Online fashion in the UAE
Before I moved to Dubai from the UK four years ago, I used to do all of my shopping online. From my clothes to my weekly food shop, if I didn’t want to step into a store, I never had to. Then I arrived in the UAE and began to realise my online shopping options were somewhat limited and I was going to have to visit a mall to get what I needed. ‘The e-commerce boom started in the UAE around 2013-2014,’ says Ulugbek Yuldashev, founder and CEO of Awok.com. So we are still way behind other developed countries, who’ve had a successful industry for up to 10 years now.
Don’t get me wrong – in the last four years things have improved. Namshi.com, which you could say is the UAE’s answer to British online store Asos, launched in 2011 and has become the region’s most successful online-only mass-market fashion retailer. Souq.com is a huge platform that allows sellers to upload their own items to be sold locally. And of course many international brands are now shipping and delivering here.
But while the growth has been slow, it looks like 2017 will be the year the UAE catches up with the likes of the UK and US, making online shopping second nature to consumers.
‘One thing is for sure and that is that the consumer is in the driving seat and the catalyst for change is technology,’ says Megan Biebuyck, VP of marketing at Namshi. Namshi saw 80 per cent of its customers accessing its online store through its app on tablets or smartphones, so it’s not just about the website – it’s about understanding what makes the lives of shoppers easier.
Most recently, in December last year, Ounass, an online luxury fashion and beauty retailer, went live. Perhaps the most significant part of this announcement is that they will deliver products to consumers within two hours of ordering. (I tested out that promise this week – and our items arrived in one hour and five minutes. I’ve had salads that have taken longer to deliver.)
Early 2017 will see the launch of a very different site, Noon.com, which last week announced it will be stocking hundreds of fashion brands with over three million items available for same or next day delivery. The site says this is more than five times more than its nearest competitor.
‘For too long, consumers who want to buy fashion online in the Middle East have suffered from a lack of variety,’ says Mohammad Alabbar, the founder of Noon. The site, which will go live this month, aims to change this, with a focus on high street and sportswear, making affordable fashion easier to access online than ever before. ‘Fashion will be at the very heart of the Noon experience… We will also launch with a large private label collection that will offer unmatched value to the customer,’ said Alabbar in a statement. This private collection will be Noon’s in-house range of own-brand products – something none of its direct competitors (the likes of Namshi and Sivvi) have. Aside from fashion, the site will stock 20 million products in total, from books to health and beauty products.
Meanwhile, brands with stores within the region are acknowledging the need for online shopping by launching e-commerce versions of their brands. Ulugbek predicts, ‘With the entry of more digital commerce businesses in the market, as well as the increasing demand for online buying among consumers, there will be a more active shift from bricks-and-mortar stores to online, which will result in more sales happening through this medium.’
We are already starting to see this happen. High street store Splash went live with its shoppable website in the second half of last year, as did Marks & Spencer. Locally run boutique Valleydez announced the launch of its website the same week as it closed its Dubai flagship store – proving online is the area it will be investing in this year. While the experience of visiting the UAE’s super-malls will probably never go away, the convenience of having items delivered to your door is something that goes hand-in-hand. When we don’t have time to go to a mall, e-commerce is the easy option, and it’ll hopefully start to become a lot easier this year.
Our pick of fashion sites you can shop from: Ounass, Asos and Namshi have all made their marks in the UAE
We ordered an item from Ounass and it arrived in one hour five minutes in this lovely presentation box