The pandemic has helped boost digital marketplaces in the region, opines Muhammad Chbib, CEO at Tradeling.
7 November 2020
The pandemic has propelled the use of e-commerce in the region and globally. What are the key trends you have seen? The most significant trend is the growth of homegrown capabilities in e-commerce in the region. Globally, while e-commerce has been recording strong growth – accelerated no doubt by the pandemic – the region has witnessed a transformational growth in the evolution of the digital economy. Not only have our homegrown companies demonstrated strong resolve to meet the needs of the people and support them, we have seen a tremendous amount of entrepreneurship – with new startups entering the market and building their own niche.
The second trend is more consumers warming up to the possibilities offered by e-commerce. While digital commerce was gaining momentum, one of the factors that has stymied its growth in the region is the relatively lower credit card penetration in some markets. There have also been typical concerns associated with conducting everyday business online. However, one thing the pandemic has brought about is the adoption of digital payments and the increased confidence of consumers to shop online and conduct e-commerce transactions.
In the B2B e-commerce space, how high is the penetration in the GCC market? Has it grown significantly this year? While B2B e-commerce was evolving at a slower pace compared to consumer-oriented digital business, this year has witnessed a real transformation. I believe it is a case of supply and demand. What matters is that in the new reality, business customers too want to access products and services easily, quickly and efficiently. We see a growth in the B2B marketplace – here in the UAE – and growing enquiries from across the GCC.
Which are the verticals within the sector where you see most scope for growth? It is really a matter of bringing more options to the customer, whatever the vertical. Customers like to shop around and feel they get value for money and exemplary service. But it is also a matter of sourcing new products and services that aren’t in the region yet.
For those entering the digital B2B industry, what are the main challenges? The main challenges are finding the right talent with expertise and insights into the B2B sector, which is a different terrain compared to B2C e-commerce. An in-depth understanding of the global market is essential in addition to knowledge of the trading dynamics. You must be flexible and agile to overcome any unprecedented situation. It is also a matter of understanding the customer – the B2B customer is very different from the B2C customer.
Our priority is making the customer journey seamless, taking away their pain points and streamlining processes to ensure efficiencies that save them time and money.
Tradeling launched in April, in the midst of the lockdown – how was your experience? Do you have any immediate plans to expand? We created Tradeling during the pandemic to connect regional and global suppliers to MENA-based business demand. Today, we have close to 400 suppliers from over 25 countries with gross merchandising value increasing from zero to a high two-digit million figure in just three months.
The key to overcoming the challenges was to enhance market confidence and we took decisive steps in this regard. Today, we have gone from a team of 40 to nearly 100 people and we continue to hire.
From logistics to financing support to ensuring a fully secure payment gateway, we are the first of our kind B2B platform across the region. This is our USP and this integrated approach to business has enabled us to address the challenges.
Looking ahead, what is the future of digital marketplaces in the region? Digital marketplaces constitute the future of retail and in the new reality, they will record a stronger rate of growth compared to brick-and-mortar retail. But the key for success is to define your own unique niche for the marketplace; increasingly, we see online aggregators trying to capitalise on the opportunity, which will only lead to market fragmentation. What we need is bold, innovative ideas that will help accelerate the momentum of e-commerce growth in the region.COVID-19DIGITAL MARKETPLACEE-COMMERCEGCCTRADELING
An analysis of the results of this year’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy reveals key takeaways for the region’s marketers looking for growth opportunities, from finding niche audiences in smaller markets to developing more resonant touchpoints.
“As certain MENA markets are already enduring their second wave of COVID-19 and several continue to be buffeted by economic recession, identifying new strategies for growth is vital for brands,” says Lucy Aitken, Managing Editor, Case Studies at WARC.
“In this report, we’ve identified new approaches that this year’s winners have incorporated in their campaigns that can help brands to build strong strategic frameworks that have growth baked in.”
The four key takeaways highlighted in WARC’s 2020 MENA Strategy Report are:
1. Target the frontier markets
Pragmatic solutions that help specific communities in MENA’s frontier markets can be instrumental in driving growth. Empowering marginalised communities, particularly within the region’s smaller markets, can be an effective way to brand-build.
This year’s Grand Prix-winning initiative from Tunisie Telecom helped female farmers access social security via their handsets. The technological innovation instigated by the campaign set the precedent for a new digital government vision.
Melek Ourir, Strategic Planner at Wunderman Thompson Tunisia, advises: “Resist the temptation to ignore smaller markets and audiences that could unlock significant growth for your business.”
