MENA parents are attracted to e-commerce for the “Back to School” shopping, increasing their interests and buying habits at exponential levels between 2017 and 2019.
The buying trends between August 2017 and August 2019 in the Back to School category revealed that traditionally the sales spike around the month of August
In 2019, online sales reached their highest level, measuring a 6 times growth compared with August 2017
With the region opening up more to e-commerce and with the market competitive sellers, the Back to School online sales will stay on a growth pattern
ADMITAD analysts recently released an online sales report that shows Back To School shopping has grown 6 times since 2017. Analysts observed data over the course of 2 years measuring the buying trends in the Back To School categories across different countries in the MENA region.
The buying trends between August 2017 and August 2019 in the Back to School category revealed that traditionally the sales spike around the month of August. However, in 2019, online sales reached their highest level, measuring a 6 times growth compared with August 2017. With the region opening up more to e-commerce and with the market’s competitive sellers, Back to School online sales will stay on a growth pattern, expecting to reach in August 2020 the highest level measured in the past years.
“The growth we’ve seen in 2 years is indicative of MENA region developing into a more mature market in e-commerce, with giants like Amazon, Noon, Namshi creating outstanding value for the customers. Other factors are contributing too, such as the rise of social media influencers and the unparalleled cash value offers online shopping provides. Having said that, this is just the beginning as we estimate the growth to continue at a rapid rate in the next 2 years” said Artem Rudyuk, head of MENA Operations at ADMITAD.
The convenience of fast-delivery, an abundance of offers and eye-catching promotions alongside a wider diversity of the products, are some of the top reasons why MENA region Back-To-School customers’ interest in online shopping is growing.
One of the fastest-growing marketplace for parents, Sprii.com, is confirming the positive climb of the online sales during August, with a growth of 181% in the back to school category. Sarah Jones, CEO, and Founder of Sprii said: “Sprii has seen a 181% increase in sales in its back to school category over the last year. We see traffic fast moving away from your traditional bricks and mortar stores to online platforms as product ranges increase, prices are cheaper and delivery becomes easier. The leading contributor of growth in this category has been kids lunchboxes and healthy snacks, which we see in keeping with the regional movement towards healthy sustainable living, and the site-wide increase in organic product sales.”
The estimated increase in back-to-school spending represents an opportunity for MENA based e-commerce companies to capitalize on this new profit-making shopping season, together with Christmas, Ramadan, and Back Friday. The MENA region players have an unprecedented opportunity to convert customers with competitive advertising, offers, prices and bundles during the online browsing process.
Artem Rudyuk is the Head of MENA Operations for Admitad, heading the Development of affiliate partnerships between e-commerce merchants and online publishers on cost per action basis and bringing affiliate marketing in MENA region to a new level with the most transparent and tech advanced platform.
This year marks a decade since Yahoo acquired Maktoob, in a deal worth $164 million. It was the first time that a technology company based in the Middle East had attracted such significant interest from a giant of its day.
At the time, the deal paled in comparison to the acquisitions and mergers typical in the region, between telecoms operators, industry and real estate. But for the entrepreneurship ecosystem, it was a seminal moment, validating the region as a place for technology and startups.
Back when this happened, there were no venture capital (VC) funds, mobile and internet penetration was low, Apple’s iPhone was still out of reach for most people and unicorns were mythical creatures with the power of flight.
Maktoob was founded in Jordan by Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury as an Arabic webmail service. It grew to become the main destination for Arabic speakers on the internet and amassed 16 million users. Beyond the main portal, Maktoob offered online payments through CashU, an e-commerce platform that resembled US-based eBay called Souq and gaming company Tahadi MMO Games.
Yahoo was only interested in the main portal and so Toukan and Khoury established Jabbar Internet Group to absorb Maktoob’s other assets. In hindsight, Yahoo failed to see the consumer trends that unfolded in the region and the inevitable rise of online payments and shopping.
Souq became the biggest asset in Jabbar’s network. Emaar Malls reportedly made an offer of $800 million in 2017, but it was Amazon that would come to acquire the e-commerce site for $680 million of which $580 million was paid in cash. Emaar’s chairman Mohamed Alabbar decided to pump $1 billion into launching his own e-commerce platform, noon, as a result.
