The Arab tech and startup scene has been abuzz with the news that Amazon will buy the region's largest e-commerce site, Souq.
The negotiations have been ongoing for several months. In January, it was reported that the U.S.-based e-commerce giant had walked away from the negotiating table. Sources reported there was a disagreement over the price.
Last year, Souq was valued at $1 billion, making it the Arab region's first billion dollar startup. Reportedly, Amazon wanted to pay several hundred million less; $650 to $750 million.
It remains unclear how much Amazon has finally agreed to pay to acquire Souq, but it should be at least close to $1 billion. On Friday, Arabian Business revealed that UAE-based Emaar Properties had submitted a bid for $800 million for the online retailer.
But Souq went with Amazon.
Why did Emaar want Souq?
Just as the buzz about Amazon's acquisition of Souq was starting to circulate last year, Mohamed Alabbar, the founder and chairman of Emaar, announced plans to launch his own massive online retailer, Noon.
"We're turning the e-commerce environment in [the] Middle East upside down," Alabbar said at the time.
"And then we're going to turn it upside down again in another six months," he added.
The plan was to launch in January, which didn't happen. Some began speculating that Noon had been scared away by Amazon's plans to acquire Souq. But just as the news of a serious agreement between the two e-commerce companies was breaking last week, Alabbar reassured everyone that Noon is "just weeks away" from launching.
Then, Alabbar's company announced its bid to acquire Souq. But the deal with Amazon moved forward instead.
If Alabbar had purchased Noon's major competitor before launching, it would have been smooth sailing to dominate the regional e-commerce market.
Will Noon be able to compete with Souq-Amazon?
Now, Noon will have to compete with an established company, Souq, that has been emboldened by Amazon. Is it up to the challenge?
"Competition is a good thing, and it’s definitely a good thing for the consumer. It will raise everyone’s game," a source close to Alabbar previously said.
If Noon delivers everything it has promised, its going to be a major competitor to reckon with.
Alabbar's joint venture between Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund and 60 Gulf investors, plans to have more than 20 million products available every day. To put that in perspective, the average Dubai shopping mall has just 1.5 million.
Combine the massive selection with the promised three hour door-to-door delivery with "groundbreaking" return policies, and you've got a lot of people's attention.
The website's warehouse in Dubai is believed to be the size of 60 football pitches. Its product offerings include electronics, music, games, beauty, health, books, home, sports and more. Additionally, Noon takes Arab consumers' payment method preferences into consideration, by offering both online payments as well as cash on delivery.
"We are focused on providing the fastest delivery times, a seamless technology-enabled experience and top-notch customer service. We are absolutely confident that Noon will deliver on these promises. Noon will truly be a game changing initiative that will make an impact on the global stage," a source from Noon told Arabian Business.
What markets will Noon cater to?
The site will initially only cater to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. But it definitely has plans for rapid expansion, especially considering more than 60 percent of the population in the Middle East is now shopping online.
Its near-future expansion plans include Egypt, Kuwait and Oman. But the site's ambitions reach much further.
"This is going to be on a global scale," Alabbar said, according to The Economic Times.
Alabbar also previously said the new e-commerce site may aim for an IPO within five to seven years. Although Souq currently is the largest e-commerce player in the region, Noon promises to be strong competition.
We're just waiting for the launch.
Leyal Khalife contributed to this post.