Failing multiple times within his decade-long entrepreneurial journey, which started during college, Khalid Raza Khan has come a long way before hitting success with UAE-based eCommerce company YourLibaas. His list of failed ventures includes EasyAdmission (an online admission consultancy), LatestMoviez (Bollywood news portal), and YouthTimes.in (an online youth magazine). As part of our eCommerce series, we at NewsTrack got in touch with him to discuss future plans and the state of fashion eCommerce. Khalid Raza Khan, Founder & CEO of UAE-based eCommerce company YourLibaas
Khalid founded YourLibaas in 2014 with Akram Tariq Khan while enrolled in a full-time engineering course at PICT, Pune. He was born and brought up in the Middle East, where he envisioned a bridge for cultural exchange between India and UAE. There was an unmet demand in India for lawn designer apparel. Indian tourists would buy it while touring UAE, where lawn apparel is readily available. So, he decided to import, partnering with prominent designers like Sana Safinaz, Maria B, Khaadi, and Gul Ahmed.
The expansion into UAE and the ethnic apparel industry
YourLibaas recently forayed into the MENA region, setting up an entity in Dubai, UAE. The company plans to move all primary operations, barring customer service and IT, to the UAE entirely by the end of 2021. "India is a lucrative market, but the competition within the domestic market is intense. Given the huge demand for ethnic apparel internationally, we aim to build a strong presence in the MENA region and quickly gain market share," says Khalid. "It is going to be a challenging venture, and we are ready for it."
The salwar kameez and Kurtis industry's size within India is estimated to be 52000+ Crore. The company focuses on a niche offering featuring 'lawn designer' apparel and claims the target consumer to be upper-class non-working women. Although Amazon, Flipkart & Myntra sell lawn apparel, these collections are outdated and limited designs are available. Hence, this demand-supply gap is filled by niche eCommerce players. "We aim to build a strong team in the UAE, quickly borrowing from our years of experience within India. There are differences in culture and ways of working within the two countries, but the consumer is identical," adds Khalid. "Once we gain a sizable market share, our next goal will be tapping the North American market."
The pandemic has not been kind to all industries; it has especially hit hard several, including hospitality, tourism, and real estate, which are yet to recover. But Internet companies, specifically eCommerce, benefited heavily from the lockdown. But it also introduced its own set of challenges. At YourLibaas, the pandemic forced the team to work remotely. "Our international expansion plans were stalled due to the pandemic. The due diligence and legal requirements were completed prior to the current crisis, but everything else was frozen mid-way. We are glad to be back on track to be a truly global organization," comments Khalid.
Competition is fierce in the fragmented market
YourLibaas is not the only lawn apparel eCommerce company in the market offering a one-stop solution. Fashion retail is a fragmented market rife with small-time resellers in every nook and corner. Conventional marketplaces like Noon, Souq & Namshi within the UAE are large competitors. "There are 1000s of resellers, and a significant proportion of people prefer buying from them in the physical world. Credibility and trust are built easily with the offline channel. We have been leveraging technology to compensate for this missing critical factor," adds Khalid. "By far, it has fared well as the user adoption is fast picking up."
The company aims to dig deeper into the consumer's mindset and introduce product offerings and features that fulfill the missing needs. The guiding mechanism has been the design thinking process, which involves several successive iterations and user input.
Leveraging technology as the key differentiator
When asked about how the company differentiates itself from the competitors, Khalid remarked, "Digital is our forte and USP. The market has traditionally been limited to WhatsApp commerce. Small retailers and household women have been selling these apparel through WhatsApp. A major pain point is replica copies, wherein customers often end up being duped receiving a replica instead of an original. We have been exclusively online and offer easy returns to deal with this apprehension."
The company claims to have signed up for the WhatsApp Business API to enable chatbot-based WhatsApp orders. It claims it led to a 30% increase in purchase conversion rate since introducing the 'Order on WhatsApp' functionality as users found it convenient to get in touch about product queries through WhatsApp and phone. "Online commerce has evidenced accelerated growth due to the pandemic. The forecasts we expected in the next five years seem achievable by the end of this one," he added.
The company plans to grow the team to support the scaling operations. It plans to onboard key specialists working within well-defined narrowed-down functions, a key departure from the lean startup mindset. "People are what made the growth possible in the first place. We attribute our success to the team entirely. Taking on large marketplaces wouldn't have been possible without them," says Khalid.
Speaking about eCommerce's future, Khalid believes that technology will compensate for the missing physical touch in fashion eCommerce. "People online won't worry about the authenticity or quality of the product. The factor of touch and feel shall be replaced by a layer of trust augmented by technology." One can access the latest designs and offerings at their Instagram handle @yourlibaas or stay updated about the latest in the world of eCommerce at NewsTrack.