Let’s finish with a look at those demanding customer expectations we’ve been mentioning. They are worthy of your attention for the following reason.
Before you can differentiate your business with an outstanding delivery experience, you’ll need to know what it takes to delight a consumer in the Middle East.
Taking delivery lead time as an example, you will surely be wondering whether it’s best to focus on fast shipping, free shipping, or both. In reality though, unlike in some other parts of the world, this might not be the right question to ask.
Delivery Speed: It’s a Competition, But Not a Race
For instance, according to one prominent logistics executive in the region, consumers in Saudi Arabia prioritize cheap, or even free delivery, over speed, while the reverse is true in the UAE. Another expert source, speaking to Middle East Logistics, stated that the debate about delivery speed is no longer relevant. Instead, brands should focus on predictability, and solutions enabling them to deliver within a time window, and at a price, customized to suit customers’ needs.
That said, it would be a mistake to assume that delivery at a donkey’s pace is OK as long as it’s free of charge. Consumers in the Middle East are as loathe to wait for their orders as those anywhere else on earth. More importantly, in markets where COD payment dominates, the longer a delivery takes, the more likely it is to be rejected by a customer. No retailer wants to encourage rejections and see their revenue disappear into that dark realm of fulfillment known as the reverse supply chain.
Meet the Demand for On-Demand
If you want to succeed with urban delivery anywhere in the Middle East then, you should seek a partner that can offer two-day delivery lead times as a minimum.
Remember though, that your potential customers will probably be looking for next-day delivery as a standard, and perhaps even delivery on the day of ordering.
For maximum competitive advantage, the ability to offer deliveries on-demand is the gold standard to try and attain. Thankfully, if you shop around, you should find a logistics provider to help you achieve it—at a price your customers won’t find unpalatable. After all, on-demand food delivery has undoubtedly become a cultural norm in countries like the UAE, and consumers readily foot the bill to stay out of that relentless summer heat.
Coping With COD (It’s Not a Fisherman’s Tale)
Another vital element of customer service is the range of options you offer for payment, both for the products you sell and the fees associated with shipping them. Consumers in many Middle Eastern countries are warming up to the use of electronic payment methods such as e-wallets, and perhaps to a lesser extent, debit and credit card transactions. Therefore, the choices you give your customers for payment need not differ much from those in any other world market.
However, there is one big difference which your business will have to contend with—the dominance of cash-on-delivery (COD). As inefficient, and fraught with security risks as it is, you can count on falling short of expectations if you do not support it. Fortunately, most logistics providers operating in the region are well aware of this, and well able to manage cash-sales transactions on your behalf.
The process typically works something like this…
1) Your customers select COD at your online checkout, or the checkout counter if requesting delivery at a brick-and-mortar store.
2) You process the orders and pass instructions for delivery on to your logistics partner. Some providers will even be able to integrate with your internal systems, saving you from the need to manually place orders.
3) Your partner’s drivers will make the deliveries and collect the cash payments for the goods (along with delivery fees if you don’t offer free shipping).
4) Your partner will send you consolidated payments, for all the items delivered on your behalf, typically once per week.
5) If you offer free shipping to your customers, your delivery partner will invoice you, perhaps monthly, or even weekly, for its services.
Consider too, that even consumers paying by card might expect to receive their purchases before they trust you to relieve them of their digital dirhams. With that in mind, a carrier that can manage card payments at the point of delivery will give you an edge over competitors that only accept electronic payments at the checkout.
Success Needs No Address
Finally, if the whole deliver-by-landmark thing is giving you palpitations, take a deep breath… and relax, because here too, technology has come to the rescue.
Many Middle East logistics companies now have the tools to overcome address vagaries, which could take any (or even all) of the following forms:
• A software solution that helps its drivers find your customers
• A network of collection points that make it easy for customers to pick up their deliveries conveniently
• An in-house suite of applications that provide real-time delivery tracking and enable unintrusive communication using online chat, SMS, and even messaging tools like WhatsApp.