In between these two acquisitions, the technological landscape in the region had changed drastically. Internet penetration was on the rise, mobile penetration was close to or exceeded 100 per cent in every country of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Smartphones were also popular and Nokia’s dominance in the mobile phone market had been dismantled across the region, replaced by the app-friendly iPhones and Android-based Samsung and Huawei phones. With the introduction of 4G technology, the cost of mobile broadband fell from an average of $9.50 for half a gigabyte in 2016 to $5.27 for double the amount of data.
Empowering The Youth
Amid the protests and revolutions that disrupted the region’s economies in the so-called Arab Spring, the high youth unemployment highlighted the importance of the private sector for job creation. Entrepreneurship was presented as the silver bullet to stymie the rise of unemployment and a way to empower the youth, who make up two thirds of the region’s population.
Government policies and regulations across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) slowly became friendlier to entrepreneurs and investors. Efforts to cut down startup costs continue as regional competition to become a hub for entrepreneurship has ignited. Startups have been recognised as a way to create not only employment but a means to solve for problems that societies and economies face in the Middle East.
The general shift in attitude and government policies created fertile ground for companies like Dubizzle, Talabat and Babil to emerge, most replicating models and ideas that had proved successful in other parts of the world. Germany’s Rocket Internet arrived in 2011 and began founding startups aggressively, replicating successful business models to launch companies like Namshi, which was recently acquired by Emaar Malls, wadi.com and Carmudi. Serious investors began to emerge and institutionalise and the region became home to VCs and angel investors with an eye to reap lofty returns. Today, there are several funds dedicated to entrepreneurship and a few governments have established fund of funds, to co-match VCs and help develop a local ecosystem that can generate economic growth.
One of the most prolific of these early angel investors was Aramex founder and Wamda chairman Fadi Ghandour. He was one of the initial investors in Maktoob and then in Jabbar Internet Group before establishing Wamda Capital.
“The world was changing and I had felt the internet change the world, I already felt it affecting Aramex, so when Samih and Hussam came for investment, for me, it was a no-brainer,” he says.
Still On The Backfoot
But even after all these years, there has only been a handful of exits valued at more than $100 million across the Middle East. Oil still accounts for the majority of gross domestic product (GDP) in the GCC, youth unemployment is the highest in the world at 26.5 per cent according to the World Bank and costs to start a business in the current hub of the region, Dubai is among the highest in the world. For almost every country, regulations still need improvement beyond registering a business. Innovation is also lacking, the highest-ranking MENA country in the Global Innovation Index is the UAE at 36th place, behind smaller economies like Cyrpus and Malta.
Yet, there is hope.
“There are more mature companies and more mature VCs, so there are better deals happening. Exits like Careem and Fawry, those kinds of big companies that are having a real impact is one key metric of a potentially successful ecosystem,” says Abdelhameed Sharara, founder of RiseUp. “I think we are still very early compared to the US and China, but it’s a very promising space compared to the past.”
The region also has a more active female population in the startup sector, with 23 per cent of startups in Gaza and the West Bank led by women, while 19 per cent are led by women in Beirut, both ahead of New York which stands at 12 per cent. Even at RiseUp, women accounted for almost 40 per cent of the attendees last year.
“The region has really become a place where entrepreneurs can thrive and provides supportive environments for startups,” says Amina Grimen, co-founder of e-commerce beauty site, Powder. “In the beauty space, looking at the accomplishments of big female players like Huda Kattan and Dr Lamees Hamdan is truly inspiring.”
Ask anybody with their ear to the rail of the global games industry about the MENA region and they’ll very likely assert that it offers ‘opportunity’.
The vast area has for some time now been associated with market potential that games companies from across the globe would be wise to harness.
However, the detail around what founds that opportunity, how it should be seized and the reality of its distinct challenges can seem like something of a mystery. A thorough analysis, however, reveals a region that might not be as atypical or enigmatic in its machinations as many assume.
