As the market is expanding rapidly, we have decided to research 50 popular GCC-based e-commerce platforms with web traffic starting at 50K (as of August 2021) to understand their functionality and competitive advantages in the industry.
E-commerce is one of the fastest-growing industries in the GCC region. To stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, many retailers shifted online and created their own e-commerce platforms.
According to the MIT report, the online retail market in the UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alone was estimated at $7.5 billion pre-lockdown. By the end of March 2020, it grew to $11 billion. At the same time, the 2021 e-commerce Gross Merchandise Value in MENA is expected to grow at 35% from 2020 levels and reach ~$30bn.
As the market is expanding rapidly, we have decided to research 50 popular GCC-based e-commerce platforms with web traffic starting at 50K (as of August 2021) to understand their functionality and competitive advantages in the industry. We have chosen platforms that are widely adopting advanced technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and machine learning (ML).
Analyzed e-commerce platforms by traffic, Aug ‘21
For this, we analyzed the online marketplace features in accordance with a typical customer journey – the stages of customers’ experience with an e-commerce platform. The data cut presented further is based on figures as of October 1, 2021.
In the first step of the customer journey, potential clients have to discover the marketplace and its products. Today, one of the most effective ways of advertising is social media campaigns. Our research shows that e-commerce platforms in GCC actively use promotions in such social media networks as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok. Most of them also use some forms of integration with social media – for example, 48 of 50 analyzed ecommerce platforms include social media buttons on their websites. At the same time, only 2 have the mentioned networks’ feed creatively embedded in the platform (e.g. to “shop the look” displayed on Instagram).
Another thing to mention is the customer touchpoints – the exposure of the customer to the e-commerce platform across various channels. According to Hootsuite January 2021 statistics, 51.1% of the UAE users purchased online via smartphones in the past month, whereas in Saudi Arabia, this figure was about 10% higher than in the United Arab Emirates in the same period.
Among the 50 e-commerce platforms analyzed, only 37 have both iOS and Android apps, and only 2 a solely iOS app. Further analysis shows that among these 37 platforms, iOS apps have on average a 0.25 points higher store user rating than Android apps, with the difference reaching up to 1.9 points. Moreover, Android users of some of the platforms comment that Android apps are often worse than the corresponding iOS apps. All this shows the platforms are focusing on iOS users comparably more. Nevertheless, according to Statcounter, Android devices generally prevail in the UAE with a 43.43% market share, so they should not be neglected.
Having discovered the specific marketplace, customers further consider their buying options. According to our research, all of the analyzed e-commerce platforms provide the core features for product discovery, such as filtering by product type, brand or designer, and sorting options, various product layouts, descriptions and photos.
However, advanced features are implemented less consistently – among them, recommendations on the product page are used by 41 of 50 analyzed online marketplaces, ratings and reviews are present in 20, and truly interactive product discovery is used by only 2 of the platforms. Moreover, the recommendation system is often simple (e.g. displays products from the same category or brand) and may show the same products all the time, and ratings and reviews are often blank for most of the products. Modern customer engagement features, such as AR-based virtual try-on or interior placement of products, VR shop tours, ML-based personalized recommendations, product customization, integrated games and shoppable livestreaming are not observed in the most popular e-commerce platforms across the Middle East.
The primary goal of this customer journey stage is to make the purchase process as seamless for users as possible. All e-commerce platforms analyzed provide basic purchase features such as an editable shopping cart, an address book and various payment options. Single sign-in (SSI) and single sign-on (SSO) options that use third-party credentials like Google, Apple or Facebook to simplify customer registration are implemented in only 60% of platforms.
The payment options predominantly include card payments or “cash on delivery, and other payment systems are presented in less than half of the services. For example, Paypal is available in 17 of 50 online marketplaces, and Apple Pay – in 8 of 50. Another ripple fintech trend set by e-commerce today is “buy now pay later” (BNPL) options – in our research, 23 of 50 online marketplaces integrate such BNPL services. Among the most popular are Tabby, Postpay, Tamara and Spotii – integration of such payment options dramatically increases the platform’s attractiveness and the paying customers’ conversion.
Convenient and on-time delivery is essential as it influences customers’ satisfaction and loyalty to the marketplace. Most e-commerce platforms in the UAE provide free delivery for orders exceeding a specific value (e.g. 200 AED). Delivery time varies and depends on the retailer – we have discovered that market leaders, such as noon.com, often have the same day or next day delivery, while some companies deliver Dubai or Abu Dhabi orders within 1-2 hours. Other marketplaces deliver orders in 3-5 days on average. Order tracking is available in 40% of marketplaces. Platforms may also integrate with third-party services like Aramex or Careem to achieve faster delivery.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many customers prefer to buy products online and further pick them up in-store. For such customers, “click and collect” and “find a store” features are crucial. Only eight stores analyzed have a “click and collect” option, and a “find a store” feature is available in 60% of marketplaces.
The service step providing post-purchase assistance to the customers implies the presence of a FAQ section and various customer support service options. Only half of the researched platforms have a FAQ on their websites or in apps.
Customer support is available primarily by phone, although 21 of 50 marketplaces implement a live chat feature, for which WhatsApp is commonly integrated. At the same time, many users argue about the unsatisfactory customer support of the analyzed e-commerce platforms in comments on Apple Store and Google Play – negative experience during this step may drastically decrease the number of future purchases on the online marketplace. ML-based chatbots and virtual assistants may be deployed to simplify customer support and make it more efficient.
Loyalty programs are widely used by various businesses all over the world as they increase retention, purchase frequency, lifetime customer value, and referrals. 40% of e-commerce platforms from our list have some form of loyalty programs, which are sometimes centralized across several marketplaces belonging to the same group or brand.
Loyalty points acquired may commonly be used for further purchases, exclusive perks or discounts. They may also be expanded to include in-store achievements and provide benefits for both real and virtual goods. Another way to increase customers’ loyalty is to create a community around the platform or brand, where loyalty points may also be used.
E-commerce platforms in the GCC region provide customers with all the core functionality required to purchase successfully and do not significantly compete feature-wise. Market leaders such as Noon, Centerpoint or Namshi acquire more clients because of their user-friendly websites and apps, developed marketing campaigns, a wide variety of products sold and fast delivery service. The purchasing experience on these platforms is good but can be enhanced significantly.
Today’s pioneers of online retail actively use brand new instruments to make the customer journey breathtaking and consequently boost sales. Such features as AR and VR experiences, ML automation and personalization, interactive discovery, online customization and shoppable livestreaming have already engaged millions of customers worldwide.
Implementation of these innovations will substantially affect the market in the Middle East soon. JMIND’s vast e-commerce expertise in the development of desktop and mobile platforms, as well as Infinite, our dedicated product for sharing livestreams and videos, may help you become new leaders in the fast-changing world.
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