The Sultanate’s e-commerce

SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –

E-commerce, which now has a modest 12 per cent market share of global trade, is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. Exciting developments in digital technologies are sure to enhance its reach and influence in ways unimaginable. Isn’t it such possibilities that make us wake up every morning with unbridled energy?
When we look at the Middle East, estimates indicate that the region’s e-commerce market is well on its way to more than double to $69 billion by next year, with the two largest e-commerce markets of UAE and Saudi Arabia at $27 billion and $22 billion respectively. These countries plus Qatar will have an estimated share of over 50 per cent of the forecast revenue in 2021.
SPENDING POWER
The potential for e-commerce in the Middle East is huge, given that online sales in the region account for only 2 per cent of the overall retail sales, which is way below the 15 per cent figure in developed markets.
The growth of the region’s e-commerce sector is ensured by high spending potential, state-of-the-art logistics and transport networks, rising internet penetration and a growing segment of tech-savvy youngsters. Further, the Middle East is an ideal e-commerce investment destination, with only a few players presently dominating its e-commerce market, and a significant easing of major market barriers such as infrastructure, trade licenses and warehousing facilities.
At present, less than 20 per cent of the Middle East retailers have an online presence, and nearly 90 per cent of the online purchases are shipped from abroad, which translates into exciting e-commerce potential.
THE BIGGEST BRANDS
Categories that rank top on the buying list of the region’s online shoppers are clothing, footwear and consumer electronics, along with flight tickets and hotel reservations, while groceries remain at the bottom.
Notable e-commerce players in the region include top global brands such as Amazon and eBay, along with Namshi.com, Ali Express, Nahel.com, Ubuy.com, Aido.com, Awok.com and Mumzworld.com to name a few.
There is talk of vigorous consolidation in the region’s e-commerce sector, and Amazon’s acquisition of Souq.com, which has a pan-GCC presence, can be viewed as a trend-setter. That Amazon has also set up its Data Center in Bahrain in support of its regional market expansion strategies highlights how lucrative is the Middle East’s e-commerce sector.
But even a global giant like Amazon is facing the heat of domestic players: the Saudi-based Noon.com — launched in 2017 after a technology fund led by its founder acquired UAE’s JadoPado.com — is giving a tough fight to the e-commerce leader. More such consolidations are expected in the future.
Interestingly, physical retailers in the region have “realized” the significance of e-shopping, and now customers are getting a chance to shop online as well, with major brands including Carrefour and Lulu Group launching online shopping portals in the UAE. Regional players also attract customers through their mobile apps.
M-SHOPPING IN OMAN
As for the Sultanate, its e-commerce market is still nascent, commanding a minuscule one per cent of total sales. The positive takeaway is that this spells great scope for growth, especially for the young and ambitious entrepreneurs in the Sultanate. With over a fourth of Oman’s population purchasing products through foreign e-portals, the business potential of home-grown e-commerce platforms is amazing. It may also be noted that despite Oman’s smart phone usage ranking among the top in Middle East, only 8 per cent of the population opted for m-shopping.
Already a few smart e-commerce firms have emerged in the Sultanate, and more are expected to come up. But the moot point is how many of these ventures have the required creativity, innovation and digital expertise to take on the might of the global heavyweights in the sector. The key elements that can ensure the success of e-commerce firms in the Sultanate are how well they cater to the specific cultural and commercial needs of Oman’s customers in a highly personalised, unrestrained and effortless digital interaction across all the touch-points in the buying process.
SCOPE FOR ENTREPRENEURS
Certainly, a vibrant e-commerce sector in the Sultanate heralds exciting times for Omani industries offering supply-chain management, logistics and warehousing services. The upshot also includes better entrepreneurial avenues for ambitious Omanis in the fields of data analytics, AI, web design, creative programming, digital marketing, cataloguing and app development, as well as rewarding new job opportunities for Omani youths in these areas.
On a different note, Oman’s higher education sector is expected to proactively address the estimated huge skill shortage in its e-commerce industry by offering market-ready programmes across digital marketing, legal e-business documentation, web and app
design etc.