As the oft-talked about BRIC region – ‘Brazil, Russia, India and China’ – has blossomed from ‘emerging’ to ‘emerged’, the MENA countries have been quietly building an impressive momentum of their own. And it is the mobile games sector specifically that provides the region with its most striking prospects.
By MENA, of course, we mean ‘Middle East and North Africa’. It is ultimately an area without a firm or agreed definition. But for the purposes of this article – which kickstarts a series of pieces looking at MENA – we’re considering numerous countries, including but not limited to, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates/Dubai, Bahrain, Iran and Lebanon.
Nations such as Israel, Turkey and Egypt also warrant reflection, though those are places with games sectors that are relatively well-known to the outside world and even distinct from the rest of their MENA family.
Speaking the same language
While one could spend a lifetime developing a universally agreed framing of ‘MENA’, the reality is that the opportunity for mobile games developers, publishers, platforms and service providers is significantly defined by a language; not a list of countries. That language is Arabic, and one thing is clear; the Arabic speaking world provides a substantial audience for those that make a living from mobile games to consider.
“The reason why the mobile gaming market [here] is so interesting comes from the fact that Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world, yet less than one per cent of all content available online is in Arabic,” offers Hussam Hammo, CEO of Jordanian outfit Tamatem, which specialises in publishing and maintaining mobile games in the MENA region.
“More than 70 per cent of the population of the Arabic speaking countries – around 400 million – use Arabic as their default language on their smartphones. Add to that that countries like Saudi Arabia have the highest ARPPU in the entire world, and you have a perfect opportunity.”
Record-breaking ARPPU alone should immediately prick the ears of industry observers. For while the world’s biggest gaming market China has ARPPU of around $32, Saudi Arabia’s ARPPU is a striking $270. Tamatem’s own figures, meanwhile, point to consumers in MENA spending $3.2 billion on games broadly back in 2016.
Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world, yet less than one per cent of all content available online is in Arabic.
And then there are those 400 million people keen to digest Arabic language smartphone titles. They are presently served with a bounty of gaming content; but a great deal more fails to support both Arabic language – and culture.
An appetite for growth
It seems clear there is an underserved and ravenous appetite for gaming in MENA, which means one thing; there is a generous capacity for growth. Indeed, consulting giant strategy& predicts that by 2022, mobile gaming across MENA will stand as a $2.3 billion industry.
Smartphone penetration has also hit alluring levels in many MENA countries. 46 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s 33,554,000 residents own a smartphone, according to Newzoo data. That’s just shy of 15.5 million people.
The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, can boast of an 80.6 per cent smartphone penetration rate. That is against a relatively modest population of 7.5 million, but it still presents a demographic worth serious attention.
Contemporary data on smartphone penetration on Jordan is a little harder to come by, but the Pew Research Center’s data for 2016 lists a 51 per cent rate. The same study gives Lebanon a slight lead at 52 per cent. Of course, not every country in MENA provides such appealing device penetration, but looking at the region as a whole, growth is forecast.
The global trade body for mobile network operators, the GSMA, counted 375 million unique mobile subscribers across MENA in 2017. They expect that number to reach 459 million by 2025. By that same year, GSMA predicts the area will count 790 million individual SIM connections, not including IoT devices. That’s a striking 118 per cent penetration rate, if you consider the region’s entire population, across all languages.
As for the make-up of mobile device breakdown in MENA, region-specific data is in relatively short supply. StatCounter figures for specific countries in the area do, however, paint a fairly familiar picture.
As of July 2019, in Saudi Arabia specifically Android accounts for 65.6 per cent of in-use handsets, while iOS trails at a still-healthy 34.12 per cent. That leaves a trivial amount of unknown and fringe or legacy OSs, including the likes of Series 40, which still has a 0.01 per cent penetration rate in the country.
Over in Jordan, Android dominates with 84.65 per cent of the market, while iOS accounts for 15.15 per cent of smartphones. And in the UAE, Android can claim 77.34 per cent of the market, with iOS holding on to 22.18 per cent. The picture appears reasonably consistent, including looking back over the last year.
