UAE-based online marketplace Desertcart’s volumes double in recent months. “In some months – especially May-June – our volumes doubled compared to the previous month, sometimes even 70% over the previous month,” shares founder Rahul Swaminathan. “Before the pandemic, our average order volume would be 1,000 across the GCC, which increased to 2,500 during the lockdown, even touched 3,000 on a certain day. As people started staying at home, our volumes have grown consistently.”
Globally, online sales have been boosted as the pandemic broke out and people began shopping on the internet. According to research firm RedSeer Consulting, the online retail market in the UAE, worth $5.7 billion, rose 55% since the onset of COVID-19, and is expected to keep growing through Q4 2020 to cross $6 billion annually by the end of 2020.
Like most e-commerce retailers, Desertcart – an online marketplace founded in 2014 – has also clocked significant growth over the past few months. The platform offers over 100 million products, helping customers find international brands and items that are not directly available in the region. Desertcart ships products from the UAE, the US, the UK, Turkey, Japan and China, with priority delivery across the GCC.
“At the time we started Desertcart, the online regional retail landscape wasn’t as mature as it is today. We created a platform where shoppers could easily find a variety of brands on a single platform,” says Swaminathan. Until recently, Desertcart functioned as an on-demand platform through collaborations with third-party service providers – from courier to warehouse and even customer service. But over the past couple of years, the brand has brought a few functions in-house – including customer service and warehousing. “Our mission is to offer customers what they need and deliver it to them as quickly as possible. By bringing a few functions in-house, we have been able to improve our delivery timelines and even pricing,” he adds.
Although a wide variety of brands and products are available on Desertcart along with doorstep delivery, it comes at a premium as the pricing tends to be high. “Our pricing could seem high,” Swaminathan agrees. “However, we have to factor in international shipping that’s expensive. In addition, we have a hassle-free, no question asked return policy, which our customers have come to value. Recently, we have even increased the return period from 30 to almost 50 days. This has increased our customers’ willingness to shop with us. People, even first-time online shoppers, have built trust in our platform, as they were willing to pay by cards.”
Staying with products, Desercart has expanded its portfolio to include cosmetics and beauty products, baby products and niche electronic goods. The pandemic has accelerated Desertcart’s scalability plans as it saw its volumes grow.
“Eventually, every form of shopping will happen through the internet. Our goal is to add value to online shopping. We have seen a lot of browsers being converted to buyers and such shopping behaviours tend to stick, as people realise the convenience of doorstep delivery,” Swaminathan observes. “Recently, we have launched the Desertcart Plus model, giving our customers the option to pay AED30 upfront to avail free doorstep delivery throughout the month, with no minimum order value. Now, they shop three-four times a month spending more with us, even if the per cart value is less.”
In order to facilitate quick doorstep delivery, Desertcart has partnered with various logistics players based on their reach, delivery timelines and level of service in different markets. When asked if Desertcart would ever consider owing its last-mile, Swaminathan says, “Last-mile is a volume game and as our volumes grow further, we might do it in-house.”
Having built a loyal customer base in the UAE, with 40% being returning customers shopping on Desertcart at least once a month, it has started shipping to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. “We might even set up regional offices there,” Swaminathan concludes.
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