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The Middle East has a bright e-commerce future

Digital tech firms in the Gulf are making tremendous advances in how they use the latest technologies to build the foundations for future success

Erika Blazeviciute Doyle, the founder of Drink Dry Supplied
Drink Dry founder Erika Blazeviciute Doyle talked at Seamless Saudi Arabia about how she set up the company after spotting a great post-Covid opportunity

On November 2 and 3, I was lucky to be present at Seamless Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, where I was interviewing some of the brightest minds in the Middle East about all things relating to payments, fintech, retail and e-commerce for my podcast, Commerce Talks.

From inspiring keynote presentations to informative panel discussions, and attention-grabbing exhibition stands to podcast interviews, there was something for everyone. 

Here are the three main things I learnt.

Digital is set for the next stage in its evolution

It is true that the Middle East was slower to adopt e-commerce and online payments than other parts of the world. But that is very much a thing of the past.

The cultural barriers that had impeded the progress of e-commerce are now mostly removed. During the coronavirus pandemic people grew accustomed to buying things online, and that habit is now fully ingrained in the Middle East.

Even with a strong bricks-and-mortar history, most retailers now have an equally strong e-commerce presence, and many digital-only commerce organisations are emerging.

The latter trend will only continue as the Middle East is now fully ready for digital commerce and payments.

Using digital to deliver on customer experience

The next stage is to use technology to heighten the digital experience for customers further.

Expectations of what constitutes a good experience are also growing, and e-commerce sites need to use personalisation much more to meet these changing expectations. 

This means not only Arabic language sites (for international companies in the region) but also content and content-based advertising in Arabic. Personalisation should also include new features, bespoke pricing, providing different communication channels and much more.

To achieve this, composable commerce, where organisations select best-of-breed technologies to “compose” a highly customised tech stack that gives the required levels of personalisation, is essential.

There are significant opportunities in a post-Covid world

Like the rest of the world, the impact of Covid was extensive in the Middle East. That impact is still being felt today.

I addressed its effects on broader attitudes to digital payments and commerce above, but what struck me at Seamless was the number of businesses that have tapped into other societal changes post-Covid.

A notable example of this is Drink Dry, the premium non-alcoholic drinks brand. There has been a growing global trend for non-alcoholic beverages, and founder Erika Blazeviciute Doyle explained that when it became clear to her that people were far more aware of general health issues now than before Covid, an opportunity opened up.

The Middle East has traditionally been an area where less alcohol is drunk compared with other parts of the world. But the typical Middle Eastern palate is sweet, and sugary drinks were very popular. Drink Dry realised that people were willing to change these habits and had become much more health conscious.

Drink Dry launched first in Dubai as a proof of concept, has since launched in Kuwait in June and is about to launch a store in Saudi Arabia.

The innovation in Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East is something to behold.

Organisations in e-commerce, fintech and payments are all making tremendous advances in how they take advantage of the latest technologies to deliver first-class customer experience, differentiate themselves against the competition and build the foundations for future success.

But there is always more that can be done.

Whether it’s to achieve further growth in the Middle East or to expand internationally, what was clear from Seamless is that innovative technologies, such as headless commerce architecture and approaches like composable commerce will only play an increased role in that success. 

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

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