The Google Play and Apple App Stores dominate, but that is a topic PocketGamer.biz will return to in-depth later in this series of features.
‘Growth’ remains the keyword if you look at MENA as a place to succeed with gaming content. And, when considering mobile specifically, that growth which will likely be significantly facilitated by providing a great deal more games in the Arabic language. Those 400 million handsets set to Arabic by default are active now, and their number is likely to climb.
Not that language is the only factor in localising a game for MENA. The region is culturally a different place from both the West and areas like China or Southeast Asia. Making a game created outside of MENA culturally appropriate for the market will perhaps offer the biggest challenge to companies external to the area.
The UAE and the Gulf region are at the forefront globally in terms of 5G launches and plans.
It’s a perfect example of the distinction between translation and true localisation. As for the key to mastering cultural localisation? Collaboration with resident MENA outfits may be an absolute necessity.
Tamatem is one of a number of companies specialising in publishing to MENA, and it’s certainly not alone in its effort. Babil Games, MENA Mobile and others are striving to connect international games companies with the local market.
Another factor central to the potential of mobile gaming in MENA is, of course, the arrival of 5G networks. GSMA points out that in some parts of MENA, 5G has already been commercially deployed.
“The UAE and the Gulf region are at the forefront globally in terms of 5G launches and plans,” confirms Jawad Abbassi, head of Middle East and North Africa at GSMA.
“Operators in MENA – particularly in the GCC States – are among the first to launch 5G networks commercially. Following these launches, operators in 12 other countries across MENA are expected to deploy 5G networks, covering around 30 per cent of the region’s population by 2025. By then, regional 5G connections will surpass 50 million. Early global 5G pioneers include the GCC countries, South Korea, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.”
Clearly, when it comes to infrastructure, much of the MENA region rivals some the rest of the world’s tech leading nations.
Ultimately, of course, MENA is a diverse and multifaceted place. Its various nations all bring their own distinct make-ups, and in taking a broad perspective this round-up has perhaps just served to highlight the fundamentals of a very real opportunity.
The figures speak for themselves. But if you want to move on what MENA offers? You’ll want a little more detail.
That is why this piece is just the start of a series of articles looking at the companies, countries and trends shaping MENA’s mobile gaming future.
So keep an eye on Pocketgamer.biz and consider joining us at Pocket Gamer Connects Jordan on November 2nd and 3rd, where you can come and meet the publishers, developers and game tech outfits that might be the future of your success in MENA.
Traditional bricks and mortar retail is under attack globally. Retailers have struggled to compete with the growing popularity of large-scale competitors such as Amazon and Alibaba. The industry is also in the grip of a revolution powered by digital technology, as people shop online rather than in stores. Millennials comprise the largest internet audience, and will have more buying power than any generation before. But they still want to touch, feel and explore products. Shopping is becoming more of an experiential activity, during which stores compete for consumers’ “share of wallet”.
Middle Eastern retailers and consumer goods companies are even more vulnerable, as the pressure from e-commerce and changes in consumer buying behaviour are compounded by rising costs associated with economic reforms, such as workforce localization, taxes, and increasing fuel and electricity prices. As prices rise, consumer buying power and confidence is becoming subdued.
In fact, our latest survey, conducted in September 2018, reveals that consumers in the Middle East are spending even more cautiously than they have in previous years. They are also more anxious: 80% of survey respondents in Saudi Arabia and 72% in the United Arab Emirates are worried about losing their jobs. In both countries, more than 40% of respondents said they’re cutting down on spending and paying closer attention to prices.
Consequently, traditional retailers have limited levers to operate in response. They have a large fixed base of assets, which they need to rethink as shoppers favour the convenience of purchasing online rather than visiting stores. It is absolutely critical that retailers think about how to operate at maximum efficiency, with a hard focus on cash and working capital, in order to survive to the next stage. They are in a paradoxical moment where their revenues and returns are declining, yet they must invest in technology. It is not always easy to justify this spend with investors. And in thinking beyond the present to the different value propositions and approaches needed to recapture the customer, they must re-skill their employees and recruit new talent.
