At­trac­tive Sec­tors for New En­trants

Arabnet - The Quarterly - - Front Page - By Narain Jhangiani-jashan­mal | @njashan­mal

In early 2012, Face­book found it­self in a po­si­tion that many busi­nesses find them­selves in to­day; the peo­ple us­ing Face­book were mi­grat­ing away from the desk­top web­site to the mo­bile web and mo­bile apps—a be­hav­ior spurred by the rapid adop­tion of Ap­ple’s iphone and An­droid-based smart­phones.

Later that year, Mark Zucker­berg spoke about how the com­pany piv­oted

in­ter­view to be­come a mo­bile first en­ter­prise dur­ing an at Techcrunch Dis­rupt. The bet worked and to­day Face­book is one of the most per­va­sive and heav­ily-used mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions out there.

From Off­line to Mo­bile, Skip­ping the Desk­top Age

While the shift to mo­bile is per­haps less of a press­ing ex­is­ten­tial dilemma for non-tech­nol­ogy firms, it is un­de­ni­able that the con­sumer be­hav­ior around it is hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on how busi­nesses ac­quire, en­gage

with, re­tain, and drive long-term value from their cus­tomers.

Let’s look at the three largest mar­kets in the MENA re­gion (the UAE, Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt) with the num­ber of peo­ple on Face­book and their mo­bile be­hav­ior as a proxy for the mar­ket as a whole.

The num­bers in Fig­ure 1 speak for them­selves. Peo­ple in the re­gion over­whelm­ingly use mo­bile de­vices as their pri­mary com­put­ing de­vice and within that An­droid de­vices rep­re­sent the sub­stan­tial ma­jor­ity. This is a grow­ing mar­ket, wait­ing to be served.

Mo­bile de­vices are blur­ring the lines be­tween the phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal worlds,

Uber Ca­reem en­abling the re­al­time me­di­a­tion of sup­ply and de­mand. Apps like or could not have ex­isted on desk­top; the ser­vice they pro­vide is born from be­hav­ior in­her­ent to mo­bile. This same con­sumer be­hav­ior is per­me­at­ing busi­nesses in all sec­tors. Peo­ple com­ing online for the first time are do­ing so from mo­bile de­vices, free from the legacy of the desk­top web with no par­tic­u­lar affin­ity for the brands and ser­vices that shaped that era.

What is also clear is that na­tive mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions are hand­ily win­ning against the mo­bile web, as il­lus­trated by the charts from Flurry, a mo­bile an­a­lyt­ics firm (Fig­ure 2 and Fig­ure 3). These charts are based on US data, but given that smart­phone us­age in MENA over-in­dexes the rest of the world, the trend shown is likely more pro­nounced in the re­gion.

While fos­ter­ing an ecosys­tem that can help build an ex­port econ­omy for apps from the MENA re­gion is a wor­thy am­bi­tion, equally, there is a more im­me­di­ate op­por­tu­nity for lo­cal busi­nesses to build ser­vices that cater to re­gional speci­fici­ties. Online re­tail is an ex­am­ple of a sec­tor that has been quick to em­brace this.

All of the ma­jor ecom­merce play­ers in the re­gion have re­leased na­tive mo­bile apps in the past year or so and in most re­gional mar­kets rank above in­ter­na­tional com­peti­tors like Ama­zon and Wish in the lo­cal app stores.

Lo­cal pric­ing, de­liv­ery times, abil­ity to easily re­turn items, cash-on-de­liv­ery, lo­cal lan­guage sup­port both in terms of the in­ter­face and cus­tomer ser­vice are all re­quire­ments that fa­vor lo­cal apps com­pared to global ones.

A Case from the West

A good ex­am­ple of a tra­di­tional busi­ness adapt­ing to this re­al­ity by an­a­lyz­ing the be­hav­ior of their cus­tomers, iden­ti­fy­ing mar­ket op­por­tu­nity, and us­ing the tech­nol­ogy tools avail­able to build an app that de­liv­ers both util­ity and de­light to their cus­tomers while also mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to their busi­ness is the US re­tailer Tar­get and its

Cartwheel app.

Tar­get al­ready had a legacy desk­top and mo­bile friendly ecom­merce site and a newer ecom­merce app. How­ever, their phys­i­cal lo­ca­tions re­mained a fun­da­men­tal part of their busi­ness, so they built a sep­a­rate app whose sole pur­pose is to as­sist cus­tomers with prod­uct dis­cov­ery based on their pur­chase history and then drive cus­tomers in store to pur­chase those items, in­cen­tiviz­ing them to do so us­ing coupons, a dis­tinctly US con­sumer be­hav­ior.

Within a few weeks of launch, the Cartwheel app was al­ready see­ing a sig­nif­i­cantly higher num­ber of down­loads than the ex­ist­ing ecom­merce app. This trend has re­mained the same ever since, mak­ing Cartwheel a core part of Tar­get’s dig­i­tal strat­egy.

The App Op­por­tu­nity for Busi­nesses in MENA

Based on a per­sonal as­sess­ment, com­bined with some of the other data pre­sented in this ar­ti­cle, here’s an at­tempt at map­ping the op­por­tu­ni­ties for apps in the MENA re­gion on both IOS and An­droid. When think­ing about weight­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties, some of the fol­low­ing fac­tors were taken into ac­count: strength of ex­ist­ing play­ers in the space, whether those play­ers have generic propo­si­tions or if their ser­vices are tai­lored to the re­gion, the white spa­ces that ex­ist for po­ten­tial dis­rup­tion in a given sec­tor, and how much im­pact such dis­rup­tion could have. Though not com­pre­hen­sive, this chart in­di­cates that while there are some strong re­gional play­ers in these key cat­e­gories, other ar­eas are wide open.

Time to Think Mo­bile

First In con­clu­sion, mo­bile de­vices are where a grow­ing ma­jor­ity of peo­ple are spend­ing most of their time, and spend­ing time in apps is what they’re do­ing on those de­vices.

Given the lead times in­volved, if you’re build­ing some­thing now, think of how the world go­ing to look like in 18 months when you ship it. One thing that is clear is that if you’re not think­ing mo­bile first, and more specif­i­cally, about build­ing an app rather than web, then it may be worth

go­ing back to the draw­ing board.

The good news is that build­ing an app to­day is eas­ier than ever be­fore and likely to get even eas­ier over time. So­lu­tions like which Face­book ac­quired in 2013.

Fi­nally, the im­por­tant thing to bear in mind is that the best mo­bile apps fo­cus on solv­ing for one par­tic­u­lar prob­lem. The op­por­tu­nity for your busi­ness is to zero in on a par­tic­u­lar pain point and build an app that ad­dresses it, thus al­low­ing your busi­ness not only to serve ex­ist­ing cus­tomers more ef­fec­tively, but also to use the app as a chan­nel to ac­quire new ones.

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