How Middle Eastern retailers can keep up with E-commerce

How Middle Eastern retailers can keep up with E-commerce

This article is part of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa and is co-authored by Abdellah Iftahy, Partner, McKinsey & Company, Franck Laizet, Partner, McKinsey & Company and Zaid Ghazaleh, Associate Partner, McKinsey & Company.

A saleswoman attends to a customer at the cash counter inside a shop at Dragon Mart in Dubai, March 2, 2011. Built in the shape of a dragon, the 1.2 km long and 150,000 sqm large mall is a trading centre with almost 3,950 shops selling mainly Chinese products ranging from office appliances to garments and daily products.  Picture taken March 2, 2011.    REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Tags: BUSINESS) - GM1E73318X601

01 Apr 2019

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.

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Invigorating Female Entrepreneurship in Egypt’s Ecosystem

Invigorating Female Entrepreneurship in Egypt’s Ecosystem

For purposes of mainly Invigorating Female Entrepreneurship in Egypt’s ecosystem, a “SHE CAN – 2019” organized by Entreprenelle, kickstarted by Rania Ayman in 2015 as an organization eventing conferences as a mean to empower and motivate women so as help them believe in their ability to change their destiny.

SHE CAN – 2018 was elaborated on by Women of Egypt Mag (picture above) and here is 2019’s as covered by Entrepreneur of today.

The conference held a wide range of panel discussions, talks and workshops on innovative thinking, creativity, technology, raising capital and invigorating female entrepreneurship in the ecosystem.

Egypt’s SHE CAN 2019 Focuses On Failures As Stepping Stones To Success

By Entrepreneur Middle East Staff, Entrepreneur Staff, April 1, 2019.

Entrepreneur Middle East Staff

You’re reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Egypt's SHE CAN 2019 Focuses On Failures As Stepping Stones To Success

SHE CAN 2019, a conference dedicated to MENA women entrepreneurs, hosted its third annual edition at the Greek campus, Downtown Cairo, Egypt, with the theme ‘Successful Failures’. Launched by Entreprenelle, an Egypt-based social enterprise which aims to economically empower women through awareness, education and access to resources, the conference held a wide range of panel discussions, talks and workshops on innovative thinking, creativity, technology, raising capital and invigorating female entrepreneurship in the ecosystem.

Gathering more than 5,000 participants and 50 partners, including UN Women, the Swedish Embassy, the National Council for Women, Nahdet Masr, Avon, Orange and Export Development Bank of Egypt, it also highlighted the endeavors of Entrepenelle alumni. It was also an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn from sessions featuring tips on pitching business ideas, mentorship, as well as startup competitions. Female-founded startups were also able to showcase their products and services in an exhibition area.

Speaking about the conference focusing on the necessity to experience failure on one’s entrepreneurial path, Dorothy Shea, Deputy Ambassador of the US Embassy in Cairo, commented, “As far as I’m concerenced, the sky is the limit. Women should be able to achieve whatever their dreams are. What I was struck by was this idea of “successful failures,” we need to not fear failure, it’s not a destination, it is a stepping stone to success. Sometimes there can be a fear of failure, but as part of this entrepreneurship ecosystem, they are really trying to move that inhibition away. We learn from our failures and then we take our plans to the next level. I was really inspired by this theme.”

Founded in 2015, Entreprenelle has more than 10 entrepreneurship programs conducted in nine governorates, including Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura, Minya, Assiut, Sohag and Aswan.

Related: Embracing Failure: Lessons From History’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs

More from Entrepreneur : Next Article

Egypt partnering with American Universities

Egypt partnering with American Universities

The three Centers of Excellence are a part of the investment by the American people in Egypt’s human and economic development.

Partnering with American Universities to Create Centers of Excellence in Energy, Water, and Agriculture in Egypt

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America, March 27, 2019 / APO Group/ —

The Centers of Excellence will align with the current needs of Egypt’s commercial, academic, and public sectors by solving local problems

Today, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green announced a $90 million investment in three leading universities in Egypt, which will form partnerships with American universities to create Centers of Excellence in energy, water, and agriculture.

  • The three Centers of Excellence will establish linkages between Egyptian universities and leading counterparts in the United States, help forge relationships between Egyptian and American researchers and experts, and drive research and innovation in sectors that are key to Egypt’s future economic growth. The three partnerships will be the following:
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will partner with Ain Shams University to establish a Center of Excellence in Energy;
  • Cornell University in New York will partner with Cairo University to create a Center of Excellence in Agriculture; and
  • The American University in Cairo will partner with Alexandria University to develop a Center of Excellence in Water.

