GET­TING IN TOUCH

Re­tail brands are reach­ing out to con­sumers through dig­i­tal me­dia, but are malls fol­low­ing suit?

Gulf Marketing Review - - SECTOR ANALYSIS -

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

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