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Voice of the Independent Interview

  • By Voice of the Independent
  • August 02,2019
Voice of the Independent Interview
Digital future for Net
This year saw Beirut-based forwarder The Net celebrate its 25th anniversary. So it seemed like a great time for Voice of the Independent to sit down with chief executive officer Mourad Aoun for his view of what the next 25 years has in store. “Historically, we started out as an express operator and have over the years developed into a full logistics operation,” says Aoun. “We cover forwarding, customs, project and pharmaceuticals – in fact, pharma is something of a speciality – and we run 24/7, 365 days a year.” The company’s main change in recent times has been a move online. This, says Aoun, has been the result of it looking to “embrace” technology in order to gain more visibility in the marketplace. But not only that, he also wanted to provide a platform for customers, which would allow them to access everything in one place.

“We operate now under one brand: Net,” he says. “And like the branding, our systems and processes are all under one roof. Clients can check on their shipment – in every detail – from a phone or iPad, meaning they do not need to phone us or reach one of our staff to get the information they need. It’s all about speed.”

This move to a digital presence is a reflection of the modern market. Aoun says that the way customers expect to be dealt with has changed significantly in recent years, and this in turn stems from what their customers expect. “B2C is certainly a market we are looking at,” he says. “Being based in Beirut we can connect the markets of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Ideally, we see Beirut, and our operation, as becoming something of a fulfilment centre for the wider region and for customers in these countries.

Of course, Aoun is not ignorant of the challenges posed by the market in which he works. In fact, he says, working within the Levant has meant Net being forced to leap many hurdles. This, though, is what forwarders are designed for: to find ways around challenges to benefit their customers. And it is not only the challenges that come up on the news. “For one, there is an awful lot of red tape that you need to cut through to get things done,” he continues. “E-commerce could be massive, but the whole concept of last-mile logistics is very different here to western countries. We believe we have found a way around these troubles though.”

With letterboxes in short supply, Aoun and the team have borrowed from the Amazon locker model. Drop-off points are located around the cities and areas where people live. These are used for deliveries and, in some cases, for returns.

“We are still working on returns logistics, though,” he says. “The challenges posed are not simply changes that can be addressed by us. Customs procedures need to be amended also, and this is something we have less control over.”

But with some reports claiming e-commerce to be a $5 trillion-a-day business, the rewards for easing its passage are only too clear. Government involvement, he says, is “crucial” to improving processes.

“We are seeing that governments across the Levant have recognized e-commerce cannot be avoided, and they also appear to have acknowledged the fundamental benefits it can bring,” he adds. “But while there is this awareness, change is still a bit slow.

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