E-Commerce in Tunisia: Reflections from a TechWomen Mentor

TechWomen Mentor Marie Carter leaded group discussion on e-commerce

TechWomen Mentor, Marie Carter, leading a group discussion on e-commerce during the WES Social Media for Women Entrepreneurs TOT

“In Tunisia we can’t sell our products online.” This is what I learned when leading a discussion group on e-commerce in Tunisia during the Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) Social Media for Women Entrepreneurs Training of Trainers (TOT) meeting last week. I anticipated sitting down with a group of trainers to discuss best practices on setting up an online store, branding, configuring shipping, etc., but instead the topic turned to the current challenges Tunisian entrepreneurs face in selling online. Due to the closed currency in Tunisia*, entrepreneurs will be blocked from selling goods on the internet until the government restructures its banking system and removes restrictions on the dinar. This fact made our discussion of e-commerce take a different, yet fruitful turn. There are many best practices that can be applied to e-commerce as well as to marketing a brick and mortar store, which is what many of the WES entrepreneurs are currently doing. Here are some highlights from our discussion:

  • Tell a story: Every product has a story. Whether it’s the story of how the maker crafted the product, the product’s meaning in a local culture, or a historical reference, every object tells a tale. It’s these stories that help buyers connect with products and brands. Consumers often want to understand not only what the product is, but why it has meaning. Make sure to always tell the story of your products, through your website, catalog or in personal interactions with prospective customers.
  • Photography is key: Your products are beautiful in real life, so they should look great in photos! Photograph each item individually or perhaps together in a scene showing how it’s used. Photographs help connect your audience with the product and allow them to imagine how they would use it in their lives. Photographs are an essential part of selling products online, and can be used to advertise in local media or in your store catalog.
  • Help people find you: The internet is a big place with lots of stuff to buy. You want to make sure that people can find your products easily and quickly. It’s important to host your products using an online store or website that is searchable, and preferably has filtering options so buyers can narrow down what they are looking for. Also use words in your product descriptions that you think people may use in a search. If you’re selling out of a store, organize your products in a way that helps your customers easily find what they are looking for.
  • Connect your customers: Consumers want to hear from other customers before they buy. By publicly sharing reviews from other buyers, you can help new prospects see what others love about your products. Reviews give your brand credibility and effectively help people ‘try before they buy’ online.

It’s apparent that Tunisia has work to do before local entrepreneurs can reap the full benefits of e-commerce, but it must be done. In 2014, sellers using Etsy, a popular e-commerce platform, generated sales of $1.39 billion USD, up 43.3% from 2013. The demand for Tunisian products is out there and Tunisian entrepreneurs are ready to sell. In the meantime, local business owners should begin applying these and other best practices to their physical stores so they are ready when the barriers to e-commerce are removed.

About Marie:

prof (2)Marie is a Technical Support Engineer at Yahoo in San Francisco, CA. She served as a TechWomen Professional Mentor in 2014 and attended the 2015 TechWomen Delegation trip to Tunisia. Marie has a B.A. in International Studies and is thrilled to combine her passions for new technologies and inter-cultural communication to support women across the globe. LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/marie-carter/15/517/181/en

*As a closed currency, the Tunisian Dinar (TND) is not allowed to be imported or exported from the country. Additionally, there are strict limitations to its convertibility. “Tunisian Activists Launch ‘Where is Paypal” Campaign” by Jeremy Fryd, January 13, 2015.

Build Your Enterprise, Build Your Community

Guest post by Rym Baouendi, WES Trainer and Tunisian consultant in sustainable development.

Rym Baouendi leading the Home-Based Business and E-Commerce TOT for WES Trainers

Rym Baouendi leading the Home-Based Business and E-Commerce TOT for WES Trainers

2013 is upon us, bringing new dreams and new commitments for years to come.
One of my dreams for the new year is to witness the rise of successful social enterprises across Tunisia led by bright women -and men- who are committed to social development and environmental protection.

