Thursday, June 11, 2009

Telemarketing in Saudi Arabia?

I   recently received a request for some information about a possible business venture here in KSA that I'm not really sure how to address, so I thought I would open this up to the readers to answer. A young woman from Thailand needs information about the possibility of marketing cosmetics to Saudi women over the phone. My instincts tell me that this type of business venture wouldn't fly here, but maybe I'm wrong.

She has some questions that I have no idea how to answer. Here's her request:

"The Managing Director I work for is very eager to start his business in a Middle Eastern country and I'm responsible for doing some research on those countries. KSA happened to be the first place I picked up from the lucky draw.

After reading a lot of articles and of course, your blog, I'm not so sure now if my business model can be run in KSA, as it relates to cosmetics and skin care for both men and mostly for women.

Since women there are not supposed to be beautiful because it leads to men's attention, they do not have to apply any skin care to keep themselves beautiful anyway, although Saudi men take beauty as the most important thing to live a life with one woman... what a conflict!

My business requires girls to sell these products via telephones. Under the religious rules, I don't think any girls can be employed for this position - or is selling through telephones exceptional?

Can you let me know if Saudi women can spend money of their own free will? Or do they need to have permission from their husbands? In general, do most Saudi women possess a Credit Card or ATM card to use freely?

It would be really nice to have your advice about this as it would be difficult to get this kind of info from the internet."

First of all, the assumption that Saudi women don't need or want cosmetics or skin care products is totally wrong. Outer beauty and skin care is as important to women here as it is to women everywhere. Because Saudi women don't expose their skin to the harsh elements here, most Saudi women have beautiful and flawless skin. They use products to keep their skin soft and supple. They use cosmetics for private affairs like weddings. I know that cosmetics is a big business here.

Saudi women generally have their own money and if they want to spend it on cosmetics, that is their business. I cannot vouch for whether they have credit cards or ATM cards to make purchases with, however.

Whether or not women would be inclined to purchase cosmetics over the phone is a completely different issue. Not being able to see the product would be a factor. Personally I would rather purchase cosmetics in person rather than over the phone, sight unseen.

As far as telemarketing itself here in KSA, I honestly have no clue. I know that we don't receive sales calls at home here in Saudi Arabia. The difference between the states and here is like night and day. We used to get so many telemarketing calls in the states that it was quite annoying. Although I have noticed that I receive many pesky text messages here in KSA that are sales oriented. I do know that I've heard many women here say that if they don't recognize the phone number on their caller ID, they do not answer the phone, so would this be a problem? And could women be employed doing telemarketing here? A good question to which I have no answer. If anyone out there has any information to contribute, please be my guest.


  1. Telemarketing is a huge intrusion on family time in any culture.It seems like they always call at diner.From what I've read I would think telemarketing would be strongly resented in KSA.I would imagine the nation as a whole would sign up for the DO NOT CALL list.
    I would think the in home party plan business model would be successful especially for make-up.

  2. Hi Always - You know I had thought the same thing about the home party business type of selling for cosmetics here - I think that might be a hit!

  3. Howdy Susie,

    I see two problems with Telemarketing make-up.
    First is the ‘blackeye’ that is associated with that type of sales. If I talked with 100 people, I would guess that 99 would just say, “no thanks” and hang up. Basically, the era of Telemarketing has passed. Second, like you stated, most folks would want to see the product rather than just purchase it over the phone from a stranger.

    Instead of Telemarketing, why not Network Marketing?
    The basic difference is that it is much less intrusive, in that instead of cold calling people at their homes, the market is done by word of mouth with friends.

    For instance, many of us every day tout to our friends a special restaurant that we have gone to or a good movie that we have recently seen. That is usually done in the course of normal conversation with our friends. The same could be done with any business line that you might represent.

    The problem, then lies with - HOW DO YOU REACH ENOUGH PEOPLE?
    You cannot possibly personally talk with enough folks to make it a worthwhile business. That is the cornerstone of Network Marketing. You do not have to know a lot of people. In Network Marketing, as you share your Business Plan and products with the folks you know, they will then have the same opportunity to do what you are doing and can make the same money that you do. Hence, they eagerly share the concept with their friends, etc, etc. And the bulk of the money paid to these distributors comes not from the sales of the product, but instead in the form of a commission check from the company. As a distributor, you are paid for the entire sales volume of your group.

    And the commission checks can get quite large.

