GETTING IN TOUCH
Retail brands are reaching out to consumers through digital media, but are malls following suit?
E-COMMERCE REMAINS limited in the Mena region. And although retailers are playing it safe, there are some effective practises being developed, according to online experts.
“There has been a slower-than-expected move by large companies and brands into e-commerce. There is still desire, but also a lot of hesitancy. Even experimentation has been quite slow,” says Louis Lebbos, founding partner of Astrolabs – a website for startups and entrepreneurs established this year.
“There is more activity starting in very specific niches of e-commerce, but in general, the majority of new startups are aiming at lower capital models, such as flash sales, marketplaces and comparison sites,” he adds.
Companies that are going online are mastering the fundamentals of the in-store shopping experience.
Nespresso MEAC’s regional manager, Pierre Debayle, says: “From the feedback we have received, it will remain a priority that we provide the same level of service to our customers online, as we do in our boutiques, with a user-friendly interface, prompt delivery and accessible customer care at the forefront.”
Consumers are now demanding basic online shopping privileges, such as free shipping and free returns on purchased items. In the US and European markets, ‘ship to store’ services tend to be viewed by consumers as a means to avoid shipping costs, while leading to incremental sales gains for retailers. In the Mena region, however, the market isn’t fully developed for this to take off.
In-store web browsing has been the norm for a while, but the advent of tablets has thrown up a challenge to retailers.
While smartphones are becoming disruptive to the traditional retail environment through ‘showrooming’, tablets are changing shopping behaviour in different ways. Because tablets’ functionalities closely resemble that of computers, they are not influencing in-store shopping experience as much as they are driving in-home shopping behaviour.
In fact, according to The 2013 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper Study, which looked at e-commerce spend in the US last year, tablet users are more likely than smartphone owners to research product features and compare prices online.
Alexander Rauser, CEO of digital agency Prototype Interactive, says: “With a long battery life and improved browsing experience, tablets can offer the same portability as smartphones, but with a larger screen space allowing users to view product information, video demos and suggested related products from the comfort of their home.
“Therefore, the necessity to view, feel, double-check and test the real product options instore is no longer a ‘must have’ experience before a purchasing decision is made. These are some of the main reasons why tablets drive users towards in-home shopping, rather than in-store.”
Baiju Kurieash, managing director and CEO of the Dubai-based marketing management company BUZ, adds: “Malls have to join the ongoing digital evolution. Today’s customers are well connected and social media feeds can add a personal touch.
“Retailers are offering virtual stores, and customers are interested, so malls also need to welcome the new age of virtual stores, create interactions through social networking platforms, run competitions and stay connected with their audience at all times.”
Back to basics: Shoppers are now demanding simple online privileges, such as free shipping and returns