Will E-Commerce replace Brick and Mortar stores in MENA?

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With the Middle East and especially the GCC on the cusp of becoming the world’s fastest growing e-commerce playground, Ashik Hasim, Partner at Precise Communications/Essentially Precise shares his views on the rising e-commerce trends in the region and what it takes to shine in the online space.

Will E-Commerce replace Brick and Mortar stores in MENA?

Yes, if and only if new technologies can enable feelings and odors on my PC/Mobile.  The experience of visiting the Malls, popping into various stores, seeing the actual product, comparing it with other readily available products and socializing can never be replaced by online stores.  But E-commerce plays a big role where your physical presence is not required – like paying your utility services, booking a flight ticket, sending a gift, etc.  I would love to avoid standing in queues in a super market to buy my daily essentials & easily complete my chores.  Online and Brick & Mortar should be considered as separate businesses and one should complement the other rather than competing with each other.

SEE ALSO: Noon.com to revolutionize ecommerce in the Middle East

“The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore.  It will be the fast beating the slow.” – Rupert Murdoch

Amazon, one of the largest and well known online E-commerce platforms opened up its first brick & mortar store in Seattle and rumors are, that they are planning to open more than 400 stores in the United States.  Other major players are also opening up stores to support their online business.  With time the businesses need to adapt to the latest technologies where customers are provided with both the options- online & offline.  Retail cannot completely transition to online as you can never get a haircut, enjoy a nice dinner with your friends, or do any physical activities online. Social interactions can never be done online either, the way it can be done by physically meeting your near & dear ones.

SEE ALSO: Infographic: UAE Online Consumers Shopping Stats and Trends

MENA – statistics and realities

As Stewart Brand said “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road”; the traditional brick and mortar businesses cannot completely avoid the latest technologies around them.  You need to make the best of the technologies and provide the benefits of both the worlds to your customers.  It need not necessarily be an E-commerce site or Mobile application.  Your customers should have an easy access to your products/services on their fingertips where you can influence their decision and later encourage them to visit your store for purchasing.

Below statistics reinforce why it is important to go Digital in the MENA region:

INFOGRAPHIC – Middle East Ecommerce Stats and Trends


What is interesting here is that more than 85% of your customers are online and access the internet at least once in a day.  Before any decision, they first research for the product online and then discuss with their friends on social media followed by visiting the respective brand website to check availability.  If you are not part of this chain in the Digital space, you are losing loyal customers to your competitors.

So how do I get the Digital Presence? Digital does not mean having an E-Commerce site for your products.  Consider E-Commerce as an alternative sales store for your business, but being Digital is a “must have” to drive your sales.

“If you don’t have a digital presence today, you don’t exist.”

Tom Cochran, U.S. Department of State

Digital presence in simple term means presence of your business online.  Are you on Page 1 when people search for a product/service you sell? Are your customers finding you and interacting with your brand on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? What do online reviews say about you? Being online not only brings new customers, but helps you retain your existing customers.  A positive digital presence is paramount to your company’s success.  Well-thought and proper planning will help drive more traffic to your web and social platforms which in turn increases your footfall.

I hear businesses asking – What’s next if I have so many Likes on my Facebook page? The answer is simple.  They are either your loyal customer or are interested to know more about your products and offers.  All your likes may not convert to immediate sales, rather a professional content plan with well-planned marketing activities will eventually drive them to opt for your products over your competitors.  With high penetration of mobile phones in the region and almost every youngster hooked to their phones there is no better way of reaching them than having SEO optimized and mobile friendly website and through social platforms.  Gone are the days where people find you based on traditional advertisements, which are important for your brand awareness and reach. For the new generation, you need to be present where they are & emotionally connect with your audience!

Is it required to be present on all Media?

Well, that depends on your brand and the nature of your business. For example for social platforms, different kinds of audiences are on different platforms, given what a particular platform offers them.   The best approach is to entrust a professional company who can first understand your business, prepare the plans and action them based on your business, brand & marketing objectives. Web, Mobile, SEO, Social, etc. must integrate with the marketing team.  There is no harm in doing this yourself but digital is a space that is evolving every day and is best left to professionals who live it every single day and are updated with the latest trends and processes.

The very most basic must haves are an SEO friendly and mobile enabled website, SEO Optimization and a Facebook business page.  Further to this, depending on the type of business you can invest in getting your presence on various other Social media platforms and Mobile applications.  Merely having a presence will not make any difference until it is followed through with a Strategized digital approach and marketing.  The best way to promote your online presence is to use online media itself. Various channels available to do this are:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Youtube
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Google partners
  • Mass media portals
  • Email marketing

E-Commerce roll out

There are plenty of options available to roll out an E-commerce portal.  You can use ready-made platforms, open source codes, 3rd party managed platforms or even develop your own customized platform.  The biggest challenge lies in Logistics where most of the startups fail.  Even before you start your E-Commerce journey a proper plan needs to be put in place for the Logistics and execution.  The question you need to ask yourself is “why should a customer come to my website?” From the analytics above, customers prefer same day delivery, offers, variety of products and most importantly a secure environment which is also easy to use.  Your site should be well integrated with various social media platforms, available on Mobile phones and have a seamless support system.

Some of the platforms you can consider for quick E-commerce launch are:

  • Martjack
  • Open Cart
  • Magento
  • Build a Bazaar

For any advice or support on Digital Marketing or development of websites, applications (Mobile, Interactive media etc.) feel free to reach us on www.tobeprecise.com


Ashik Hasim is Partner, Precise Communications/Essentially Precise

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