By Murat Yoldas Ertugrul, MENA region VP of full-service digital agency, Emakina
E-commerce has undergone a transformation at a staggering rate. It has wholly redefined not only the retail industry but how we live, shop, and consume. With people becoming more informed than ever and technology easily accessible, e-commerce continues to evolve to make online shopping effortless for customers.
Spurred on by a highly digitized population and a lockdown-induced spike in consumer demand, screen time and social media usage across the GCC has reached up to 90% penetration in some markets. E-commerce is booming across the region, and we’re set to see the industry hit a $22 billion valuation by the end of the year.
Year on year, this growth has accelerated not only because of the progress on the technological front but also because the buying experience being delivered to consumers has altered so drastically.
With that, there’s an ever-growing expectation for retailers to stay ahead of the curve. A key focus now needs to be placed on retailers’ efforts to deliver an exceptional and seamless customer experience everywhere – whether that be online or offline.
New trends are constantly springing up, but there are a few that are certainly here to stay.
E-commerce trends that are redefining shopping behaviour
Nowadays, people are increasingly selective while shopping; Why? Because they can be. We’re fortunate enough to live in an age where we can easily access the best products, newest technologies, and an almost unlimited variety of products and services to choose from. However, we don’t always get the optimal experience while shopping online.
Retailers are now rightly pooling their efforts into delivering a seamless omni-channel experience to customers. A smooth, uniform shopping experience across channels is essential. To achieve this, they must effectively manage the integration across platforms, applications, distributors, and ecosystems. This can be done by connecting the digital, brick and mortar, and back-end operations seamlessly. Only then can retailers deliver a truly consistent, frictionless engagement across both online and offline channels. Done correctly, retailers can expect improved visibility across channels, better insights into data, better operational efficiency, and reduced costs – followed by an inevitable rise in digital sales.
Adapting to newer delivery models
Online retailers across the region have been investing heavily in fulfilment, logistics and supply chains over the past few years to create a much more frictionless retail experience. The rapid ascension of our ‘convenience culture’ in Dubai, for example, has seen deliveries from online retailers like Ounass, arrive at your doorstep within two hours – a testament to the advancements made by retailers in the region.
More recently, the current climate has proven to be an opportunity to provide minimal contact services to customers and ensure that products arrive on time and are safe –a process that companies such as noon.com and Amazon have driven.
This is largely down to the region’s long-standing affinity to third-party delivery providers, which have some of the most robust last-mile fulfilment capabilities in the world. The ease of accessibility to these providers for retailers often expedites partnerships quicker than in other parts of the world. It gives the region a unique advantage in being able to pivot and adapt to meet the evolving needs and demands of the consumer.
The Middle East mall experience: here to stay
Many people predicted the end of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience at the height of the pandemic. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The need for hybrid shopping experiences is here to stay, making it more critical than ever to combine that of the online and physical worlds. We’re seeing a monumental shift towards technology that allows the consumer to experience texture in a virtual environment; as well as to touch, feel, smell, or interact with products in a virtual capacity.
The important social role that malls play across the GCC should not be underestimated, especially during the hot summer months. Individuals, couples, families, and groups of friends will continue to visit malls for shopping, dining, and entertainment – a chance to stretch their legs in large, air-conditioned environments. Shoppers will continue to flock to malls for an overall entertainment experience, and this will need to be true of a new e-commerce ecosystem, which will inevitably include ever-richer content to remain in sync with its in-store equivalent.
Cementing relationships with customers through engaging loyalty programmes will continue to be at the forefront of the agenda, regardless of whether that is in the digital realm with e-commerce or through traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Retailers must ensure that the customer is front and centre and deliver on what they want, when they want.
Online shopping and the experience of physically shopping will continue to be prevalent. Once the battle to ‘win’ in either sphere is put aside, we’ll see that both can exist in perfect harmony. However with more people looking to buy online than ever before, providing additional context through digital means is a smart way to go.
Provided that the supply chain is adequately set up to support online and physical stores, it’s a winning strategy.
Opinions in this piece belong to the author