Through the establishment of the Centers of Excellence, USAID and the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, will increase the capacity of Egypt’s higher-education institutions and create linkages between research and the public and private sectors in the areas of agriculture, water, and energy. Each Center of Excellence will use applied research to drive innovation and competitiveness in the public and private sectors, strengthen Egyptian Government policy to stimulate economic growth, and contribute solutions to Egypt’s development challenges. The three Centers of Excellence are a part of the investment by the American people in Egypt’s human and economic development.

The Centers of Excellence will align with the current needs of Egypt’s commercial, academic, and public sectors by solving local problems, driving innovation, and leading to lower unemployment and improved performance in the private and public sector.

  • The main activities of the partnership will include the following:
  • Creating lasting partnerships between Egyptian public universities and U.S. universities;
  • Updating university curricula and teaching methods to align Egyptian university education with the needs of local industry; and
  • Establishing undergraduate-and graduate-level scholarships for students with high financial need; and
  • Implement exchange programs to foster cross-border learning.

Since 1978, the American people have invested $30 billion to further Egypt’s human and economic development based on our shared ideals and interests.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Africa Regional Media Hub.

500 MW solar project to be built in Oman

500 MW solar project to be built in Oman

With no details reported on the final electricity price agreed for a 500 MW solar project to be built in Oman, speculation will center on whether the victorious Saudi power company and its Kuwaiti partners have again trumped lower offers from overseas rivals. The winning ACWA says:

We are a developer, investor and operator of power generation and desalinated water plants with 51 assets in operation, construction or advance development across 11 countries. We employ over 3,500 people with ~60% local employment. ACWA Power’s portfolio, with an investment value in excess of USD 45 billion, can generate 29+ GW of power and produce over 4.8 million m3 /day of desalinated water.

ACWA triumphs again in Middle Eastern tendering exercise

By Max Hall

With big players from France, Korea, China, Spain, India, Turkey and the U.K. all having expressed an interest in developing a 500 MW solar park in Oman, the organizing body will have surprised hardly anybody by eventually settling on a winning consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and two Kuwaiti partners.

The winner was reportedly announced late on Sunday night by Kuwait’s state-owned news agency KUNA. pv magazine has been unable to verify that decision, which was reported by news wire Reuters yesterday.

According to the Reuters report, ACWA and partners the Gulf Investment Corporation and the Alternative Energy Projects Co have landed the contract to develop the project at Ibri, 300 km west of Muscat.

Originally announced as a $500 million project, the Ibri scheme is now being reported as a $400 million plant but the commissioning date of early 2021 is unchanged.

Home advantage

The decision of commissioning body the Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP) will come as a fresh snub to French energy giant EDF, which last year submitted the lowest bid for a 300 MW scheme in Saudi Arabia – SAR0.06697/kWh ($0.018) for the energy generated – only to lose out to ACWA despite the Saudi company offering a higher tariff of SAR0.08872. The Reuters report did not carry any details of final negotiated power tariffs in the Omani procurement exercise.

EDF was one of 12 bidders shortlisted by the OPWP after an initial request for expressions of interest attracted 28 enquiries from around the world. Indian state-owned utility NTPC Ltd was filtered out at the first stage but that left big solar companies including Engie, X-ELIO, Hanwha Q Cells, BP, Chint, GCL New Energy and Abengoa in the running.

The OPWP announced in November there were three consortia left standing, with ACWA and its partners joined by a group made up of Chinese manufacturing giant Jinko Solar, French oil major Total and state-owned Abu Dhabi concern Masdar; and a third bid, from Japan’s Marubeni Corp and the Oman Gas Company.

Oman is aiming to install 4 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030, from a low base, and is also running a separate 500 MW solar tender as well as a reported $1 billion, 300 MW wind park.

How to fund the growth of the region’s entrepreneurs

How to fund the growth of the region’s entrepreneurs

“Developing an angel investor pool in the Middle East will create more opportunities and will strengthen regional economic growth” said Ramesh Jagannathan, Managing Director of startAD when introducing his article for Arabian Business weekly dated March 16, 2019.

Here is his opinion.