2. Unconventional touchpoints can underpin strategy
Identifying new, creative touchpoints strengthens strategy, resonating with or delighting audiences.
Three standout campaigns addressed consumer challenges and were not constrained by where the brands were traditionally ‘allowed’ to be present: clothing retailer Babyshop promoted the long-term health of mothers; cheese brand Puck reclaimed share at breakfast and lunch; and NGO Donner Sang Compter encouraged those who spill their own blood onto the streets in the tradition of Ashura to donate it instead.
Admiring the risks and the rulebreakers among this year’s winners that explored new touchpoints, judge Sunjay Malik, Associate Director, Strategy at PHD UAE, says: “Media mixes are rulebooks that we set ourselves, which over time make us less imaginative and less brave. Long live the rulebreakers, who in challenging themselves inspire us to be better.”
3. Humour: a strategic shortcut to likeability
Making people laugh is one of the most powerful ways to connect and can make your brand distinct from the competition.
Winning brands that used humour include Burger King, which launched a new spicy menu with its Who Said Men Don’t Cry campaign; telco Jawwy, which used entertaining video content to resonate with Saudi youth; and Egyptian telco Etisalat crafting a comic campaign to win customers over to its hybrid offer.
Jury member Shagorika Heryani, Head of Strategy at Grey MENA, says: “There’s always a place for humour – even during a crisis. Smart brands understand the relationship between humour and humanity. Companies know that we buy from brands and people we like. And humour is a shortcut to likeability and authenticity.”
4. Localise to resonate
This year’s winners are a treasure trove of local insight, proving how time invested upfront to unearth strong local insights tends to pay dividends in terms of a robust strategy.
Best-in-class examples include: KFC in Saudi Arabia, which communicated its commitment to locally-sourced chicken by turning all of its brand assets green – the colour of the Kingdom’s flag; and Grand Prix winner Tunisie Telecom, which devised a programme to offer social welfare coverage to female farmers.
WARC’s 2020 MENA Strategy Report can be downloaded here. The full report is available to WARC subscribers and includes chapter analysis of the four themes with views and opinions from the judges; objectives, results and takeaways of the winning case studies, and what these mean for brands, media owners and agencies; and data analysis.
WARC’s Lucy Aitken will deep-dive into using humour as a successful marketing strategy at Lynx Live on 5-7 October in her keynote ‘Humour: the smart shortcut to brand fame’.
The WARC Prize for MENA Strategy is a free-to-enter annual case study competition in search of the best strategic thinking from MENA’s marketing industry. Next year’s prize will open for entries in January 2021.
Not that long ago, people like Abdullah, a young Syrian man who was forced by the ongoing war to drop out of university, would have found it nearly impossible to safely earn a living. But through Edraak, an Arabic platform for open online education launched by the Queen Rania Foundation in Jordan, he gained graphic design and digital marketing skills. Now, he earns a decent living as a freelance remote worker in Jordan.
Amid the dual economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse in oil prices, digital platforms are becoming even more critical to the region’s economy. With schools being closed since March and 4 in 5 workers affected by business closures globally, per International Labor Organization estimates, the shut-down of public life has revved up the need to move to digital, virtual, and remote learning solutions to build skills and ensure opportunities for people to earn a living.
Yet this emergency need is not being met. Moreover, MENA is missing real-time opportunities for digital development. Digital transformation can lead to rapid, sustained growth, but only if countries invest in digital infrastructure and human capital.
The key to success in this changing landscape is a digital skills revolution. While definitions and typologies differ, ‘digital skills’ generally refers to students, workers and people of all ages having and applying competencies, knowledge and attitudes to learn, earn and thrive in digital societies.
Digital skills most commonly comprise a continuum of basic, intermediate or advanced skills; and, as we will discuss in our next blog on competencies, they may alsorefer to a range of different abilities, many of which are not only ‘skills’ per se, but a combination of behaviors, expertise, know-how, work habits, character traits, dispositions and critical understandings.
As laid out by the International Telecommunication Union, Basic Skills are the general ICT skills required “broadly for all workers, consumers and citizens in a digital society” — such as word processing or researching online. Building on that foundation, Intermediate Skills are “effectively job-ready skills needed to perform more complicated work-related functions” such as social media marketing or e-commerce. Advanced or ‘Specialist’ Skills, which “form the basis of specialist occupations and professions,” are necessary to test, analyze, manage, or create digitally based products or services. These advance skills are needed to harness technology to resolve complex problems, guide others such as policymakers, contribute to professional practices, and propose new innovative ideas to advance economic development.
