Noon.com, an online retailer that is aiming to be the go-to Arabic-first e-commerce site for the Middle East, has finally launched in the UAE, after a nine-month delay – and will soon go live in Saudi Arabia as well.
The site and its founder, real-estate mogul Mohamed Alabbar, have had a tumultuous year. Aside from the delays in launching Noon, Alabbar’s Emaar Malls lost out to Amazon in its bid to buy Souq.com in March.
In a statement, Noon said it’s “important for us to shape a digital marketplace that is relevant to our local markets and serves as a growth platform for brick-and-mortar retailers.” The Middle East’s e-commerce sector is expected to double in size by 2021, though it may not present as imminent a threat to brick-and-mortar businesses as it has elsewhere because of culturally entrenched purchasing habits.
MH Alshaya Co, a retail franchise operator based in Kuwait, recently acquired a stake in the business, joining Emaar Malls as a bricks-and-mortar-based investor. The joint venture also counts Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment fund among its backers.
In March, Alabbar put in an $800m offer to buy Souq.com, a regional online retailer founded by Ronaldo Mouchawar, a Syrian-born entrepreneur. Souq was already in negotiations with Amazon, which ultimately bought it for an undisclosed price estimated to be somewhere between $650 and $750 million.