Customers are now more interested in experiences than products. In considering how to stay with them throughout their buying journey and not just at the end of it, retailers need to make many changes in the way they reach their customer, how they interact with them, what they learn about them, and how they ultimately sell them a product, service or experience. Convenience is also becoming important to consumers as they move their retail activity online. In fact, 50-60% of consumers state that saving time is one of the main reasons why they shop online.
Digital technologies and changing shopping habits are a clear threat to traditional retail business models. But there are positive ways to respond to these trends. To embrace these opportunities, real-estate developers must get closer to consumers and figure out how to meet their evolving wants and needs.
The good news is that by leveraging their assets – physical proximity to consumers, logistics, brand, in-store experience – traditional players still have the right to win. The Middle East has a young population with aspiring lifestyle choices, and with the various macroeconomic transformations taking place, buying power will recover and grow. But retailers must be willing to undertake rapid, radical and lasting transformation when it comes to efficiency, and the ways they embrace technology and offer products.
A transformation can be designed around the following five fundamentals or key success factors.
First of all, the full leadership team – not just the Board and CEO – has to be behind the change required to turn the business around.
Second, this motivation needs to move beyond the boardroom fast and engage the front line, going deep and wide across the organization.
In the Middle East, those two elements are typically in place. It’s the following three that need more focus.
The right structures need to be put in place to ensure that any response is effectively executed and delivered – for example how the business is organized, how governance is implemented, and how objectives and deliverables are executed.
Culture is also important. This is not about how to respond from a technical point of view, but the changes necessary in the mindsets and behaviours of everyone in the organization to make the transformation a success.
The last element is identifying, developing and elevating the best people in your organization, because they are the resource who will take you from point A to point B.
There is no doubt that physical retail is here to stay, and will keep its place alongside the online marketplace. Even e-commerce giants are entering into physical retail, as digital natives invest offline – see Amazon acquiring Wholefoods, and Alibaba’s Hema concept. These new stores have decoupled the notions of “shopping” and ‘“buying”, showing the face of retail is changing. Traditional retailers’ main challenge is to accelerate the pace of transformation, while ensuring they address, in a holistic way, the growth side, cost side, cash side and re-skilling of employees, in order to deliver results.
Shadow economy or as labelled Informal Economy in the North African countries of the MENA region commands, according to the local media, some 30 to 50% of their respective economies. It has historically been taken for a long time as the main cause responsible for economic backwardness of the under-developed countries of the world. These countries’ government in a bid to reduce its importance, were at pains trying to draw sizable segments out of the informal sphere of their economies and insert them into economies that are very often stiffened by red tape and / or lacking capital fluidity.
Meanwhile, advances in technology and its increasing coverage would possibly be working the other way around, meaning towards informalizing further all economies by facilitating amongst many things the easy transfer and exchange of money, etc.
This article of the WEF by Charlotte Edmond, Formative Content is explicit about this phenomenon as witnessed in certain countries. This however would obviously apply all over the world but at varying degrees.
It is the total value of transactions by businesses and individuals that occurs “off the books”. In other words, work done for cash to avoid incurring tax and without following standard business practices.
This could be anything from paying a tradesman or a babysitter in undeclared cash to the illegal wildlife trade, counterfeiting and money laundering.
Untaxed and unrecorded economic activity boomed during the global financial crisis and continues to grow today.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Illicit Trade 2012-2014 estimated the global shadow economy to be worth $650 billion. While it’s difficult to be sure of the amount of business that bypasses regulators, WEF research from 2015 forecast that the cost to the global economy of counterfeiting alone could reach $1.77 trillion over the course of that year.
A large shadow economy is a cause for concern for governments that miss out on tax revenues. However, it has also been argued that attempting to curb the shadow economy can limit economic growth and hamper innovation.
We took the initiative with compliments to this gentleman, to borrow few excerpts so as to hopefully launch a debate on this report. This started with the premise that :
“The 22 Arab nations spread across two continents, Asia and Africa, have to pull together in a historic movement to declare a shared manifesto that focuses on a unified destiny.