Skills are the supply side of digital labor markets; jobs are the demand side. Digital or ICT work can be conceived in three terms: enhanced, dependent, intensive. Some jobs are enhanced by digital tools, whereas with others — such as Internet freelancing or call centers — technology is fundamental to the work. Digitally intensive work — such as machine learning or app development — requires more specialist and advanced skills.
While data is sparse and likely not as up-to-date as the pace of change, we have learned important baseline details about the digital skills match — or mismatch — in MENA’s digital labor market. There is a shortage of digital human capital in MENA, marked by skills and information gaps. For example, in its 2017Future of Work study, McKinsey found that across the region, only 1.7% of the workforce is ‘digital talent.’ In their last 2017 skills survey of the region, Bayt/YouGov, a leading jobs website in MENA, revealed that IT jobs are among the top open positions, evidence of an acute talent and skills shortage in the region.
The Gulf countries are arguably the most advanced in terms of digital transformation. Yet, GCC countries still have a significant digital skills gap. In a 2020 survey by PwC of CEOs in the Middle East, 70% said the availability of key digital skills is a business threat, and an earlier 2017 study found that only one of the 10 skills most commonly cited by digital professionals in the GCC matches the fastest-growing skills found globally on LinkedIn. Furthermore, none of the top 10 available skills in the GCC is a technical or specific digital skill.
In this blog series, MENA Digital Directions, we will analyze and compare digital skills competence frameworks, discuss how to build digital skills across the educational pipeline, explore the role of the private sector and identify digital opportunities for women, youth and refugees. With a thorough understanding of the digital landscape and the right investments in digital infrastructure and skills, countries can ensure that more young people like Abdullah have a chance for a brighter, more connected future.
Randy Rivera, Executive Director of FinTEx, a member-led community focused on promoting innovation and collaboration within Fintech in Qatar and the MENA region, has said that his organization continues to work with international financial services industry participants.
During a June 23, 2020 virtual panel discussion (hosted by the US-Qatar Business Council) on “Qatar’s Growing Fintech Sector & Business Opportunities,” Rivera stated:
“We [aim to] … match talent with opportunity and what is going on in Qatar fits as an attractive platform not just for the Fintechs involved but for the Qatari market and the Middle East overall.”
“The design of these programs reflects thoughtfulness, broad participation and commitment of the right mix of leaders who can affect change and attract the talent to make that change uniquely impactful, not just to the market, but to the regional fintech community as well.”
Qatar is now a major financial hub in the Middle East. The country’s human development index (HDI) value is around 0.85, which puts it in the “very high” human development (and quality of life) category.
Qatar is ranked at 41 out of 189 countries and territories. Its HDI value has increased from around 0.75 to 0.85 in the past two decades – which indicates that the living standards of its residents may have improved significantly due to its booming economy.
As mentioned in a release shared with CI, Qatar aims to further support and develop a strong business community and a competitive environment that will help local SMEs while also attracting foreign SMEs.
The release revealed:
“Qatar has advanced 18 spots in the national level of entrepreneurial activity, securing the 15th rank globally and the 2nd in the MENA region for the Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) index, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report 2019/2020.”
Amy Nauiokas, founder and CEO at Anthemis, a VC investment platform with over 100 portfolio firms, believes Qatar provides “a promising environment and set of opportunities for Fintech growth.”
Nauiokas, whose company supports an ecosystem of over 10,000 investors, incumbents, and high-potential Fintech firms, globally, stated:
“We look forward to solidifying some key relationships in Qatar as Anthemis further builds our MENA strategy.”
Mohammed Barakat, MD of US Qatar Business Council, who also attended the webinar, said:
“Considering Qatar’s large payment processing and remittance market and its strategy to become a regional gateway for a huge market, I foresee rapid growth in Qatar’s FinTech sector.”
The US-Qatar Business Council aims to support trade and investment between the two nations and to also build strategic business relationships.
As noted in the release, there are over 120 wholly-owned US firms operating in Qatar, and over 700 U.S.-Qatar joint projects currently active in the Middle Eastern nation.
As reported recently, the Qatar Financial Center will launch “Fintech Circle,” a co-workspace for qualifying financial technology firms free of charge for a year.
