Panel: Getting the golden rules of e-commerce right

December 23, 2021 | By Zubina Ahmed

If you were in business during the pandemic, then you’ve probably heard and used the P-word – Pivot – enough and more times. And one of the biggest pivots that the retail industry witnessed was its digital acceleration and shift to e-commerce. In this panel discussion at #MRF2021, we discussed with pure play e-tailers and e-commerce heads of retail firms, the golden rules of getting e-commerce right.  The speakers were  Kunal Kapoor, Founder of The Luxury Closet, Leena Khalil, Co-founder of Mumzworld ,Thomas Prom, Head of E-commerce at Virgin Megastore and Majed M Al Tahan, CEO of Danube Online, who joined us remotely from Saudi Arabia. Were you there at the Images RetailME’s 10th Middle East Retail Forum 2021? If you missed the event and would like to watch the full session, download the RetailME App.

There are so many different opinions and reports on e-commerce landscape in the MENA region. As per a recent survey by google “The UAE market is going to surpass the UK market as more businesses in the Gulf take steps to expand their online presence”. There is another Visa survey finding which highlights significant changes in attitude towards e-commerce following the impact of Covid-19 with 64% of those surveyed in this region reporting an increase in their online spending and 87% saying that this will continue for good. Another report by Zebra Technologies mentions that more than half of decision makers surveyed believe that they are completely trusted to fulfill online orders as promised but only 38% of shoppers indicate complete trust in retailers. There is only 1 in 4 shoppers who trust their retailers when it comes to fullfillment.  Consumers are going online, business’s are adapting to the change in technology and behavioral patterns. Starting an e-commerce website is easy but getting it right, successful and profitable is a challenge. With the e-commerce industry booming, there are now more opportunities than ever for small retail enterprises and bricks and mortar retailers to turn their business to the online retail store. However, for building a business, certain key considerations and strategies must be observed when launching a successful e-commerce business.

E-commerce is the future for the GCC. The world has shifted to a customer-centric model with consumer behaviours, trends and data having become the new gold. Players in the space need to understand what their customers want, and adapt to their changing needs. Mumzworld, the largest mother, baby and child e-commerce platform in the Middle East, has signed a sales and purchase agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Tamer Group for a proposed acquisition of a majority stake in Mumzworld. Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.  Talking about the latest acquisition Leena Khalil, Co-founder of Mumzworld said “Mumzworld coming together as a team has given us a tremendous insight into how to cater to our customer needs better, how to provide better content to them, how to create communities that are meaningful to them. The choice to partner with a regional player like Tamer Group is a deliberate one, as it allows the company to continue to grow in key regional markets and expand its digital footprint”. The first step of building a successful ecommerce store is, all you have to guarantee is that you have a product or service that your customer wants. Or else you won’t make any profits coming in at all. 

Majed M Al Tahan, Co-founder & Ceo, Danube Online is an award-winning entrepreneur and young e-commerce leader in Saudi Arabia with a great passion to impact the apps market. A first-mover in the Kingdom to tackle the e-commerce grocery space, from an early age, he was eager to build his own businesses and take the entrepreneurial plunge. Majed recognised that e-commerce was the missing element in the Saudi commerce landscape at the time and he grabbed the opportunity to begin his journey to build the first-ever online service for grocery shopping in the Kingdom with the BinDawood Group. In 2016, he co-founded Danube Online to revolutionise the region’s e-commerce space. Today, at the helm of Danube Online and AYM Commerce, he’s focused on developing the technology behind the e-commerce app and spearheading the transformation of grocery shopping space. What makes e-grocery special than any other business in the e-commerce space? Majed reiterates “We deal with fresh food items and that adds a bit more of challenge , as goods are perishable and we have to do quite a lot for fulfilling the orders. Ever since the pandemic hit, we were kind of ready for the resurgent demand. The orders were high and we got ready to fulfill those customer orders and hence we are focusing on a lot of things. So what are the three areas he focusses on to make his e-commerce business survive? “Fulfillment rate is a big important aspect of our business. During the pandemic getting orders was not the issue, but fulfilling them was important. We also focus on on-time deliveries and the third main pillar for us is the customer service centre where we know we have to immediately solve any customer issues”, added Majed.  

