One of the significant business model developments encouraged by digital renaissance is the birth of digital marketplaces, professionally known as ‘eCommerce’. The rise of eCommerce came with an entire evolution to brands’ experiences, market dynamics and consumer empowerment. The eCommerce market in MENA today is worth billions of dollars, with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt taking the lion’s share, creating limitless possibilities for brands of the region. The Brandberries has exclusively interviewed TJ Lightwala, Regional Head of FAST & Performance at Mindshare MENA, on her take on how eCommerce empowers brands.

BB: The eCommerce market in the Middle East has been on a massive rise, unlocking a wide multitude of opportunities for retail and non-retail brands as well. Can you shed some light on how eCommerce can be a pivotal growth imperative for businesses?

TJL: According to the BMI research report, the eCommerce market in the region is expected to reach $48.6B by 2022, growing at a rate of almost 17% over the last three years. This is significant, considering the region has been traditionally a market that enjoys a more physical retail experience, and conservative in terms of online payments as part of e-transactions. A lot has changed in the MENA eCommerce landscape with the acceleration of online stores in electronics and clothing, and with large aggregators having their own online gateways such as Namshi, Noon, and Amazon.

TJ Lightwala

Trends in online payments have also changed. Visa conducted a poll in mid-2018 and out of 600 participants, 66% now state that they are happy and comfortable buying online and the percentage is even higher reaching 81% for Emiratis.

The partnership of and e-Bay, Amazon’s acquisition of, Al Tayer with, Chahloub & Farfetch, the proliferation of digital wallets, couponing and offers-based platforms with Zomato, Uber Eats and Deliver all represent changing patterns of commerce and payment.

Therefore, it is a must for businesses and agencies to pivot their offerings where the consumption lies. eCommerce platforms are strong enablers, real- time data feeds are a must to ensure that SKUs are available, and expert optimization will bring out the nuances on demand.

BB: Global giants like Amazon and eBay were the trailblazers at the forefront of the eCommerce industry, revolutionizing the whole customer experience equation. What does eCommerce mean for consumers? and how it’s reshaping the way consumers engage with brands?

TJL:  eCommerce is not a fad or a trend. It is a convenience that brings find-ability, utility and eases in the consumer cycle. When marketers can personalize offers online, we can avoid hours on the road, walking through stores, and searching for good deals. Furthermore, it increases efficiency and productivity. As marketers, we are quick to think about how to facilitate demand generation and share expertise on e-commerce across all service pillars, paid search, paid social, audience-based buying and so forth.

To break through the clutter, it is crucial to identify the right partners and expertise to execute the e-commerce mindset.

BB: Due to the scaling demand for technology in the online retail scene, brands hand in hand with retailers and wholesalers must implement omnichannel experience strategies. Please comment.

TJL: The Omnichannel mindset is not new. It is important for businesses to transform with speed, and relevance. I believe it’s a scale equation. When you are at the tipping point of consumer demand, it is then possible to collect, size and create opportunities based on customer segments of habits, behaviors and interests across channels and markets. The beauty lies in its application, and therefore our ability to witness it. For instance, Amazon’s personalization platform has the ability to customize offers based on the user’s past views, purchases and in-cart goods, while in sync opening physical stores in Seattle and California. USA’s Warby Parker is an online retailer of eyewear which also opened physical stores to meet demand where purchases can be made online and picked up in store.

BB: What are the considerations brands should consciously be aware of on their road to a successful digital transformation strategy?

TJL: Very often, marketers confuse digital with digital transformation; both are quite different. Integration of people, process and technology across all layers of the organization in an e-space defines transformation in the long-term. A few determinants for success would be:

  1. Digitalization of the organization (process of converting all analog to digital, records, finance, operations, procurement, media, etc).
  2. Platform investments – per line of business in finance, supply chain, marketing, data sciences, media and planning to create standards that are pervasive, carry scale and over time make it simpler and trackable.
  3. Talent – rewire the skills that are relevant in the digital economy. Engineers, programmers, digital story tellers, data science experts, programmatic experts etc.  
  4. Safety and Data Protection – keep assets (digital, people records, customer records) safe and under multiple lines of surveillance. A safe organization drives confidence internally and externally.
  5. Keep your focus on milestones, celebrate the journey, the process takes time!
  6. Stakes in digital transformation require the highest levels of sponsorship from the executive committees and board due to the nature of investments in talent, infrastructure, process and protection.