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Brands will jump on the social commerce bandwagon in Mena

Hurdles remain but e-commerce in the region must evolve

Social media e-commerce Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw
E-commerce is going viral on social media platforms in Asia and may take off in the Middle East

Selling branded products has become even more complex with the emergence of social media channels in the e-commerce mix.

From discovering a product to buying it there is already a plethora of options for the consumer, and yet they just keep coming.

Nike has its own distributors, offline stores and app but it has also formed partnerships with different marketplaces such as Amazon of the US, Noon of Saudi Arabia, and Jumia, an Africa-wide e-commerce platform. 

Now buying on social media platforms is gaining traction. But with so many channels already available, do brands need to add another sales outlet to the mix?

Social media is not new to brand marketing strategy, and roughly 250 million consumers are already on social media in the Middle East and North Africa.

Our research shows that more than 30 percent of buying decisions are now influenced by these channels.

Brands using them in the discovery funnel are finding that social media also works to close the checkout process – at least in some markets in Asia.

China, Vietnam and Indonesia have seen a surge in social commerce.

In Vietnam it is now more than 30 percent of online retail. In Indonesia TikTok Shop alone has captured more than 5 percent of sales in a short period of time since launching in 2021. 

The major driver for social commerce in Asia is the availability of a varied influencer ecosystem which is trustworthy for both brands and consumers.

Asian influencers have been able to strike a delicate balance between these two stakeholders.

Consumers in many emerging markets look for simplicity in the buying journey which social commerce has been able to provide.

There is also the herd factor. Social media companies have prioritised South Asian markets for rolling out checkout-like features on their platforms. The local ecosystems have therefore had time to mature.

Once something gains critical mass there is a fear of missing out among consumers leading to hyper growth, which Asian countries have seen.  

social media e-commerceReuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
Social media channels bridge the worlds of online and offline by bringing in the human connection
Likelihood of trend spreading to Mena

There are some inherent advantages of social commerce in the Mena region.

It short-circuits the buying journey by reducing friction points – improving the consumer experience and conversion.

It builds on the impulse buying behaviour which is becoming increasingly important in the Mena marketplace.

And it enables brands to personalise the end-to-end experience with consumers, allowing them to tell stories to achieve both marketing objectives and sales.

Another important aspect is that social commerce bridges both worlds of online and offline by bringing in the human connection.

However, challenges remain in Mena where the influencer ecosystem is still nascent.

The rollout of social commerce features has been delayed by platforms in Mena partly because the region is a mix of heterogenous markets, with differing laws and norms. 

Brands will need to customise social commerce for their needs and their respective markets and customer base. 

Generative AI can play a role as it changes the way we engage with content. It will help define which model (or combination of models) of social commerce becomes popular in the region. 

Brands also need to pay close attention to the emerging formats of social commerce and assess which one suits their respective markets.

For example, live streaming is popular in China; community-based commerce has picked up in India; chat-based commerce is popular in the Philippines; and direct social media shopping is picking up in Indonesia. 

We think social commerce will increase sales in the overall ecosystem in Mena as it removes friction points in the buying journey and builds on impulse buying.

The brands which adopt it early will see the benefits as it helps them personalise the buying experience for their customers.

We believe it is a matter of when, and not if, social commerce will pick up in the region.

Ramez Shehadi is president and Sandeep Ganediwalla is a partner at Redseer Strategy Consultants, Middle East and Africa