E-commerce is one of the MENA region’s fastest-growing sectors today, with more and more niches being catered to by brands both big and small. After all, it’s big business—the MENA B2C e-commerce market reached a value of $104.1 billion in 2022, according to professional estimates. This has been primarily thanks to high internet penetration, rising urbanisation, and an increase in mobile shopping, among other reasons.
One facet of this massive industry in the region, however, remains mostly untapped: re-commerce.
Re-commerce (short for reverse commerce) is a subset of e-commerce that involves the sale of pre-owned products online. While the concept of reselling items online is not new by any stretch of the imagination, no company in the MENA region has pushed and innovated this model to the lengths that UAE-founded startup Cartlow has.
Starting life as a re-commerce platform selling pre-owned, refurbished, open-box, and clearance goods, Carlow zeroed in on a niche that was mostly uncatered to on the regional level.
“For businesses, a market gap lies in the fact that retailers and distributors today are faced with the challenge of discarding returned and overstocked products, lacking the processing capabilities to resell them,” Mohammed Sleiman, Founder and CEO of Cartlow, told the Abu Dhabi SME Hub.
But this also opened up a new opportunity for Cartlow to take things a step further, and to rather get a more involved grasp on the product life cycle, while promoting sustainable practices. To achieve this, Sleiman pivoted the company into a cloud-based reverse logistics technology platform.
Reverse logistics, as the name suggests, revolves around tracing back the supply chain journey, where a product that is in possession of the end user is returned to the retailer or manufacturer for the purpose of a return, recall, repair, or for repackaging and/or recycling purposes. This business model seems to have attracted the attention of investors, as Cartlow has managed to raise an $18 million Series A round just three years after launch, which has also fueled its expansion into Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
In the Q&A below, Sleiman shares insights about his company and their journey so far.
Mohammed Sleiman, Founder and CEO of Cartlow
Can you tell us about your professional background prior to launching Cartlow?
I hold more than 18 years of managerial experience, in leading multinational firms such as Western Union and Hewlett-Packard. Previously, I was the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Helpbit.com (Souq entity), which was acquired by Amazon in 2017. I served under Amazon as a Regional Director, heading the After Market Service function for two years across the region.
In 2019, I founded Cartlow as a re-commerce platform which then grew to become the leading reverse logistics cloud-based technology platform in UAE and KSA. My vision for the future is to structure, transform and dominate the reverse logistics multi-billion-dollar market whilst creating a more sustainable environment in the UAE & KSA in accordance with H.H. Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid AlMaktoum’s sustainability vision and Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s 2030 Vision.
The re-commerce business model is not exactly new to the region, but no one has deployed a solution at the scale of Cartlow. How did the idea behind the company originate, and what market gap were you trying to address?
For consumers today, the main channel for buying and selling pre-loved products is the ‘classifieds' channels and we have noticed that customers are always hesitant to buy such products or cannot afford new ones, so we decided to re-build their trust by offering high-quality pre-loved products with warranty sold at affordable prices, in addition to many other value propositions such as payment options and logistics.
As for businesses, a market gap lies in the fact that retailers and distributors today are faced with the challenge of discarding returned and overstocked products, lacking the processing capabilities to resell them. As a result, we focused on building a full reverse logistics ecosystem with mature after-sale and liquidation operations to support consumers and businesses.
We’ve invested heavily in every component of the reverse logistics ecosystem: technology, operations & re-commerce.
Since its inception, Cartlow’s customers were able to help save more than 1 million products, which equals more than 3 million kg of e-waste and over 18 million kg of carbon emissions.
Tell us about the early days of Cartlow. How did you build the online platform and source suppliers for pre-owned/refurbished/open-box/clearance goods?
The early days of Cartlow were a time of rapid growth and intense focus on building a solid foundation. Our cloud base reverse solution remains the main sourcing channel through different partners within the retail, distribution, brands and telecoms sector across different categories.
Today, how would you describe your consumer demographic?
Cartlow’s user base has significantly changed over the years—the male demographic took over in our early years. As the business progressed and we diversified our selection to other categories such as home appliances, lifestyle and fashion, the female demographic has risen drastically due to this change. The users are primarily interested in shopping, particularly for valuable items, as well as technology and mobile devices. In addition, there is a significant interest in beauty and wellness products.
You've raised a notable $18 million Series A round in 2022, just three years after launching the company. What has attracted investors to Cartlow?
Investors were attracted to Cartlow because of our unique position in the market as the first of its kind in the region that tackles all components of the reverse logistics landscape. Our innovative solution and cutting-edge technology have helped us stand out and capture the attention of investors. Additionally, our strong track record of growth and success in such a short period of time showcases the potential for continued success. Our dedicated and experienced team, coupled with our clear vision for the future, have also played a key role in attracting investors to Cartlow.
You are currently operating in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. What was it like entering a new market, and have you had to adapt your offerings in any way to fit this new demographic?
Expanding into new markets is always a challenge. We recently expanded our re-commerce channel to Kuwait as well. As we entered these new markets, we were focused on understanding the local market dynamics, consumer preferences, and competition.
To ensure success in these markets, we have had to tailor our marketing and communication strategy to better resonate with local audiences. We have also localised our product offerings and added new payment methods and languages to ensure that they meet the needs and expectations of consumers in the UAE, KSA & Kuwait.
We believe that our commitment to delivering excellent customer service, combined with our deep understanding of the local market, has been key to our success in these new markets.
What are your plans for the next 3 years?
Our plans for the next three years are focused on growth and continued innovation.
We are investing in technology and development aggressively to ensure that we continue to bring cutting-edge solutions to the market. Additionally, we are exploring new markets and potential partnerships that will allow us to scale our business and bring our offerings to new customers.
Over the next three years, we will continue to build on our success. We believe that our combination of innovative technology, exceptional customer service, and commitment to sustainability will help us to achieve our goal to remain the leading reverse logistics ecosystem in the region.