy section.