THE E-COMM WAKE-UP CALL
The first Qatar e-Commerce Forum held recently was rare and refreshing, and unlike anything we have been to before. Not one bit like the “all talk, no action” affairs that you'd expect. Apart from the top-calibre speakers and big presence of local e-commerce startups, we were most pleasantly surprised by two things – a very honest introspection of what is impeding Qatar's e-commerce push and the important initiatives that were announced at the event to counter these. Not a promise of something to come someday, but very concrete steps in the form of the Qatar National e-Commerce Roadmap, which gave real momentum to the discussions which took place there that day.
At first glance, it is hard to imagine why e-commerce in Qatar isn't doing as well as it should, considering the high disposable income of its citizens, the strong and secure ICT infrastructure and its highly connected society. According to ictQatar, while transactions worth QR3.67 billion ($1 billion) are conducted annually online in Qatar (which is poised to reach QR7.34 billion ($2 billion) by 2020), this accounts for only 14% of the total retail spend of the population. However, online shoppers in the country are the highest spenders in the region ($3,453 per user per year), with an average single transaction valued at QR970 ($264). These numbers will grow organically in the years to come, but as keynote speaker Charbel Sarkis, Google MENA's Sector Lead for Retail, e-Commerce, Technology and Telecom, said, “We should be asking, how do we grow 10 times?”
Numbers show that the issue is not exclusive to Qatar. Around the Gulf and the larger MENA region, e-commerce is struggling to pick up. In fact, Qatar is doing really well when compared to its neighbours, with increased awareness especially among home-based businesses which are trading and marketing through social media channels and large retailers like Lulu and IKEA who are also going online. That's why this is the perfect time for a concentrated push in the right direction to line-up all the components of the ecosystem and become a regional leader in this space. “With global highs in Internet/smartphone penetration and time spent online, the region has so much potential,” Sarkis explains. “The GCC has 10 million digital shoppers while the MENA has 25 million; this is excluding online purchases of travel and hospitality