We ecommerce folks love to contemptuously sermonize about ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’, it helps us feel important, like we’re charging forward, dressed in khaki, machete in hand, clearing a trail for injured retailers “follow me, this way to the future”. In truth, ecommerce doesn’t move as quickly as we like to portray. Websites still look and function the same as they did several years ago and behind the scenes, most of us are still warbling on about ‘personalization’. Nevertheless, at about this time every year, people like me emerge, crystal ball in hand, making bold proclamations about “transformative digital trends” that will shape the future of…. you know the rest.

Perhaps this explains why digitals’ short history is littered with so many burnt-out buzzwords; the charred remains of “game changers” that once promised to “transform how we shop”. Every year we’re assured this is the year ‘voice-commerce’ disrupts the search-browse-shop purchase journey. “99% of consumers say they will purchase using voice next year”. Except, this is a lie, and they don’t. ‘Social-commerce’ is another long-promised revolution now smoldering on the roadside. Tik Tok and Meta’s attempts to homogenize shopping and social have failed. Undeterred, amazon are now trying their hand with Inspire; a Tik Tok-esq experience that connects amazon customers with shoppable content created by fellow customers, influencers, and brands.

But this all sounds very web 2, and we all know 2023 is certain to be the year ecommerce emigrates entirely to the metaverse… or so my LinkedIn feed keeps telling me. Writing about future trends means there’s no escaping web 3.0, inevitably, we’re in for another year of brands frantically trying to colonize this new space. Consumers on the other hand, will remain firmly in web 2, patiently waiting for the whole metaverse experience to mature beyond a basic prototype.

In truth, the changing of the calendar doesn’t induce radical transformation. In MENA, the trends that will influence the months ahead have already started to creep into view. 

Consolidation in Q-commerce / e-grocery – there’s simply too many fish in a small, low margin pond. Zomato has already stepped back from groceries and is now directing users to Talabat. And earlier this month amazon launched a fresh food partnership with lulu. Online grocery is a category that will continue to grow in 2023 but we’ll see the number of operators shrink. 

Conversational commerce – WhatsApp already plays host to a sizeable unstructured commerce community. 2023 needs to be the year that Meta capitalizes on this. In India, JioMart and Meta piloted an end 2 end, browse-to-purchase experience entirely enclosed within Whatsapp – I hope we see this development reach the Middle East in 2023.

India’s influence increases – Firstcry were the first (pun intended) of the major Indian ecommerce platforms to spread west to the Middle East, and they’ve been incredibly successful in carving out a market presence in a competitive category. Others will follow, keep an eye on Nykaa (who last month signed an agreement with Apparel group).

Ecommerce Exits – crashing tech valuations, rising interest rates and a waning VC appetite for risk means the era of cheap money is coming to an end. Despite top line growth, the majority of regional ecom businesses are not yet cash positive and this presents a dichotomy. This year we saw the noon acquisition of namshi, expect more movement among some of the big ecommerce names.

Retail media revolution – We’ve seen this in the US over the past 18 months and it’s only a matter of time before the tier 1 commerce platforms in MENA start to look for more ways to monetize their traffic. Carrefour have already signed a partnership with Citrus ads and this month, noon added product listing ads to their media products. In 2023 we can expect more categories on more platforms to be peppered with ‘sponsored products’ – a great media opportunity for brands.

Domestic dominance – cross-border merchants (sellers shipping into the region from outside the region) account for over 50% of the products purchased online in MENA. As local businesses continue to launch competitive commerce propositions and international brands invest further in regional fulfillment the balance will shift. AndiIn 2023 the majority of online purchases will be fulfilled from within the GCC. 

Demise of the discount, discount, discount “strategy” – regional commerce is maturing, more consumers are actively choosing to shop online and the experience of buying online is getting better and better. 2022 has been one long promotional period for online retailers, next year we should see a more disciplined approach to discount and e-tailers will look for other levers to draw in customers beyond just price.

I began this article cynically scorning those big, bold ‘breakthrough’ predictions for the year ahead but, as I write this, I’m tormented by a faint yet commanding voice from deep inside my head – imploring me to add Live-commerce to this list “all the ingredients are here, the influencer culture….” it assertively whispers. I find myself reluctantly nodding and rationalizing that this year we’ve seen 2 local live video shopping solutions launch in MENA. Could 2023 be the year that live commerce makes the journey west from China and we all start shopping through live streams?