Berbera Mart – Have You Thought of Shopping This Way?
Seven young problem-solvers came together to form an e-commerce company. Hold on. It was not another one of the over eighty somehow similar sites you have come across. They named it Berbera, and for a good reason. They aimed to create a port-like place where you pick up anything you wished. With innovative approaches to market needs, you will see how fun shopping can be made. Loline had an exciting conversation with Berbera’s CEO, Bereket. Here is their adventurous journey told.
The start off
“We wanted to transform the traditional shopping experience.”
When Berbera began in 2019, it was a simple vibrant-orange-themed online shopping site. Tasting the waters, they added some key features which set them apart in the saturated market. Berbera didn’t want to push people online and bore them with clicks, drags, and drops. They wanted customers to have fun in the process. The result was a simulation of the bargaining back and forth people are used to in traditional shopping.
This became a price gaming feature. It is where prices randomly fluctuate up to a 50% discount, and customers click on the counter. If they like the price displayed, they take it; if not, they have two more trials. The Berbera team, later, coupled it with a donation feature where customers can give one old item for one new one they buy on the site. It was Berbera’s way of learning to build a system that fits well with the Ethiopian shopping culture.
Being in an infant market
“We want people to trust e-commerce, better yet, trust us.”
Even with tens of e-commerce sites in Ethiopia, people prefer social media marketplaces. People like to direct message vendors and negotiate prices. They also worry about product quality. Berbera is working on building a reputation for customers to have confidence in the system. To begin with, they screen their vendors well by immediately terminating the contract with those who provide erroneous product descriptions. There is a 24 hours refund policy. Bereket explained, “It is always about figuring out what works and doesn't.”
The biggest challenges
“You learn through the process.”
Berbera had no structured data on online customer behavior, which it could use to research the market. It had to launch, collect data, experiment, and learn. The other problem came with finance. As an exclusive e-commerce company, building trust meant taking risks. That is a little too risky for a startup. Dealing with vendors to provide the correct product details and make timely updates was also a hardship.
The time in iceaddis
“I couldn’t imagine where we would have been without the assistance of iceaddis.”
Berbera was among the many ideas incubated to fruition by iceaddis. There, they got a two-month training in Finance and Marketing through a program called- The good business. They also received a 200,000 birr grant which Bereket told us was spent as a way for team motivation, hiring salespeople, and work on marketing. He added the incubation center was a networking center as well.
With seven founding members and five employees, Berbera is thriving. With the last three months spent restructuring the system, a 200,000 birr transaction has passed through it so far. Since the new version of the app launched, Bereket told us, they have seen a 50% increase in engagement and product visits. Besides being the go-to site for a fun shopping experience, Berbera is advancing in many ways. For now, it is pivoting on fashion. As its business model revolves around retaining customers, it needed to be a hub for what people come for repeatedly. Returning customers also provide significant value for vendors.
Its unique subscription model has eliminated vendors’ discomfort with giving a percentage of their sales for the commission. Merchants pay subscription fees once two successful orders come through. These payments go into getting the products for online advertisement. Berbera is working on making its platform worth paying for a booth.
"Thinking about how far we've gone and accomplished, it will be foolish to turn back"
The rough road to entrepreneurship is understandable. Everything needs extra effort as the learning curve might get rough at times. “I make my team see the bigger picture,” were Bereket’s words. He explained how he breaks down tasks into doable actions to help his team take steps toward what looks like a sky-high. He disapproves of bossing around and takes his team for a fun night out. As for him, he reminds himself of how much he had sacrificed in the process. He believed the loss would be double-fold by throwing it all away.
Floating above the competition
“Competition is a blessing in disguise.”
By now, you have some idea why people might choose Berbera. They are building a robust system of building their brand and creating value for regulars to their sites. Bereket told us pricing is a crucial strategy to beat the market. He explained to us this is unlikely without having their warehouse. Mentioning a ten-day program in Djibouti, which they signed up for through iceaddis, he shared with us the opportunities ahead. The involved company is affiliated with some of the biggest Chinese retailers like Alibaba. “If we play our cards right, let alone compete in price, we might be able to disrupt Ethiopian e-commerce,” he spoke enthusiastically.
Bereket told us about the seven years plans they had outlined when they started. They have hit milestones and are putting all their efforts into ever advancing their platform. They are projecting a 1,000,000 birr monthly income from subscriptions in a year. They have planned to have warehouses and stretch their presence in three to five African countries’ markets.
Comments on policy
“There was no better way to license our business. We ended up registered as a broker.”
Bereket began with his disapproval of the refund policy, which he called "impractical". The regulatory body does not seem to understand the ecosystem well and makes unhelpful rules. Bereket believes the best way to do it is by involving those who know the business firsthand. He concluded, “The policy needs to be flexible enough to create the right funnel for all kinds of online businesses.”
A little to say to those joining the entrepreneurial journey
“Remember you are getting into a battlefield.”
Bereket has observed many are coming in because they think it is trendy. Others, he noticed, are there for the money. As someone who has been a couple of years in it, he told us the exaggerated narrative about startups shouldn't delude the youth. Bereket didn’t hide the discipline and commitment required. However, he is optimistic about the momentum in the Ethiopian market. He strongly advises people to do their research and go all in.