The solution for the region’s problems, as the Arab Youth Survey sees it, must come from within this region, and not from the US, Russia, Europe or even the United Nations.“
Elaborating, ASDA’A BursonMarsteller stated that its 9th Annual Arab Youth Survey 2017 was conducted by international polling firm PSB Research to explore attitudes among Arab youth in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. PSB conducted 3,500 face-to-face interviews from February 7 to March 7, 2017 with Arab men and women aged 18 to 24. The interviews were conducted in Arabic and English.
The aim of this annual survey is to present evidence-based insights into the attitudes of Arab youth, providing public and private sector organisations with data and analysis. It is the largest of its kind of the region’s ‘largest demographic’, and covers the six Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia) the Levant (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestinian Territories) and Yemen. The survey did not include Syria due to the civil unrest in the country.
The key theme running through this Youth Survey 2017 is a sobering one: we live in a region where young people straddle a fault line between hope and despair. A vast, important demographic that is united by religion, language and culture is increasingly separated by access to opportunity. Even today, given the conflicts, security issues and unemployment which sadly mark much of the region, the overall finding looks surprisingly positive: just over half of young Arabs as a whole still believe their nation is on the right track.
Looking at the Survey on a region-by-region, or country-by-country level, however, we see a stark divide between youth in the Gulf states, who are brimming with optimism, and those in the Levant – Lebanon, Jordan, Palestinian Territories, Iraq – and Yemen, who are anxious and disillusioned about the future. The real tragedy of this year’s key findings is that young Arabs are becoming more pessimistic.
“Our best days are behind us” is not a phrase any government should hear from anyone, least of all the very demographic that will be living with the legacy of their rule.
It would be easy to dismiss this divide as the result of the widening income gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ – those that have oil, and the prosperity that should come with it and those that don’t.
Young Arabs realise that while their elders played the victim game and sought intervention and protection from foreign allies, that strategy no longer cuts ice. The world is becoming increasingly inward-looking and globalisation is being challenged:
According to this year’s Survey, young Arabs do not see the US, Russia or other international powers as their biggest allies, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And they increasingly see the UAE as a model country – one that they would not only choose to live in over any other, but also want their own countries to emulate.
This suggests a solution: that good governance could be the UAE’s newest export. The soft power of the UAE is one of the Middle East’s greatest assets – and one that doesn’t just enrich the UAE but the whole region, through the promotion of stability and prosperity.
National and international complexities mean that a one-size-fits-all model would be unrealistic. But some aspects of the UAE model are universal: empowering youth, and focusing on enabling positivity, happiness and tolerance – increasingly in short supply across the region – would be a strong start.
The Arab Spring of 2011 is behind us, and last year’s Survey showed us youth were increasingly disillusioned with its legacy. But revolutions can take a long time for their full effects to become apparent. For better and for worse, the region is very different today than it was six years ago. It’s easy to concentrate on the ‘worse’ – the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya, the refugee crisis and continued instability in Iraq, to name just a few. For better, though, we see that nations are waking up to the new reality and finally preparing their economies for the future. In Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar we see younger generations taking more prominent roles in government; in Egypt we are seeing the return of a measure of economic and political stability; in Iraq and Syria we see Daesh in retreat; in North Africa, outside of Libya, we see relative stability; and across the region we see young people increasingly rejecting the message of extremism.
Twelve years ago, long before the Arab Spring provided a wake-up call to autocratic regimes, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, sent a clear message to Arab governments: “You must change, or you will be changed.”
So what is the solution?
The 28th Arab League Summit, held in Jordan in March this year, pontificated for the nth time on the same issues, and came out with no solution. While it may sound utopian, the only real solution that has the chance to offer a candle in the sea of darkness is one led by the spirit of youth and the courage to be positive.
We in MENA-Forum accept all the report’s findings as a true picture of the current situation. For a start we would join in applauding such initiative to try and cover such a diversely endowed region by nature and millenary culture. We would nevertheless have to note that misunderstanding is however still prevailing sadly in most of its hot spots where it would certainly be difficult to extricate a happy opening for each and every side to be happy with.