Mirna Abdulaal in Egyptian Streets suggests that only some ‘Radical’: Empowering Creative Youth and Local Designers in the Arab Region could awaken the currently dormant creation movement, particularly that in the art and design.
There’s one thing that unites generally all creative youth in the MENA region: their lack of representation and trouble in finding a platform that documents their story for others to see, hear and share.
Most media platforms and magazines in the region often fail to represent creatives, and particularly creative youth, through visual and imaginative presentations that help to truly capture their story. The concept of creative journalism and using art, aesthetics, powerful images and podcasts to brand a particular designer or artist is very much absent, with most resorting to mere commercial and celebrity-focused features rather than stories and dialogues to push the creative scene forward.
Nour Hassan, writer and founder of the platform ‘Radical Contemporary’, is the first to recognize this gap and introduce new understandings of how we can represent creatives in media and journalism. “When I started radical, I didn’t have any reference or any online magazine that gathers all creatives together, and it takes a lot of research. So I wanted to help people avoid what I faced in the beginning through this platform,” she says.
“If you want to know who is the best designer in Saudi Arabia, where would you look or who would you ask?”
Initially founded in 2017 as an online magazine that speaks about fashion, art and culture, Hassan began to branch out and do further projects, such as photoshoots, production, and podcasts. Eventually, she expanded into PR and creative consulting, growing from a magazine to a platform that also helps build and market brands.
For her, it is more than just representation, it is also creation – a ‘radical’ and creative process that aims to fundamentally change something in society or culture. In one of her projects, ‘Runaway Love’, she combines storytelling and visual journalism in an attempt to touch upon certain issues, such as the pressure of marriage for young girls. “It was shot on a Felucca boat and it talked about how young girls are pressured to get married, and how she is trying to escape that pressure by riding the Felucca. The photoshoot is a story that is also relevant to the culture,” she notes.
“I am making sure we have conversations, and this is important because there isn’t really any dialogue on creatives in the region.”
Coming from Egypt and growing up in Saudi Arabia, she noticed that there also aren’t any important dialogues and conversations being done on the work of young creatives across the region, which led her to launch ‘The Radical Contemporary Podcast’, allowing several creatives to speak about their creative process and provide a space for others to learn and grow. “I am making sure we have conversations, and this is important because there isn’t really any dialogue on creatives in the region and their work,” she tells Egyptian Streets, “If you want to know who is the best designer in Saudi Arabia, where would you look or who would you ask? And so, this is where I come in and bring them to let them talk in the podcast.”
In times of fast-paced communication and the growth of digital media, consuming content for longer periods of time has become even more difficult, which is why it has become ever more imperative for platforms to push creative journalism ahead and utilize podcasting effectively. “Podcasting is the future of content, it is the new radio,” Hassan says, “Right now, we cannot consume content for more than 15 seconds, so a podcast is like an alternative that helps you listen to the conversations even while you’re busy doing other things. It’s a different way of learning.”
“Podcasting is the future of content, it is the new radio”
It is also a way to introduce more critical conversations in the creative industry, particularly as the fashion industry continues to grow exponentially and young designers are entering the scene. “Our biggest problem is that we don’t have critics. We don’t have someone who critiques the work that is being produced, which is really important in helping young creatives grow and reach their potential. We need to work on being more critical and having critical conversations so we can develop,” she adds.
While it is easy to compare this to other magazines such as Vogue Arabia, Radical Contemporary goes even beyond that, as it is focused on building the creative soul in the region. It is expressive, visual, critical, and communicative – providing creatives an opportunity to learn and document their work. “I think we are the first generation telling our story. From the times of Umm Kalthoum up till now, there is this huge gap, and I don’t think there was a generation before us that really documented their work for others to find and look at.”
“I think we are the first generation telling our story.”
On top of that, it is also supporting local and regional brands, concerning that there is a lack of access to platforms that represent them. “At a time right now where it can be very hard for brands to survive, it is important to support our platform and in turn support these regional brands,” Hassan says.
For future writers, designers, artists, photographers and just about every creative in the region, Radical Contemporary represents the heart of their growth and expression in the rapidly changing region of the Middle East. It represents the face of a new generation, and a new region.
Originally posted on MENA Solidarity Network: By Anzar Atrar and David Karvala At 4 am on Saturday 21 August, Spanish authorities took Mohamed Abdellah —along with around 30 other Algerians— from the migrant custody centre in Barcelona and deported him. This was bad news for all of them, of course. But Abdellah, an Algerian anti-corruption…
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