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The biggest trends in e-commerce for 2023 and beyond

The pandemic prompted a sea change in the Middle East's attitude to shopping online, with e-commerce sales in the region set to hit $48.6bn this year. Here's what's coming next

Amazon fulfillment centre in Hamilton, Canada Reuters/Nick Iwanyshyn
An Amazon fulfillment centre in Hamilton, Canada. Many online shoppers are now looking for a more tailored, personal experience

The Middle East took its time to adapt to e-commerce. But the past few years have seen a significant shift. Now there’s a major opportunity for e-commerce firms in the region.

In 2016, only 15 percent of businesses in the Middle East had an online presence and almost 90 percent of online purchases were shipped from abroad, according to research firm Gartner. 

Could digital channels ever replace traditional bricks-and-mortar shopping? It would require a profound change in the cultural mindset.

The coronavirus pandemic provided the impetus – people simply had to grow more comfortable shopping online. E-commerce sales in the region are expected to reach $48.6 billion in 2022, almost double the $26.9 billion recorded in 2018. 

Ahead of the Seamless Saudi Arabia conference, which takes place in Riyadh in early November, these are the biggest e-commerce trends in the region for 2023 and beyond.

Taking on Amazon

Amazon is a threat to retailers irrespective of region and it has certainly stepped up its presence in the Middle East. Yet it is also showing signs of e-commerce vulnerability. Amazon’s 2022 financial figures have shown much slower growth than previously. In the first quarter of this year, the company even had its first loss since 2015. 

Some customers won’t buy from Amazon for ethical reasons while others want greener, more differentiated, organic or better-sourced products. Many want an experience that is more personal and tailored to their preferences. Other retailers can meet that demand.

Extreme personalisation is essential

Tailoring the customer experience is e-commerce 101. In the Middle East, Arabic language sites are vital and must include content and content-based advertising in Arabic too.

But any organisation aiming for e-commerce success needs to go further and adopt extreme but friendly personalisation – rolling out improved features, talking to the customer via their preferred medium, offering individual prices or discounts unique to that customer.

To achieve this personalisation, “composable commerce” is essential. The term was coined by Gartner in 2020 and referred to the idea that businesses must go down a modular route to commerce. This involves selecting the best solutions to “compose” a highly customised tech stack.

Composable commerce is the bedrock of personalisation for business-to-business and business-to-customer experiences.

The rise of B2B ecommerce

Personalisation is also a significant factor in another commerce trend in the Middle East – the rise of B2B e-commerce. B2B organisations are increasingly turning to e-commerce as a way of supercharging their way of doing business and adding additional revenue streams.

B2B e-commerce is inherently more sophisticated and involved than the B2C equivalent. It’s not a question of simply buying a product that arrives a few days later, as in B2C. There is no standard pricing. Customers expect to be able to order in bulk (and a range of other variables) and to negotiate a discount on the price.

The most effective way of addressing B2B commerce is via headless commerce architecture, which separates the front end and back end of a commerce application.

Headless commerce uses an application programming interface (API) to connect multiple platforms on the front end. This makes it easier for developers to create the vital personalised experiences and requirements, without making alterations to the back-end system, saving precious developer time. 

Whether it’s international firms selling in the region or local companies looking to take advantage of the increased willingness of people and businesses to shop online, the Middle East is primed for e-commerce success. 

Alexander Graf is the host and producer of the Commerce Talks podcast. He is an e-commerce expert, entrepreneur, author and co-founder of e-commerce provider Spryker

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