OpenSooq, the Jordan-based horizontal, has to overcome unique challenges as the company grows market share and transitions to a transactional marketplace.

“We operate in 19 MENA [Middle East and North Africa] markets, but we’re focussing on six core markets,” chief commercialization officer Anas Elayyan said at day three at the Global Online Marketplaces Summit in Miami.

OpenSooq chief commercialization officer Elis Annas

Due to exceptionally low credit card penetration, there’s no clear and easy way to accept online payments.  For religious reseasons, Arabs are not allowed to pay or receive interest.

“We have integrated with more than 25 different payment systems to collect money,” Elayyan said. “Operator billing is one of the most common payment methods operating in the MENA region, but it’s one of the worst.”

Operator billing allows consumers to pay for items online and add the payment to their mobile phone bill. “In 19 different countries, we have to deal with every single mobile operator. Some operators offer consumers different spending limits, different collection cycles,” Elayyan said.

Merchants often have to wait until the end of the billing cycle and the consumer has paid their mobile bill before they’ll get their fees. But the operators also take a large portion of the merchant’s fee as a commission — around 67 percent, Elayyan said.

OpenSooq has created its own mobile wallet, which It encourages its users to adopt.

While payments are a major pain point for the company, another challenge was managing the many different dialects of the Arabic language.

“Arabic splits into nearly 20 dialects,” Elayyan said. “We had to analyze the text of every ad post using a process called ‘localization,’ where we remove the prefixes and suffixes from words.”

The company is using machine learning to ‘localize’ the dialects of each listing on its site. “We now have five different language collections,” Elayyan said.

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