While we may have been slow on the uptake initially, we’re certainly embracing eCommerce in the region now if the latest stats are anything to go by. The growth is literally booming – in MENA alone, online sales are set to reach $48.8 billion by 2021. Imagine that just six years ago that figure was likely in single digits, a clear indication we’re in a climate ripe with further potential.

It should come as no surprise either when you look at the market developments over the last two years. We’ve gone from nothing to everything in the blink of an eye. First, we witnessed Amazon’s entry by teaming up with Souq to leverage an already strong regional dominance. And not too long after, we watched a second market maverick, noon, establish operations by partnering with eBay as a new vertical for delivery.

Big player’s aside, it’s apparent with the rise of even the smaller outfits, like Uber Eats for example, how eCommerce has evolved. From novelty to powerhouse, and cash on delivery to sophisticated e-payments, what’s been the driving force of such a dynamic shift, including that of consumer confidence in an unfamiliar system, all comes down to one key ingredient – the right tech.

We’re certainly living in a unique consumer age at the moment, one that demands a personalized experience at every touchpoint, which in turn has bolstered the value of data in this industry. The use of analytics and specific data sets/points to create user profiles for better targeting is no longer a ‘nice to have’; it’s essential.  

It’s clear that the next frontier of eCommerce will continue to be led by tech innovation, albeit in a distinguishing role-reversal sort of way. For an indication of how that’s going to go, we need look no further than Amazon. No one can deny they are a force to be reckoned with that goes way beyond the realms of just eCommerce. Having long since conquered the world of online retail, now they have their sights set on the ad world as well. And they’re succeeding.

They have successfully challenged the duopoly dominance of Facebook and Google, wrestling control for ad dollars and becoming an ever-attractive proposition for advertisers, thanks to the platform’s massive data wealth and what it’s doing with it. Having stats on user behaviour is one thing, but it’s what comes next that advertisers are more interested in. Nailing consumer intent is the golden goose to unlocking value for brands, and in turn, fuelling the next stage of growth for the industry overall. It’s the ‘Amazon effect’ in full swing.

And just to back this up, Amazon Advertising reported a conversion rate that was almost three times higher than that of Google Shopping in Q3 of 2018. If you think about it, they are the natural home for effective advertising because their shoppers have far more purchase intent. The eCommerce site conclusively backs up its promise to put specific product in front of interested parties.

What’s interesting is where this could lead for other retailers interested in implementing a similar model. Amazon are actively breaking down these industry barriers, leaving a trail of disruption (the good kind) in their wake, and as much as they polarize retail opinion most of the time, challenge businesses to keep evolving, as is the case here. We’re navigating uncharted territory, as these walled gardens continue to crumble and make way for a more fluid and flexible ecosystem, open to anyone who collects, trades and capitalizes on data. What will come next is anybody’s guess, but more ad-tech and mar-tech solutions emerging to enable this new frontier of eCommerce to go mainstream, is a big possibility.

Being smart about the kind of tech that could likely be deployed, using machine learning and data science, for example, to adjust advertising to be more predictive and personalized is just one avenue. The trick is finding the sweet spot between assumption and assertion. Marketers, as a result, will have to think more outside the box, which likely means we’ll see an uptick in mar-tech solutions based around engagement as well. Take AdRoll’s recent integrations with BigCommerce and Yotpo. By partnering with these other platforms, they are offering a more dynamic and tailored experience, that utilizes relevant product information to help shape the consumer journey. Tools like this that ultimately help merchants find an easier way to create and scale their business effectively.

At the end of the day, there could be endless tech solutions and ad players that will spur further evolution in the eCommerce industry, but the reality is customers don’t care about this unless it is solving a problem or making the experience better. While tech is the ultimate enabler, we need to start with the need and then work from there, not the other way around.

Written by Nader Bitar,
Deputy General Manager