    Here is an example.
    While with the Cleveland Indians Professional Baseball organization, my son Jason had been buying his Nutritional Supplements from some of his team-mates. They are made by USANA in SLC and are the best products out there. Many pro-athletes and Olympic athletes are using them. They have to be careful in what they take, because of all of the steroid testing going on. Only top-quality supplements!

    After going to the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs organizations, Jason no longer had easy access to getting them. Then he found out his long-term personal trainer (a sports MD) also was using and recommending them.

    Because of the nature of a Pro Baseball Players job, it is important that they stay in tip top shape. That includes many workouts in the gym, as well as making sure that they are getting the proper nutrition. They found that they were using several different types of nutritional supplements, such as protein powders, vitamin supplements, energy drinks, and things of that sort.

    With the recent trend in America, over the past couple years, the nutritional supplements industry has grown into a billion-dollar business. USANA is a International Network Marketing company and has been in this business for over 15 years. When these jocks saw the potential of the money that could be made, they decided to capitalize in on it! You would think that with the big salaries that those pro-athletes make, this business would not be of interest to them but they saw the potential of ‘residual income’ associated with Network Marketing. Anyway, to find out more about this feel free to send an email to Jason at

    I am not sure if I answered your question completely about Telemarketing of make-up being a potential success in KSA. I was able to opine about the business aspects but not about the make-up. I have not worn make-up since our senior class play when Miss Thelma Herner had Nick, Tachi, and I put on make-up for the play - grin.

    Enjoy your trip Susie!


  4. I dislike telemarketing no matter what their selling and get way too much of it here in the States. Of course I also don't use cosmetics. Yet I agree that home parties might work better in SA. However, would a woman be allowed to sell that way?

  5. Another one who won't buy from a telemarketer on principle, and believes they should be banned.

    Cosmetics especially need to be tried (samplers) and seen to be appreciated and bought.

    The party idea is a better one.

  6. Well, the question isn't really whether people like telemarketers, rather whether the particular marketing method would work in SA. It seems like if the telemarketers called during a quiet time of day for women, when others were out of the house, it might work.

  7. telemarketing for cosmetics? Is one of the things I have to buy personally, see the product, try it, and then deciding. I think the party option would be better because you can do all that.

  8. The few Saudi women I know, and the many other Arab women I know, take great care with cosmetics, and prefer to buy the more expensive brand names, including through duty free outlets, or as gifts from travelling spouses. Perhaps another impediment to telemarketing cosmetics in Saudi.

  9. Telemarketing calls are so annoying. I get very few calls since registering my phone numbers on the “no call” list. Even if I was open to these types of calls, I would probably not purchase anything especially if you have to give them a credit card number. Giving out any such information would make you vulnerable to identity theft which is a very big problem especially in Arizona with illegal immigrants. If you decide to do this, “parties” sound like a better idea.

  10. "Since women there are not supposed to be beautiful because it leads to men's attention, they do not have to apply any skin care to keep themselves beautiful anyway, although Saudi men take beauty as the most important thing to live a life with one woman... what a conflict!"

    What an interesting comment... What a bizarre business idea.

  11. Aummyz of ThailandJun 12, 2009, 6:32:00 AM

    Oh.. I am very surprised to see this blog written up for me!
    Thank you so much Susie and everyone who helps answering my questions!^^ I really appreciate that.

    Before, I wouldn't want to talk much about the business model I am working for in your blog as I'm afraid it might not be that interesting.

    But maybe I should tell you guys some more, at least to share my idea^^.

    The telemarketing in my meaning is not about an anonymous calling homes after homes, women after women.
    I understand this kind of business will NEVER work anymore, even in Thailand as well.
    (We have no longer had that direct sale pattern for probably ten years now)

    The idea of my business is like a distribution channel for those who have products in hands (could be traders or manufacturers) and do not know where to sell them.
    So, what we do is to make ads, promotion, advertorial, or even TV show for people to see the products and we will have a Call Center to answer phone calls from consumers
    who are interested in those products. In consumers' point, we are like an information center and customer service for them rather than annoying telemarketer.
    We will not make a call to bother them. (Not talking about calls for after sales service because in that case, we are no longer strangers to the consumers, right?)

    And of course, the range of the products covers not only cosmetics (or make-ups which are hard to sell without trying them on) but also those skin cares like anti-aging cream, whitening cream and serum, or food supplements for better health.

    I'm not sure if the explanation under my poor English is clear ^^' But maybe you can see this business will not be as easy as setting up a call center, getting home phone numbers, and making annoying calls.

