Is e-Commerce coming of age in Oman?

Retail e-commerce sales worldwide amounted to $1.86 trillion in 2016, while e-retail revenues are projected to grow to $4.48 trillion in 2021. With online shopping being one of the most popular online activities worldwide, smartphones are one of the most popular products shopped online.
But in Oman, the e-commerce growth has been on the slower side due to limitations on the logistics side.
Online shoppers feel shipment has been a major drawback for them till date. “It is not about e-payments and Internet connectivity, which are reasonably fine in Oman. Shipment is a big issue as getting a product here is just not cost-effective.”
In recent years, customers have been getting goods from neighbouring countries and even the US. “Some courier agencies help us open an address in the US and the product is delivered to that account. From there, it has been shipped to us at a price,” said an executive of a courier company that offers such facilities.
Oman Post has made strides in this direction in recent months as the company aims to tap the e-commercial potential, which also offers opportunities to SMEs and start-ups.
In partnership with a Dubai-based company, Oman Post launched a new delivery service app called Ersal in which the products will be delivered home based on mobile location.
This is important as a lot of people in Oman have difficulties in spelling out their home addresses and the courier delivery teams find it difficult to track them in time.
Oman Post also launched an e-shipping service ‘Matjar’ to facilitate online shopping as it will help the customer to collect his/her goods after they are purchased from markets such as the US, India or China.
The new service, which will help in the shipment of online purchases, is expected to boost Oman’s competitiveness for e-commerce in the global and regional market.
Initially, it will be only available for purchases made in the US, which will be delivered to Oman in seven days.
“We need not do things alone, there can be partnership with private parties, including revenue-sharing or capacity-sharing agreements. There is enough scope to work as a facilitator with the private sector in areas of delivery, fulfilment and technology, Abdulmalik Abdulkarim al Balushi, CEO, Oman Post, had told the Observer earlier.
There are plans to have 11 distribution centres across the Sultanate to cater to the orders from their areas.
“We need to improve the last-mile delivery for e-commerce. For this we need a system to know where exactly the customer is and reach him or her.”
Shopping is seen as a form of art where it takes special skills to bargain for prices, distinguish a good product from the ordinary one and find out whether the price is justified or not.
While that kind of bargaining is still found in the traditional shopping districts, the emergence of online shopping or e-commerce has changed the need for particular skills.
What the customers need to do is compare the prices for the same product on multiple shopping sites and choose the most reasonable one.
While a few e-commerce sites do offer cash-on-delivery option, generally it is about pay-first mode through e-payment channels.
Alatoolmuscat.com has been a popular online shopping option in Oman for the last couple of years, but the operating model is different.
A product is featured on the website for a limited period of time. Email alerts are sent to subscribers on new deals that can be availed of online.
The deals include products at discounted prices, vouchers for restaurant dining and spa sessions.
“It is about taking advantage of an offer that is lower than that in the market. They could be vouchers for restaurant dining or musical concerts,” said Layla al Balushi, who has availed of such offers several times.

VINOD NAIR