Dubai / Gulf Time
The new decade has been incredibly challenging for the world’s economy, regardless of region and industry. And even though some industries have seen recovery and even growth, many are struggling to break even still. Same thing goes for customer demographics: while some have returned to their previous spending habits, some are looking for the best deal and value for their money, thinking twice before making a purchase. A very good example of both is the Mena region, which since 2019, has seen its e-commerce grow faster than any other region in the world (by 18% inter-annual, twice the world’s average), with an estimated 209 million consumers transitioning to online shopping during the height of the pandemic.
Economists call the phenomenon above “the K shape”, which reflects an uneven recovery of different market niches and demographics. Apart from changes in habits and the customer journey overall, geopolitical tensions have also made it very difficult for enterprises to recover from the first big drop in spending and consumption caused by the pandemic. This can be seen in the results of Black Friday worldwide: the growth in total sales from 2022 compared to the previous year was of 2.3%, with much of it attributed to inflation. Retailers provided record discounts, averaging 32% as they contend with oversupply and a softening consumer spending environment. Speaking of customers, online shoppers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are among the most eager to check out deals compared to Brazil, the UK, and the US.
In such an environment, online retailers and brands can’t compete solely through discounts; to maintain sales and market share, it is key to retain customers and create loyalty. This can be achieved by providing an easy, smooth and enjoyable customer experience. 24TTL’s CEO Yury Shishkin spoke about this during a panel discussion at the IDRF Meetup in AstroLabs, Dubai.
“Over the last 20 years, online retail has evolved a lot as an industry because of its rapid growth. Yet, in that very same time span, the user experience websites offer hasn’t changed much if we analyse the way customers compare, search and explore products today”. For him, the giant Amazon is a good example of this — the marketplace’s product detail pages have hardly adapted to today’s needs since the times when only books were sold on the platform.
Yet the shopping experience as we know it today was only introduced two years ago due to strong consumer growth and there is imperative need to survive in a crowded market, says Yury. During this time technologies such as AR, CDN servers, video and 3D images emerged. This is why brands and retailers find themselves experimenting with different formats, but mostly shifting towards social commerce, short videos, live videos, long length reviews and UGC. It’s these technologies that have spurred the boom and evolution of the shopping experience.
For the very same reason, there are companies like Casio looking for softwares and technologies that will make sense for their e-commerce strategy.
“Casio is at the very beginning of its ecommerce journey. The main challenge today is what software to choose to adapt with the littlest headache possible, for both clients and developers”, said Aboud Khederchah during the IDRF Meetup, Casio’s head of marketing for the Mena region.
For Aboud, finding good, reliable suppliers is also very difficult, which is why try and error is the only method to compare. Yet he highlights that entrepreneurs and managers need to understand the reason for such purchases. “We always ask ourselves: why are we using a certain technology? Do people use it or need it?”
Another challenge ahead is the cookie-less era. By the end of 2024, Google plans to shut third-party cookie tracking. For many, it will be a reason to get more creative than before, especially when getting data, says Emanuele Corso, Epson’s e-commerce manager for the Mena region.
“The cookie-less era will make us get creative with getting data. We will have to get creative on convincing people to register and leave their contact information”, he stated.
Still, this comes with its own challenges. As Emanuele noted, people are not very keen on taking any extra steps when buying a product, let alone leaving contact information, so if they have to, then it is highly likely that your business will lose sales. Yet there’s a legal and very convenient way to get the information you need: data partnerships, says Corso, but this will force many to be more transparent by sharing data with retailers, partners and clients.
When asked about his vision on the state of the Mena market, Emanuele said, “There has to be structural development in many countries. Many of them don’t have big e-commerce players, and we need to think about how we can support them in their online journey?”