Malaysian astronaut launches Aladdin to compete with Alibaba, Amazon

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor (pictured), Malaysia’s celebrity astronaut and certified surgeon, has launched an e-commerce business called the Aladdin Group of Companies, set up as a halal rival to e-commerce bigwigs Amazon and Alibaba, The Malay Mail Online reported.

Aladdin will be operational in 30 countries and headquarted in Kuala Lumpur.

The website, Aladdin Street, brands itself as the “world’s first exclusive premium halal e-marketplace,” Sheikh Muszaphar told reporters at a news conference yesterday.

It would pick merchants which are either halal certified by the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim) or those who comply with the Shariah guidelines to market on its site.

Launched by former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday, The Malay Mail Online said Aladdin could end up costing closer to US$100 million (RM425 million) over the next three years for all its operations and marketing in 30 countries.

“What we aim to achieve is to compete with the likes of Amazon and Alibaba, and maybe even be bigger than them one day. Aladdin represents an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to gain halal certification and immediately gain access to 30 markets globally,” Sheikh Muszaphar said during Aladdin’s launch.

Will Aladdin be able to work the magic?

Over the next three years, the company plans to expand into other markets such as Indonesia, India, China, the Middle East, and parts of Europe.

Citing rising global demand for halal products, Sheikh Muszaphar added that the e-commerce site also aims to appeal to non-Muslims: “Because halal is not about religion alone, it is also about ethics and hygiene."

Commenting on the foray into halal e-commerce, David Soo, general manager, Saatchi Arachnid, said, “I think this is indeed a good opportunity to tap into the halal market which is huge. Coming from Malaysia, which is already seen as a progressive modern authority on Islamic commerce globally, lends it more credibility.”

Soo said that there’s definitely a market for products that cater to Muslims worldwide. “As with internet penetration rising in these developing markets even more so I think Aladdin will succeed.”

Whether it will rival the likes of Amazon and Alibaba would largely depend on its operations as well as how the website will be promoted. In addition, as with all e-commerce providers,  the fast and accurate fulfillment of goods purchased would be key to its potential success, Soo added.

Similarly, Q Akashah, executive director at Islamic branding consultancy OgilvyNoor Singapore, said that the company can set itself up for success based on two key factors:

1. Solid marketing and communications strategy.

It’s essential for the company to market and communicate their proposition well. Beyond creating awareness and visibility, it is important to create a strong, relevant point-of-view and positioning that will resonate with both the Muslim and non-Muslim consumer. This is a challenge, especially for a new company looking to compete with the existing major players

2. Upholding Shariah standards.

The company must stay true to being compliant with Shariah guidelines - that all processes throughout the entire value chain, and not just the end product, is halal. This extends from using halal ingredients to ethical and fair hiring practices, etc. Consumers today demand high standards from brands, and if caught compromising this, the trust will be broken and will be very hard to earn back.

(Photo courtesy: By NASA, via Wikimedia Commons)