    Just in case we decide to settle our business in KSA, we will have to deal with a lot of media people (which I haven't yet learned so much about how strict or flexible they are or even if it's possible at all to make ads on magazines or newspaper), telecommunication companies, and we have to set up marketing team to create a marketing plan for each product, and learn so much more about advertisement laws in KSA..

    Anyway, the idea of party business is new for me; yet very interesting to learn. Could you please explain for me more how we do that in KSA?

    And for networking business, is it the same type with AMWAY in the states?

    Really, all of your answers will be very helpful for me to make any decision. So, thank you so much in advance for your replies.
    I'll keep checking Susie's blog today apart from reading more about other e-commerce business in KSA^^

    Best Wishes,

  12. Cosmetics and Marketing…two subjects close to my heart. First of all, Aum, telemarketing is completely intrusive to your prospect and on top of constantly dealing with a “cold market.” People do not want to be sold, especially by a stranger.

    Cosmetics In my early 20’s, I worked with high end cosmetics lines at a high end department store, for just over 10 years. Later, I became a free-lance makeup artist for these high end cosmetics, giving me more time freedom, before deciding to be a stay-at-home mom. Selecting cosmetics and fragrances is a very personal decision! One must touch, feel and try a particular cosmetic, especially with colors (to find that perfect lipstick color.) Perfumes, lotions etc. must be worn for a period of time to know if the fragrance is for you. Most important, to know if you are allergic to a product. Side note - my SIL’s and other Arabic ladies I know, they prefer the expensive European cosmetics.

    Network Marketing Donald Trump was asked by David Letterman on his Late Night Show, what he would do if he had to start over. Donald Trump answered “Network Marketing” and the audience laughed. Donald Trump
    replied to the audience “that is why you are sitting out there and I’m up here on stage.” Network Marketing is a vehicle to get residual income and a way to earn a fortune, particularly by getting into a young debt-free company before the company reaches momentum and stabilizes…if you put forth the effort and by stepping out of your comfort zone! After 17 years of being a stay-at-home mom, I’M SOOO EXCITED…I now get to help people take their dreamtrips, vacations and/or have a business opportunity. People will say “they need a vacation.” I have three state-of-the-art travel websites! Best of all, I have no product to inventory and store! I have a extraordinary back office. We have several different ways of exposure to a “warm market.” One of the most fun and effective ways is having simple travel home party, that can be easily duplicated over and over. Keith explained Network Marketing so eloquently. Good luck Aum!

    As for this native, I can’t wait to get back to the Old Pueblo and met up with y’all(been in San Antonio, Texas too long.)
    Susie, have a safe trip and God Willing I’ll see you soon! Love,Cecilia aka JetSetMom.Cece

  13. in answer to the email.. NO :)

    1. The market is flooded with cosmetics in the stores and women doing at home sales

    2. telemarketing is new to the Kingdom and has its own problems.. but usually women tend to be hands on buyers the world over. We want to see.. we want to know what it does, show us don't just tell me over the phone.

    won't even get into the women aren't supposed to be beautiful here. Has this company thought to do any research on cosmetic sales in saudi at all???

  14. Aummyz of ThailandJun 12, 2009, 7:09:00 PM

    I have done researches about cosmetics market in KSA, Nzingha :)

    I learned that KSA is one of the biggest market share in total sale volumes for cosmetics (and yes, the articles and online news said that men also spend a lot of money for skin care too..)that's why I'm here asking why there is such conflict when, from what I have read for a week about this, it is said that beautification is somehow not a very right thing to do because it will attract men.

    I'm sorry though for saying such silly sarcasm based on this assumption that women in KSA are not supposed to be beautiful so they may not need to use any skin care. This has nothing to do with my company. It's just my own word of saying that.

    My purpose of asking Susie in this blog is because I'd like to know more about Saudi women's lifestyle.. I mean the real one, not the one I can read from online articles. This is also in the process of the research I haven't yet finished.

    So, please accept my apology for any stupid question or assumption I might have said about the place I never got a chance to visit or even to study once before in my life.

    Again, thank you for all your comments and knowledge. I'll note everything down and include it in my report. Thank you!

  15. Aummyz--the issue about not displaying one's beauty so as not to entice men is a religious recommendation perhaps, but is not followed. More often a Saudi woman's beauty is highly prized, as a part of her marriageability, and ability to maintain her husband's interest (as it is indeed for any woman). Since only the face, and sometimes only the eyes are exposed, cosmetics and skin care products take on an enhanced importance. This is true even if they are only worn to ladies' functions as it is there that alot of match making for marriage occurs.

