The Guardian– Iranians are experts at driving a hard bargain, famous for haggling with shopkeepers even when sales are not on offer. That traditional skill may not come in handy online, but on Friday the country’s tech-savvy young population will have plenty of opportunity to secure a good deal.
Bamilo, one of the country’s two main online shopping websites, is holding its first version of Black Friday, called Harajome or Friday sale, with lucrative discounts for items including the iPhone 7.
Iranians are already preparing for an online discount bonanza, according to Bamilo’s founder and CEO, Ramtin Monazahian.
“Black Friday used to be a foreign concept here in Iran. In fact, a lot of folks have never even heard of the idea,” he said. “In total more than 600 retailers are participating in Harajome with great discounts to Iranian customers. As of Thursday we have had more than 100,000 pre-subscribers.”
In the absence of Amazon in Iran, Bamilo and its rival, Digikala, have been highly successful. On Friday, Iranian customers will be able to get a 14% discount on the latest iPhone, priced locally at 24.9m rials (£625). A 4K LG television is on offer with a 24% discount at around 17.9m rials (£450).
The list of electronic items on offer does not give the impression of a country that was under sanctions for many years and still struggling to reconnect with the global market after the implementation in January of a landmark nuclear deal.
Monazahian said his company has prepared thoroughly for Harajome, mixing offline and online marketing efforts to maximise exposure and spread the word about the event.
“Bamilo organised bus tours around several key cities, such as Shiraz and Mashhad, where we distributed Parsonline internet packs so shoppers can be online during the campaign period,” he said, in reference to a local service provider.
“We also set up strategic partnerships with leading internet providers, national banks, payment providers and even international brands.” Iranians still have no access to Visa and Mastercard.
Under the country’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s tech startup scene has flourished. Internet speeds have improved significantly and 4G mobile phone connections are the norm for a country in which one in four people use the instant messaging app Telegram to communicate.
Filtering, however, is rife and hardliners are trying to undermine advances. They have also threatened those who participate in Iranian startup conferences such as iBridge, scheduled for December in Barcelona.
Monazahian was in London this week to speak about Bamilo, which Alexa ranks as Iran’s 17th most visited website, at the Iran Consumer Summit. A banker educated at the University of Cologne, he returned to his home country a few years ago to co-found the Iran Internet Group, which has apps including Snapp – Iran’s answer to Uber with more than 25,000 drivers in Tehran – and Zoodfood, which is similar to Just Eat.
“Iran’s e-commerce industry is still in its nascent stage, with less than 0.5% of retail commerce online,” Monazahian said. “This is both a challenge and an amazing opportunity. For us, we see it more as the latter. What Alibaba did for China with Singles Day, we want to do for Iran with Harajome.”
Bamilo delivers to more than 1,000 cities in Iran with a cash on delivery option.
Digikala is considered the biggest site of its kind in the Middle East and third most visited in Iran. It is estimated to be worth $150m (£120m). Last year its co-founder Hamid Mohammadi said it had 760 employees and shipped more than 4,000 orders a day, with same-day delivery services in Tehran.
Monazahian said Iran still had a long way to go. “Many people are still unfamiliar with the marketplace model,” he said. “If you think about it, that’s just step one. We’re also trying to teach our consumers to demand their right to good quality customer service.
“Before we entered the market, there was no such thing as 30-day return policies, free size exchanges and 24/7 customer service support.”