As a closer for the year, I’ve outlined themes to watch out for over the coming 12 months. These predictions are based on over 100+ discussions with investors, banks, payments processors, websites and apps across the region, news from tech events, personal observations of activity on LinkedIn, and, of course, my crystal ball I keep in my bottom right desk drawer.
Growth of Mobile eCommerce: With the growth of eCommerce, we are seeing conversion on smaller screens particularly from repeat customers who have built trust and resident profiles. Look for this to grow as major eCommerce brands continue to improve their HTML 5 and app-based offerings.
‘Uberization’ of services: What started off as ride sharing is now evolving to uber-everything. From fitness-on-demand (Ubefit) to laundry-on-demand (washplus), startups are continuing to offer aggregation and on-demand services through frictionless experiences.
Slicker Customer Experience: If you have your app store updates set to the manual setting, you’ll see an increasing number of regional retail, travel and services apps releasing faster iterations as a result of increased A/B testing, focus group, and improved analytics.
Big brands embrace eCommerce: 2015 saw a number of major retail brands like Adidas, Ace Hardware, Choitrams, etc, launch web stores. In 2016, look for more brick & mortar companies to come online as they realize the customer demands for an omni-channel experience. It will be interesting to see how big brands deal with the regional challenges of scaling eCommerce.
Digital incentives will become the norm: From banks to airlines to food retailers, incentives are increasingly digital to tap into our connectedness with smartphones and smart devices. 2015 saw a number of fitness and loyalty apps looking to engage with customers. In 2016, look for more digital offerings to appeal to millennials and an increasingly tech savvy population.
Domestic eComm grows faster than x-border: With the ever-increasing supply of merchants in the region, look for domestic eCommerce to grow fast, especially in markets like Saudi Arabia where entrepreneurship is on the rise.
Same day and next shipping becomes a key differentiator: While the jury is still out on the differentiation of faster delivery for non-perishable items, look out for the incumbent (Aramex) and new (@Fetchr) companies to work with major eComm companies to improve logistics. Similarly, several eCommerce sites are building their fleet of last-mile shipping to stretch that customer experience to your doorstep.
Globalization arrives to the Middle East: With improving logistics and a cash-rich, young population, look out for global eCommerce companies to push deeper into the region with targeted offers, localization, and improved shipping.
Despite the political and social turbulence in the region, all signs are pointing towards an exciting year for eCommerce in the Middle East – agnostic of the price of oil. With the population demographics, relatively limited competition, a plethora of new offerings by both big and small players, and proliferation of smartphones, 2016 will be a year to remember.
In the next part of the this two-part series, I’ll take a different lens and share how these trends translate into the major sectors where I personally feel we will see the most eCommerce activity.