    I still think the main problems would be to compete with high end European brands, and the ability to test the cosmetics, and try out colours.

  16. I've lived in the Gulf for six years, a Canadian transplant in the deserts of Dubai. The women here spend more money on cosmetics per capita than women back home do. My wife is a Palestinian and as you can imaagine, she has taught me a lot about Arab cultural nuance. (She loves you blog!)

    By the way, SMS messgaes, in Dubai at least, are constant and emtirely annoying. By the way, thanks for stopping by You should read RELATIVITY OnLine Eman AL Nafjan is a staff superstar to be sure!

  17. For your information !
    Susie you may have a partial answer
    for doing such a business. here we have an growing economy and very open to new products and businesses. i especially know some women who sells products among women and have partial telemarketing thing. one example i know of a widow woman who has raised her children by making such a business. she is now an a example to most of us in our town (in central region). There is another woman i had heard of in Arar,north of SA, that has a good reputation among women in marketing cosmetics. Finally, Susie i can find a partner (woman or a man who could work in conjunction with a woman) for your Thai friend for running such a business. In Addition, there are many cities in SA that has no professional stores for cosmetics and beauty products. These places would be a good market.
    thank you.

  18. i have no idea what you're talking about i'm saudi and when i went to body shop to get a foundation for my face btw i do wear a scarf and once again i'm saudi, and the woman who worked there told me that i don't need it and most Arab women don't need foundation bc our skin is flawless and smooth unlike your skin .

    i'm sorry but you're not just wrong you are very wrong, i probably have more makeup than you do and just bc some women chose to cover their faces that doesn't mean they're not allowed to have makeup or they don't have knowledge in skin care it's just and i speak for myself here i don't like or trust telemarketing.

    btw when i read ur blog i felt like you don't in jeddah bc everything u said was wrong starting with article and going through all the other articles .
    just to let you know , women in the US are also discriminated against and they get paid less than men while in saudi it isn't allowed .

    i livid in the US most of life and i visit my country every year and everything u said is wrong and mostly lies .

    thank you and i'm not oppressed and we never asked for someone to help free us thanks again .

  19. Look, before everything gets even worse about my comment that Saudi women do not use skin care or cosmetics, I truly apologize again for saying this.

    I do not intend to insult or look down at anyone at all. This assumption is like a myth that people could possibly have towards the country or people they've never known before.
    Just like how many people think that people in my country, Thailand, still ride elephants or oxcarts to work or to schools..

    After reading and knowing more about Saudi Arabia and women there, especially from this blog, I know that this assumption is totally wrong. And I understand more about you now.

    Please accept my apology.
    Your comments/idea about running skin care and cosmetics business in KSA will still be helpful for my research. Thank you again.

    Best Wishes,

  20. I would never buy cosmetics over the phone. I think that would be a hard sell.

  21. Computers with a reputable name like Dell are one thing (I used to sell them over the phone), as is Microsoft software. Known products.

    But, it seems like instead of telemarketing, the cosmetic business in Saudi would be better served by having Mary Kay house parties instead.

    That's a country where our Dell numbers would indicate selling on he phone is too tricky in my estimation. Then again you guys don't have the do not call list...Love you sweetie.

  22. Based on my observations, cosmetics and other beauty products sell high in Saudi (and anywhere else in the world). Just look at how well Bodyshop is thriving in Saudi Arabia.

    Telemarketing? That I don't know. I'd have to agree with other commenters about taking another avenue for marketing the beauty product, but not through phone.

  23. I HATE telemarketers and have never, ever bought anything from them. Ever! The phone calls are intrusive and irritating and with my advanced age I simply have no patience!

    Telemarketing is NOT the way to go for ANY business in my opinion.

  24. There are channels that carry infomercials in Arabic with numbers to call and order throughout the ME. Maybe that is more in line with what you are thinking.

    But in the larger cities-at least. We have every concievable cosmetic available to us.

  25. Oh...and yes..if we have money we have ATM and credit cards! There are whole branches of banks dedicated to women's banking needs.

  26. As a criminal defense attorney, I would say: BEWARE! Somebody contacting via internet or phone wanting to sell a product? Especially a contact from one country to another? Many unsuspecting individuals become involved with fraud & end up criminally prosecuted. Hence, my clients & how I know about these scams. Be careful. One cannot possibly know who this "woman" in Thaland is -- she's a persona on the internet.