Social Entrepreneurship is a topic that we briefly touched on during the TOT session on “home-based business and e-commerce” that I delivered in October 2012 as part of the WES program. During this session, I had the immense pleasure and privilege to work with a group of dedicated and passionate fellow Tunisians from Gafsa, Kairouan, Sfax, Sousse, Tunis and Zarsis that share a sincere commitment for the development of their regions. We discussed the potential for social entrepreneurship and how such enterprise models can go beyond income generation or “value capture” for women entrepreneurs to also create positive change and “shared value” for the wider community.

Today, only a few months after the first kick-off TOT session, it’s with immense pride that I hear about the successes of the WES trainers delivering a variety of training sessions in their regional centers to support women entrepreneurs in the process of setting up and running successful businesses. I hope that through these training sessions, the women entrepreneurs are inspired and encouraged to become change makers in their communities and create through their businesses a positive and wider impact.
Social entrepreneurship is indeed the new trend in enterprise development. We are witnessing today around the world a new wave of entrepreneurs who are attempting to resolve a range of complex challenges. These social entrepreneurs are involved in renewable energy development, waste management, organic agriculture, education, social housing, healthcare and many other fields that are creating positive change for people and the environment. The business activities that these entrepreneurs are developing go beyond financial value capture. Their businesses also try to maximize social and/or environmental benefits; and often address issues that governments, the civil society or traditional businesses have failed to address or where they haven’t been very effective.

In a developing country such as post-revolution Tunisia, the need for quick and meaningful social and economic development is pressing. It goes without saying thatenvironmental degradation is another vital issue that needs to be addressed in the process. With the government grappling with the multitude of development and environmental challenges, social entrepreneurs can identify exciting opportunities for social enterprise development to “fill in the gaps”. After two years of demanding “Work”, “Freedom” and “Dignity”, Tunisian youth and citizens in general must move beyond “demanding” to “creating their own destiny”. Enterprise development -with impact- is the way forward and problems must increasingly be viewed as opportunities if we want to create quick positive changes.

With new programs such as WES in place, more and more women are realizing their potential to be entrepreneurs and help build their communities. This is a golden opportunity for hopeful entrepreneurs to actively contribute to Tunisia’s development and achieve positive, lasting change.

Happy New Year!

Rym is a Tunisian consultant and trainer in sustainable development with more than 10 years of experience. She is married, the mother two sons and chose to work from home to balance her professional and personal responsibilities. Rym is interested in different solutions that contribute to sustainable development especially those related to the urban environment and sustainable business buildings. She is the founder and managing director of Medina Works a strategic sustainability consulting firm based in the United Arab Emirates and Founding Member of the Tunisia Green Building Council. In 2012, Rym joined the WES team to design and deliver a training of trainers on home-based business and e-commerce. Rym is based between UAE and Tunisia.

WES Trainers Explore E-Commerce and Design E-Shops

Bijoux Tunisie E-shop

Bijoux Tunisie E-shop

If you were given a business partner, images of existing jewelry products, and less than two hours to create an online jewelry shop in Tunisia, what approach would you take?

Your e-shop must be designed on Facebook and will be evaluated by your peers on the basis of creativity, pricing, and business strategy.

During a recent Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) Training of Trainers (TOT) on e-commerce, this e-shop challenge was posed by trainer Rym Baouendi. In response, participants created nine mock e-shops on Facebook.

The winner was Bijoux Tunisie, which stood out with their unique approach incorporating a delivery service into their pricing strategy. Fellow participants also acknowledged their clear labeling and excellent approach to marketing of products. Bijoux Tunisie also added a contact form to their Facebook page to ensure that potential clients could directly contact owners to find out more about the e-shop and products.

According to the latest Doing Business 2013 report from the World Bank, Tunisia ranks 66th globally in ease of starting a business. However, e-commerce globally, and in Tunisia, is still growing and continues to face barriers related to credit card use and building trust in online payments.

In Tunisia, debit cards may be used for some domestic online payments, but Tunisian credit cards are not accepted for most foreign currencies. This dramatically restricts their use in the e-commerce sector, particularly on foreign sites. As of 2010, Tunisia had more than 2.4 million debit cards in use in a country of 10 million people . (Doing Business in Tunisia: 2012)

A training on e-commerce will be launched in 2013 at eight WES centers across Tunisia and we look forward to seeing graduates leading the way in the rapidly changing online business environment.