Local Business

Over 90% of Mena consumers are digital converts, experts say

Rohma Sadaqat /Dubai
rohma@khaleejtimes.com Filed on August 2, 2021
Already, 63 per cent of IT decision-makers in the Middle East and North Africa are improving shopping experiences with revamped websites and mobile apps

Around 80 per cent of young Arabs shop online frequently, and 50 per cent of shoppers aged 18-24 in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena region) are shopping more online post-pandemic, according to a recent report by MIT and Wamda.

According to experts, given the changing market dynamics, an increasing number of consumer brands are assessing a direct-to-consumer digital commerce strategy to take in a post-Covid world.

"Some are understandably hesitant to get distracted by an e-commerce play, not wanting to undermine existing retail partnerships or brand equity with a poor online shopping experience - let alone cannibalize sales or compete in a crowded field dominated by retail giants and a coterie of digitally-native upstarts," said Steve Tzikakis, CEO of Sitecore.

A recent survey by YouGov of more than 650 IT decision-makers in the Middle East and North Africa shows that 91 per cent of respondents say their customers are digital converts to e-commerce, and 88 per cent say their brands have changed customer experiences due to the pandemic.

From a technology and operational perspective, there has never been an easier time to go direct online, says Tzikakis. The revolution in technology adoption in the past year by both everyday people via their smartphones and businesses means brands can truly deliver a connected and consistent experience, powering the full buying cycle, from order fulfillment to service beyond the sale through a rich and expanding ecosystem of partners.

"The alternative is the status quo, where most online shopping experiences are at least partly divorced from the rest of a brand’s advertising, marketing, loyalty programs and customer service," Tzikakis said. "For many Middle East luxury or lifestyle brands, selling directly online has long been part of their toolkit. But others are seeing the unique opportunities it provides, taking digital destiny into their own hands by going direct to offer a great experience through things like furniture assembly services or personalized shoes - and winning back customers competitors in the process."

He added that the best digital experiences frequently do not begin with a buy button; they begin with content - an app that lets customers find a perfect cosmetics match for every skin tone, an article about a brand initiative that moves someone to tears, or a retro cereal box promotion with designs from decades past that sparks a beloved childhood memory. These starting blocks of powerful digital experiences that move buyers down the funnel and back again are reinforced by every other touchpoint, from e-mail to customer service.

To deliver on that vision, Middle East brands need a technology stack that connects all of these dots from content to commerce on any screen, Tzikakis explained. But getting marketing technology perfect is not necessarily a prerequisite to experimenting with direct e-commerce, especially since most brands are not yet set up for this type of customer life cycle marketing. Even where customer data is spotty and platforms are disparately connected, brands often instinctively know their customers better than anyone and can tap into decades of built-in trust to create shopping experiences that are an organic outgrowth of existing brand initiatives or values.

"That gives Middle East enterprises time to get the broader integrated technology stack right, and early data to guide success - first fruits in an expanded first-party data relationship with customers that will serve as an important foundation for future experiences, even if most sales continue to take place offline or via other online retail partners," he said. "Already, 63 per cent of IT decision-makers in the Middle East and North Africa are improving shopping experiences with revamped websites and mobile apps."

Despite increasing consumer expectations around privacy generally, personalization is actually what consumers want from brands they choose to interact with, he added. Most want brands to know their shopping history and provide a consistent experience online and offline, catering to them as unique individuals and rewarding their loyalty in deeper ways.



Rohma Sadaqat

I am a reporter and sub-editor on the Business desk at Khaleej Times. I mainly cover and write articles on the UAE's retail, hospitality, travel, and tourism sectors.Originally from Lahore, I have been living in the UAE for more than 20 years. I graduated with a BA in Mass Communication, with a concentration in Journalism, and a double minor in History and International Studies from the American University of Sharjah.If you see me out and about on assignment in Dubai, feel free to stop me, say hello, and we can chat about the latest kitten videos on YouTube.

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