By Nader Bitar
Managing Director, MMPWW

What was the last thing you bought? For me, it was a bulk buy of household items from Amazon, delivered in 24 hours at a discounted rate of around 40%. Not exactly the most exciting purchase, but I now have enough soap to last me 12 months. Clearly I’m winning at life.

Generally, if I want something today I will open up an app and experience near instant gratification. Takeaway? Deliveroo in less than an hour. Groceries? Same day delivery. New trainers? Pick a time slot. Convenience. Price. Speed. That’s what’s needed for a successful and sustainable eCommerce model today.

In the past, the GCC has lagged behind more established markets with its eCommerce offering, struggling to convince consumers to shift to a more digital way of shopping. Fast forward to today and the GCC’s e-commerce market is expected to become an almost $50bn market by 2025, a report by Kearney Middle East notes.

According to a joint study by Dubai Economy and Visa, the UAE is currently the most advanced e-commerce market in the Middle East and North Africa, with an estimated annual growth of 23% between 2018 and 2022. This makes sense if you factor in the quick retailer response in pivoting to an online-only offering during the beginning of the pandemic.

Existing eCommerce players doubled down on their investments to ensure uninterrupted delivery where possible, whilst traditional bricks and mortar stores worked hard to establish a new channel to meet the growing demand. The grocery sector in particular springs to mind here. By the end of Q1 2020, 45 companies offered e-grocery across the GCC. UAE-based Instashop recorded a 70% spike in app downloads and an increase in orders of 53%. Now, the online food delivery and grocery sectors are expected to grow by 30% each year until 2025. It’s like eCommerce officially arrived in 2020. 

Now comes the hard part though; sustaining this growth and championing new innovations to keep apace with evolving consumer trends. I think this is where more newer and digital-savvy shoppers will come into sharper focus with clever targeting. Millennials account for more than 45% of the user base, which is growing at 6% CAGR, according to a Kearney Middle East report.

With this in mind, you can’t discount the growing role that social media has in engaging consumers online, particularly when it comes to the discovery and consideration of making a purchase. According to a Mastercard study, 72% and 56% of respondents discovered new sellers through Facebook and Instagram respectively. FACEBOOK knows the power they have, which is why they rolled out ‘Shops’ and various SME support tools much quicker than originally planned on the back of the pandemic.

With increasingly complex customer journeys, retailers need an eCommerce marketing strategy that integrates customer experiences first and foremost. It can’t just be an add-on. If anything, I think we need to amend the traditional sales funnel and expand it to consider ‘the experience’ at key stages of the process as well.

Customer lifecycle marketing (CLV) is something we also need to pay more attention to, given that consumers are increasingly using multiple channels along their path to purchase. As such, businesses need to opt for an omnichannel approach, increasing the number of channels being utilized to hit their users where it matters to them. That being said, brands need to ensure that the consumer experience on these channels is cohesive, and that they are telling a story, not just inserting themselves into a place that doesn’t make sense. I’ll admit, it’s a delicate balancing act.

So, taking all of this into account, here’s where I think we’ll really see experience play a bigger role in the eCommerce evolution over the next 12 months…

Video Marketing: This may seem like old news, however most brands are still playing catch up to the benefits of utilizing more video content across their channels. Video is also a lot more affordable now, especially given the shift to UGC (user-generated content) and less polished production proving popular with the end consumer. It’s just as well, because Cisco estimates that video will make up 82% of all online consumer internet traffic by 2022. Even more importantly, online videos are an effective way to evoke a particular emotion as visual content is that much more memorable.

  1. Targeting Micro-Moments: Hands up who is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content they receive daily? Yes, me too. Brands are still adapting to life in a covid-world and what consumers actually want from them. It’s no longer a simple case of following patterns and making predictions because user behavior is changing daily. There are more fragmented reactions that occur at the same time, such as ordering groceries, running a zoom meeting or checking social media. These are micro-moments in the day that happen without much thought or consideration, yet where brands can really make a difference in meeting a consumer need in real time.  Think back to my original example: I want food delivered fast and I’m looking for a company that can answer my ‘want’. If brands can position themselves as front of mind at the right moment, then they are golden. Forget huge campaigns, this is where they are more likely to find the sweet spot for targeting today. 
  2. Product pages and reviews: Product reviews are more powerful than ever and are now part of the journey to purchase. Many product pages contain independent reviews, imported reviews from other sites, a product review video or links to live chat. Apps have been coded to be responsive rather than invasive to allow consumers the option to interact if they want, or navigate through at their own pace. According to a Trustpilot survey in 2020, Nearly nine out of ten (89 percent) consumers worldwide make the effort to read reviews before buying products, so ignore this at your peril. 
  3. Leveraging New Tech: eCommerce businesses have already begun to adopt new technologies in a bid to connect with the jaded consumer of today. The same old experience won’t cut it with so much competition, both from local players and established international brands beginning to encroach. Enter more AR and VR solutions beginning to take shape. Gucci made great use of AR in its collaboration with Snapchat last year, allowing consumers to use Snapchat filters to virtually try on Gucci products. IKEA has an app that scans space in your house and shows you how their products would look there. The potential here is huge and while it’s not mainstream yet, I don’t think we’ll have too long to wait.