It’s been nearly 5 years since I left Tunis to settle in Doha.. and what I really appreciate here in this small capital is that almost everything can be done online! With your mobile, you can pay bills, book an Uber driver, get food delivered to your doorstep, purchase books, flowers, perfumes..! In a nutshell, life is so easy that it made me think and ask so many questions. Why don’t we have those kinds of things in Tunisia as well? Don’t we deserve a better life? Why don’t Uber, Paypal, Talabat, and many other awesome applications exist in Tunisia? Are Tunisians against the online payment concept? Things have evolved around the world and it irritates me to no end to see those technologies flourishing elsewhere but not in my country.
According to official figures of the Tunisian National Institute of Consumption (INC), Tunisia’s e-commerce sales reached 63$ million in 2017 which remains very low compared to more mature African e-commerce markets such as Morocco (2.35$ billion) or South Africa (2.3$ billion). Tunisian experts say plans to digitize commercial transactions were at their initial stages and have a long way to go to reach their goals.
And yet, “Smart Tunisia” which was a big part of the ambitious strategic plan of the government called “Digital Tunisia 2020” failed to reach its goals since “almost half of the projects haven’t yet seen the daylight!” This is what the Minister of Technology and Communication and Digital Transformation, Mohamed Fadhel Kraiem said earlier this year. And guess what? Bureaucracy was one of the main causes of delays to get those projects done.
I don’t pretend I’m an expert in e-commerce because I’m not, but I think PayPal can actually improve our e-commerce ranking and volume of transactions internationally. Your chances, as local retail seeking opportunity abroad, of being found online are much higher when you’re using a globally recognized payment platform. So..
What blocks Paypal to operate in Tunisia?
What if you were a talented young entrepreneur who dreams to create an online business and accomplish some good deals and monetary transactions around the world via Paypal? In Tunisia, believe it or not, you still can’t do it in 2020. Paypal is available in more than 200 countries and supports 25 currencies, sadly, Tunisia is among fewer countries restricted from using this online payment service like Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Yemen. Etc. You can see the full list of supported and restricted countries from here.
So why Tunisians can’t use Paypal? Short answer: cause our country is in need of foreign currency and the Central Bank of Tunisia doesn’t want to let it go. Operating with Paypal means that there will be incoming and outgoing money from the country and that would be risky and may lead to a deficit situation!
While I’m writing those couple of paragraphs, I’ve read good news: Tunisia’s Central Bank governor Marwan Al-Abbasi promised to work on the Paypal issue and resolve it before the end of 2020. Let’s wait and see..! Cause I think we heard this kind of promise before in 2017.
More good news, Yassine Ayari, ex-blogger, and activist, and now a deputy of the Tunisian parliament posted recently on Facebook that he’s preparing a draft of a law proposal related to the Paypal issue and promising an “economic revolution” that will end up with a real solution to this!
Why doesn’t Talabat exist in Tunisia?
First things first, for those who don’t know what the heck is “Talabat”:
Talabat is one of the most famous food-delivery applications in the Middle East founded by a group of entrepreneurs in Kuwait in 2004. Now it’s operating in many different countries: Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Jordan.
Yet, the service is not available in Tunisia. Is Tunisia considered a small market and not interesting for Talabat? If you even try to understand and compare between Tunisia and Jordan populations or maybe the number of Internet users between the two Arab countries, you will find that Tunisia seems to be a more interesting “place to be” for an e-commerce business.
(Obviously, here I picked up Jordan to compare with, where Talabat is available because it’s not a rich GCC country and approximately similar to Tunisia in terms of population and Internet penetration)
Tunisia’s population: 11,818,619
Jordan’s population: 10,203,134
Internet users in Tunisia: 7.55 million
Internet users in Jordan: 6.78 million
Source: Wearesocial Hootsuite.
I’ve had a nice talk with Sami Tounsi, founder and CEO of Monresto, a Tunisian food delivery app launched in 2010, a very optimistic guy who was at a time delivering pizzas and now successfully managing a very complex business. I’ve asked Sami so many questions yet the one that I wanted him to answer is: Do you think there would be more job opportunities if Talabat penetrated the Tunisian market or would you rather see and encourage local start-ups in this field?
What I understood from him is that Talabat will not be here in Tunisia until the local market is ready and educated! Talabat won’t make the effort to build awareness around the food delivery business from scratch.. It’s the main role of the local players. “For now, the addressable market which we’re working on is very tiny and it represents between 5 and 10% of the total market” Sami said. But at the same time, Monresto’s CEO was convinced that the market is on its way to boom and this will probably take 2 years as he told me.
Bolt, Intigo, and other similar apps instead of Uber
Uber does not exist yet in Tunisia. Instead, many Tunisians use other similar apps like Bolt and Intigo. I’ve been honored to meet Klas Johansson who is Director of Operations Bolt Tunisia and talked about ride-hailing apps in general, and how business is going after the pandemic. First, let me give you a little background about Bolt: Bolt (formerly Taxify) is the European Uber-rival app which is available in 150+ cities across 35 countries, with 30 million customers. Markus Villig, BOLT’s CEO, dropped out of college after just one-semester studying computer science at the University of Tartu, in Estonia, to focus on building his ride-hailing app which began to take off when he was 19. Fast forward 6 years later, he became Europe’s youngest founder of a billion-dollar company. If you want to get to know more about his amazing story, you can check out this link here.
Going back to my Swedish guest Klass Johansson, who spent almost 90% of his time last year in Tunis to follow up the launching of BOLT Tunisia, Johansson revealed that despite the big hit on the whole ride-hailing market because of COVID-19, things are going well and getting back to normal.
How did BOLT successfully penetrate the Tunisian market while Uber doesn’t exist yet? Mr. Johansson thinks that it might be considered problematic if the market doesn’t allow credit card solutions. In Tunisia, cash is king, and BOLT understood that! The ride-hailing app is operating 100% cash in Tunisia. “I know that Uber is operating in some all-cash markets as well, but things are going to be a bit difficult when you intend to expand your business” Said Mr. Johansson.
Are Tunisians against the online payment concept? A study carried out by IPSOS in 2017, revealed that 71% of Tunisians don’t trust shopping online. Experts say most online transactions are done without online payment, Tunisians prefer to pay cash on delivery! So if there is one thing to work on by those who try to expand e-commerce in Tunisia, it will be TRUST.