Why it’s vital to find the right digital strategy in the Middle East
If your ecommerce business has aspirations to expand into fast-growing international markets, the Middle East could be one of the key regions in your sights.
This part of the world has experienced significant growth in the ecommerce space in recent years and looks set to continue expanding in the coming years, partly driven by increased spending power in local populations.
Any firm hoping to succeed in this region must get a number of things right, one of the most significant of which is digital strategy.
Ecommerce in the Middle East
The Middle East is clearly experiencing a boom in ecommerce, opening up new opportunities for businesses of all sizes.
According to the PPRO High-Growth Markets Report 2018, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the five fastest-growing ecommerce markets this year, expanding quicker than countries such as India, China, Singapore and Malaysia.
Arabian Business recently reported on a number of significant local trends that provide an insight into the evolution underway in ecommerce.
Noon, an online retailer launched by Mohamed Alabbar, the founder of real estate developer Emaar Properties, announced that it had signed an agreement to buy products from the US and other countries. The deal will see Noon fulfilling eBay orders and delivering directly to customers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
This followed Amazon's entry into the Middle East with the acquisition of Souq, another key development that illustrated how the regional ecommerce sector is growing and opening up to the rest of the world.
Souq CEO and co-founder Ronaldo Mouchawar responded to the deal by saying it is "an exhilarating time for the ecommerce industry in the region".
A study commissioned by Gulf Pinnacle Logistics (GPL) this year predicted that the industry will grow by 7.2 per cent per year in the UAE, reaching a value of $23.7 billion (£18.5 billion) by 2022.
But there is also clear scope for improvement in services, with opportunities available to businesses that are able to provide what customers want.
GPL chairman Shailesh Dash commented: "GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] consumers are still looking for higher delivery performance, especially on the time and cost fronts, with late or long delivery time being the most common complaint."
Finding the right digital strategy
Any company – in ecommerce or otherwise – hoping to succeed in the 21st century needs to find the right digital strategies to engage with modern consumers, build a strong brand and bring in new business.
This is just as relevant in the Middle East as any other region. A report published by Northwestern University in Qatar, titled 'Media Use in the Middle East: A Five-Year Retrospection', illustrated how internet penetration had increased in every surveyed country in the region between 2013 and 2017.
More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of respondents in 2017 said they used the internet, up from 55 per cent in 2013. The biggest gains were made in Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia, while the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon are now close to full saturation.
The report also highlighted recent growth and trends in social media, which is particularly important for the Middle East's youngest consumers.
In light of these trends, ecommerce brands that want to succeed in the region must ensure they have a strong digital presence and take every opportunity to engage with local audiences online.
Where social media is concerned, methods such as local market research, localisation of posts, moderation of pages and relevant responses to follower feedback are crucial.
Just as beneficial is multilingual search engine optimisation. SEO will probably have made a big contribution to the online success you have achieved so far, and it can be equally valuable for building your online presence and driving web traffic in foreign markets.
Multilingual SEO services ensure you are using the right keywords and properly optimising your page titles, meta descriptions, URLs and other key assets to achieve the best results.
Recognising local nuances
The Middle East is a unique part of the world, full of distinctive nations and local communities with their own cultural nuances, norms and expectations.
It's important to be aware of the defining aspects of your target markets and to ensure that all your digital content is carefully tailored to reflect these characteristics.
With the study by Northwestern University in Qatar showing that Arabic remains the predominant language for media consumption in the Middle East, while English is in decline, translation and effective language localisation will be vital to success for international ecommerce businesses.
These methods can make a big contribution to customer engagement and relationships by showing your firm's understanding of local audiences.
In the increasingly dynamic and competitive world of ecommerce in the Middle East, the brands that make personal, meaningful connections will be the best placed to succeed in the long term.
Image: bernardbobo via iStock