Another important aspect is bridging the gap between physical and digital retail. Thomas Prom, Head of Omnichannel at Virgin Megastore based in Dubai did exactly that, “For Virgin megastore we decided to go fully to go omni-channel. The challenge for us was delivering. “As Virgin Megastore evolved over the years to become the destination for technophiles, entertainment seekers and style setters, we wanted to create an e-commerce site that was an extension of the store experience. Shoppers can now view the brand’s entire catalog online and check availability of stores’ stock for all products in real-time said Thomas. In addition, all systems and processes deployed are future-proof, enabling the company to further roll-out its omnichannel roadmap across the region.

A growing e-commerce trend is called “ReCommerce” where resale is the “new normal”. With reCommerce, the original owner sells the used product to a second party. Taking this into account, the luxury online re-commerce business is finding its space in the market with the support of both investors and brands. One best example is Luxury closet,  Dubai’s leading online luxury resale market. Founded in 2012 by Kunal Kapoor, The Luxury Closet is an online store that sells pre-owned fashion items. In these uncertain  pandemic times, it has emerged as a silent winner because luxury consumers have been turning to second-hand retail as a more affordable and more accessible option.  “Resale is the future of shopping. We expect one in six transactions to be pre-owned by the end of the decade. This marks a paradigm shift in consumer choice and the value chain of the fashion and retail industry which in turn will contribute to the circular economy, said Kunal Kapoor. 

Technological advancements have enabled e-commerce companies to meet customer’s purchasing needs with ease and speed. Customers can get anything at the click of a button on the same day, all thanks to the latest available technology. So, while operations and fullfilment looks into the backend side of things, what technologies have retailers adopted to fulfill best customer experiences. Thomas Prom states” In the last 10 years , technology has a lot been about delivering as much product as we can and as fast as we can. When we talk about emerging technologies, live shopping is one of them where you merge social media, marketing and  live shopping, we are still at the very early stages of it”. Leading chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba recently launched a cloud-based livestreaming product designed for online shopping. It will allow e-commerce players to launch a live stream shopping feature on their websites or apps that are hosted on Alibaba’s cloud. Livestream shopping usually involves a host talking about products that customers can buy directly via the live broadcast. It has become very popular in China, growing in other parts of Asia and could be one of the leading emerging technology trends for driving forward digital business success.

When talking about adopting technology in e-commerce. Today, internet marketers are no longer waiting to adapt to the next great breakthrough the internet offers them, instead they are taking a proactive approach in creating the next internet evolution, Web 3.0, the Transcendent Web! Where do we see the future of web 3.0 integrated into e-commerce . Leena enunciates, “Where I’d like to see 3.0 go is an internet that can come to terms with the value that shared data brings, without harming their sense of privacy. This is idealistic, as privacy is surely important. Moreover, we are still focussed on the customer attention time to turn them into your loyal customer. We as retailers are all chasing those few seconds; through the integration of social profiles, the semantic web, the technology that will allow the storing of vast amounts of data and the use of artificial intelligence to interpret and filter data. “Web 3.0 will be the next great revelation to e-commerce. Web 3.0 is still very much in its infancy stage but it is coming so get prepared”, said Leena. Another best support service is a live-chat or AI-enabled chatbot that works 24/7 for your customers. This way you can increase your sales conversion. 

The bottom line is with e-commerce, you really need to build up trust, because people aren’t seeing you in person.If you can’t manage the live support resources, you should ensure some type of service to help your customers over the phone or email. We are almost towards the end of 2021 and much like starting any business, learning how to start an e-commerce business isn’t always easy — but setting up, launching, maintaining and following these golden rules can make it more attainable now than ever. 






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