While a postgraduate student in England, Sarah Aclimandos wanted to send flowers and gifts to loved ones back home in Egypt on their birthdays and other special occasions. But she was unable to find a local gifting service to help her.
“That was back in 2008, long before the emergence of online shopping. So I came up with the idea of launching an online gift shop,” said Aclimandos, CEO and founder of The Giftery.
In late 2010, Aclimandos launched her company from a room in her father’s office with just three staff members, including herself. She started with an online wedding registry service: Couples would create customised gift lists, post them on The Giftery and share them with friends and family.
“There was a real need in the market then,” she said. “Egyptians love to give gifts. Yet, it had become very difficult for people to go out of their way and shop for gifts, especially with the bad traffic.”
Since those early days, The Giftery has evolved into a full-fledged online gifting service, encompassing more than 150 different stores, providing fancy wrapping and delivering gifts.
It features a wide range of merchandise, including women’s accessories, self-care products, toys, home appliances, chocolates, flowers, premium-quality groceries, perfumes and kitchen gadgets. It also promotes personalised gifts and corporate giveaways.
The company generates its revenues from dealers rather than customers. “We sell products at the same price they are sold at actual stores. Our profit comes from a fee that we charge stores and not customers,” said Aclimandos.
In addition to the year-round demand for wedding and birthday gifts, The Giftery has to handle the traffic surge that precedes religious and social occasions such as the holy month of Ramadan, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
“We have a season almost every month of the year. Mother’s Day is the most important season. People buy gifts for their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, teachers. Some people buy more than one gift a day for that occasion,” said Aclimandos.
The 35-year-old holds a BA in economics from the American University in Cairo and an MA in applied imagination from the University of the Arts London. She added that her postgraduate studies had helped her develop The Giftery’s business model.
“This (MA) programme helps people with a dreamy idea turn it into a real business. Most people with rich imaginations find it difficult to execute their ideas and people with business-oriented mentalities sometimes lack imagination. So this degree helped me conceptualise my idea and turn it into a real project,” she said.
In 2010, Aclimandos relied on her father as well as a friend and partner to finance her project. A year later, she secured a capital injection from an angel investor.
“At the time, we were only three people working out of my father’s office. That investment was meant to help us move into our own office and enlarge the team and rise as a fully independent company,” she explained.
In May 2018, the Giftery closed an investment round with Springboard Investment Management, a launch pad for small and medium-scale enterprises in the MENA region. According to a joint statement released at the time, the investment was intended for marketing purposes and to improve the customer experience.
Since then, The Giftery’s sales have doubled and traffic has increased more than twofold, according to Aclimandos.
Daily operations remain the most challenging part of the job. The Giftery relies on several courier companies as well as in-house messengers to deliver gifts nationwide and fulfil customer expectations.
Yet external factors – in particular Egypt’s notorious traffic congestions – do impact the service, especially with same-day deliveries, Aclimandos noted.
“People always want their packages to arrive at a certain time and at a certain speed,” she said. “Such an operation cycle has been difficult to observe but thank God we managed to meet people’s expectations.
“We are often asked whether we are truly based in Egypt because many people cannot believe such a service could be provided by an Egyptian company,” she laughed.
Aclimandos remains confident about the future of her business in Egypt as trust in online shopping increases.
According to the State of Payments in the Arab World, a report released in 2017 by Amazon company Payfort, e-commerce in Egypt grew by 22 percent in the year 2016. An earlier report by the same company showed that Egypt had approximately 15.2 million e-shoppers, the highest in the region.
“I am optimistic about the future of The Giftery because e-commerce is expanding worldwide as well as in Egypt. This is where the future of commerce is headed,” she said, adding that the company intends to expand into other Middle Eastern countries.