Middle East Consumer Expectations in the Amazon Era
As e-commerce competition heats up in the Middle East, and the “Amazon effect” comes to pervade the market by way of Amazon-acquired SOUQ.com, your company’s ability to compete will depend upon understanding what customers in the region want, and how Amazon’s presence and influence might shape expectations going forward.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you must emulate Amazon’s strategies to succeed in Middle East e-commerce. Few enterprises have the scale or resources to do so, but if you are aware of the expectations your customers hold, you can explore and test innovative methods, unique to your own business, to meet them.
GCC Shoppers’ Expectations Today
So what, exactly, do today’s online shoppers in the Middle East expect from e-commerce vendors?
While the Amazon effect may not yet be in full force in the region, shoppers here are well informed and aware of what leading global e-commerce brands have to offer. They know for example, that it’s possible to have their purchases delivered fast—and without shipping fees.
Ship Fast or Ship Free?
Free shipping is an especially important element of online shopping for GCC consumers, because they expect to be able to buy online at lower prices than when shopping locally in-store. When consulting company PWC conducted its Total Retail research in 2017, it found that 40% of online shoppers in the Middle East are motivated primarily by price, with only 17% quoting convenience as a primary motivation.
Any shipping fees that degrade or nullify price benefits therefore, might be a disincentive for consumers to try new entrants into the region’s markets.
Of course, somebody must pay for shipping. If you offer free for your customers, you must determine a strategy that will allow you to do so without inflating your retail prices to an uncompetitive level or undermining your margins. Discovering the right formula is something of an art form, especially when penetrating an unfamiliar overseas market.
For now, it may be safe to assume that free shipping is a priority for online shoppers in the Middle East, as they are used to the longer lead times associated with cross-border purchases.
However, this is likely to change—perhaps soon—as, for example, SOUQ’s integration with Amazon makes globally sourced products more readily available from locally held inventories. At that point, prioritization of either fast or free shipping will likely evolve into an expectation that both will apply, even if that entails some form of paid subscription similar to Amazon’s Prime offering.
The Importance of Product Range and Selection
Product choice and selection are also high on the agenda of the Middle East’s online consumers, with 31% of the Total Retail respondents citing it as their primary motivation for engaging with e-commerce retailers.
The superior range of categories and products is also one of the factors leading onlineshoppers in the UAE especially, to favor vendors based outside of their home region.
Your company will need to meet expectations by offering a wide choice of categories and products, or, if you specialize, by presenting your audience with a diverse and attractive range of products in your specific niche.
At the very least, your product range should offer more variety than local competitors that share your space, and should ideally include products that are not available locally.
While on the topic of choices, consumers today expect this to apply at every step on the customer journey. It’s not only about offering a vast selection of items to purchase, but also the options available—such as shipping and payment methods—when making the purchase.
Options are Everything
To return for a moment to delivery price versus delivery speed, here, too, online shoppers want the freedom to choose. While one customer might want to pay extra for delivery within 24 hours, another may be happy to wait for five to six days if shipping is free.
The same applies to payment options. Customers want—and expect—to pay using their preferred method, and not to be presented with a sparse range of options at the checkout.
In the GCC, cash-on-delivery (COD) is near mandatory as one of the payment methods your store must provide. Even Amazon, which does not typically entertain cash payments, offers COD on more than a million products (via SOUQ) to its Middle East customers.
The Power of Personalization
Finally, today’s tech-savvy consumers, through their interactions with Amazon and other global retail leaders, and their social media activity, know very well that they leave a trail of data behind them relating to their demographics, preferences, and shopping behaviors.
They also know that e-commerce retailers, when equipped with the right technology, can use that data to create personalized experiences—and indeed, they expect them to do so.
Don’t Just Respond to Expectations… Shape Them Too!
Successful e-commerce, in the Middle East as everywhere, is not just about meeting and exceeding customer expectations, but also about influencing them.
As an emerging market, the Middle East offers new entrants perhaps more opportunities to shape expectations than many other regions. After all, even Amazon is a new player here.
If your company can secure the right partners for fulfillment, payment, and technology and you listen intently to the voice of the consumer, there is no need to “out-Amazon” Amazon. Of course, you must aspire to the standards that Amazon has set, but at the same time, look to develop internal processes and leverage partnerships to meet, exceed, and influence customer expectations.
It is no longer enough to address each customer by name during communications or even to provide a personalized dashboard, replete with shopping history and welcome message. Personalization in the age of Amazon means using the data available to your business to provide a seamless and intuitive experience for every customer, at every single touchpoint.