  27. I recently found this article on Women Sales Representatives in KSA by Diana Al-Jassem in Saudi Gazette.

    JEDDAH – Many young Saudi and expatriate women who are unable to find a job and have no opportunity to go to college are becoming sales representatives making contact with women by telephone and visiting them in their homes to promote a variety of products, such as, lotions and creams, hair oil, and makeup.
    Companies selling items of interest to women are targeting young women in need of a job to promote their products by offering them a percentage of the sales that they make. Prospective sales representatives are bombarded with emails touting the job as one which can be done in one’s free time, requires no special training or academic degree and holds out the promise of earning a large amount of money.
    While at first being a representative for well-known products seems like a golden opportunity to unemployed and unqualified young women, but after a few months on the job, their ideas start to change.
    Saudi Gazette met a number of women sales reps who visit homes to promote their companies’ products to find out what is actually involved in such a job.
    “I graduated from university three years ago with a degree in business administration, and then found out that for a woman, working in business is almost an impossible dream,” said Noha Ashraf, a 25-year-old Jordanian sales representative.
    She added, “I received many emails asking me to promote and market products as a sales representative, but I ignored them all as I had my heart set on a career in business. However, once I found out that there were no opportunities for me to work in my field, I decided to accept an offer to sell a company’s products to ladies in their homes.”
    Sales representatives are not always well received by prospective customers.
    “Sometimes people that we call are very nice and listen to what we have to say. But there are others who shout, use insulting language and then slam down the phone,” said Manal Mohammed, a Saudi sales rep who promotes makeup products.
    Many Saudi families refuse to deal with sales representatives because they fear that the products they are promoting are illegal and of inferior quality.
    “I never allow these promoters to enter my home because I cannot be certain of the safety of the products that they are selling,” said Hind Al-Arifi, a Saudi housewife.
    According to Al-Arifi, her daughter who was suffering from hair loss, bought hair oil, shampoo and cream from a sales representative in the hope of solving her problem.
    “My daughter used the products but after ten days discovered that not only had the hair loss not been reduced, it was actually worse. She then stopped using the products altogether,” Al-Arifi said.
    Hussain Al-Eidi, Head of the Commercial Fraud Commission at Jeddah Chamber for Commerce and Industry (JCCI) warned people not to receive sales representatives in their homes.
    “We advice all citizens and residents to not deal with these people as we cannot be certain of their identity and motives and the safety of the products that they are selling,” he said, adding “We have received many complaints about women sales representatives, especially those who are promoting makeup.”
    According to Al-Eidi, the Commercial Fraud Commission is planning to discuss this issue with the aim of finding a solution which will prevent companies from sending sales reps to people’s homes.
    Sales representatives are doing their best to sell the largest amount of products, since they are working on a commission basis which means the more they sell, the more money they make.
    “I try my best to sell as much as I can, so I can have more commission regardless of the product’s benefit to the customer,” said Rania Ahmad, a Lebanese sales representative who works for a herbal cream company.
    She added, “Our job is to promote our products and persuade the consumer to buy them. We are not responsible for the consumer’s lack of education and poor understanding of what constitutes quality in a product.” – SG

  28. Avon has been here forever.

  29. I disagree. I have my own company and telemarketers helped a lot.

  30. Perhaps I am late, so I am not going to elaborate...
    first, Saudi women are the no 1 customers of cosmetics in the Gulf area...they spend half of their money if not all on cosmetics...
    Second, there are already many companies that hire salesgirls and representatives to sell their products...I have bought several things from some of them, but will never buy any more...never liked the Chiara said, if we have Chanel and Dior and other brand names, why would we go for something less or unknown..
    Third, the salesgirls of those companies were very annoying, pushy and persistent...I had to change my cell phone number a year ago to get rid of one of them who kept chasing me and sending sms!


  31. Every telemarketer should keep in mind that it's not about the quantity of calls that he makes in a day but the quality that counts. telemarketing companies

  32. I agree with you there, "Whether or not women would be inclined to purchase cosmetics over the phone is a completely different issue. Not being able to see the product would be a factor. Personally I would rather purchase cosmetics in person rather than over the phone, sight unseen." well said. Most women do that. Anyway, thanks for sharing this post. I enjoyed reading it. Keep posting!


  33. Yes, I hate telemarketing. They make many calls and try to promote there product, even when the end user is not interested..I just hang the phone..with no answer..thanks

    Telemarketing CV

  34. Telemarketing should not be hated if properly done and a company should look for top telemarketing companies that will a QUALITY job and also Enthusiastically Acknowledging Your Customer, Enthusiastically Providing Assistance and Enthusiastically Showing Your Appreciation as what blog I read said.