How to fund the growth of the region’s entrepreneurs

Financing the angel investment market in Africa, Asia, Europe and America is estimated to be worth $50bn
We live in an exciting age for entrepreneurs. Fuelled by governments in the Middle East, the desire of transforming to an entrepreneurial based economy and boosting investment into building a healthy start-up ecosystem is high-up on the agenda. While there are sufficient funds to fuel potential start-ups in the ecosystem, the risk averse nature of venture capital (VC) firms mean they tend to concentrate their investments in later stage start-ups with crisper valuations. In a mature ecosystem, less than 1 percent of start-ups receive VC funding, and in emerging markets, this number drops by a factor of two. As VC investments continue to move towards more mature start-ups, there is a widening void of funding for early stage start-ups. The effect is not as severe in mature ecosystems as in an emerging ecosystem for a number of reasons.
Angel investors have traditionally filled this void. For example, in the US, annual angel investments of $24bn are being made in over 64,000 start-ups. In fact, 74 percent of all Silicon Valley investments are from entrepreneurial angels, who were previously a founder or a CEO of their own start-up. The phenomenon of “founders funding founders” highlights the organic nature of the process, that they are “local” and have a deep understanding of the entrepreneurship ecosystem and play a vital role in building the ecosystem. This deep knowledge helps to mitigate some of the risks that come with ambiguous valuation of early stage start-ups. More than 60 percent of the angels become active mentors of the start-ups they have invested in and generally take a board seat. More than half of them have a technology background.
By 2030, 88 percent of the next billion people joining the middle class will primarily come from India and China
Having the “right” angel investor tends to de-risk the entrepreneurial process and increases the start-ups’ success rate in raising funds in future rounds. Angels generally see 11 percent of their portfolio producing positive returns.
On the other hand, in emerging ecosystems, there is a dearth of previously successful entrepreneurs, thereby creating a “catch 22” situation. The time scale of the process to build a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem is made more acute by the fact that 67 percent of start-ups fail at some point in the process due to inability to raise a subsequent round of financing. The paradox is this: to have a healthy, sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem, one needs a significant pool of high quality start-ups to cater to a large consumer middle-class and angel investors who have been successful entrepreneurs, preferably within the ecosystem. In other words, while having significant individual or group (eg syndicates) wealth is necessary, they are definitely not sufficient to build a robust ecosystem in an emerging economy, if the wealth is not “hard-wired” to local entrepreneurial experience. Ecosystems are organic in nature.
In India and China, this enigma has been resolved. While the pool of technology talent in these two countries has always been immense, due to the absence of middle-class, post WWII saw a significant “brain drain” from India and China to the US and Silicon Valley. The exodus of the “cream of the crop” from India, especially from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), was unstoppable after the 1970s and from China since 1979, when the Chinese government started to send its best and brightest students and scholars to the US to catch up with western science and technology. By 1990, about 33 percent of all scientists and engineers in Silicon Valley were from India and China. Of these. 71 percent of these Chinese and 87 percent of these Indians arrived after 1970.
Going forward, by 2030, 88 percent of the next billion people joining the middle class will primarily come from India and China. We are now seeing a significant reverse “brain drain” of Indians and Chinese engineers, scientists and investors back to their homelands. About 80 percent of those returning hold graduate degrees in science, technology or business. China now boasts a sound angel investment culture, and while it’s still in its early stages in India it is gaining steam rapidly as the VC infrastructure is getting foundationally strong.
Turning our focus now to the UAE, and the GCC countries, the opportunity to “ride the wave” of India and China’s global tech dominance is crystal clear. But there are still gulfs to cross, such as the absence of a large, local technology talent pool. Without a disciplined and informed state-of-the-art process that dovetails to a VC infrastructure – by leveraging the local societal sensibilities and strategic inter-governmental alliances – the strength of access to large sums of local capital could quickly become our Achilles’ heel.
By all the ingredients for a master recipe to create a dominant UAE digital economy are in place and we need to diligently prepare, suit up and ride the long wave
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, discussed the role of governments in stimulating entrepreneurial ecosystems and compares the strengths of funding (supply side) versus founding based (demand) policies. Thiele recommended supply side policies as a mechanism to catalyse growth. However, in emerging economies, we could describe it as a “many body problem”.
We need to stimulate the process of accelerating the flow of global start-up talent into the ecosystem through the UAE.
Besides the government, this process should embed the local competency private sector stakeholders, such as in aviation, energy, transportation and logistics and finance industries. The Venture Launchpad programme at startAD is a classic example that shows significant promise.
Simultaneously, we should educate the regional angel investors about the mechanics and rigors of angel investment in digital start-ups and democratise access. The annual Angel Rising Symposium, now in its fifth year, brings the best minds from around the globe to discuss the best practises that are regionally relevant. The third piece of the puzzle is about building local capacity. StartAD and Khalifa Fund are partnering together to build the acceleration ramp to the global digital economic highway through programmes such as Ibtikari and Pitch@Palace.
All the ingredients for a master recipe to create a dominant UAE digital economy are in place and we need to diligently prepare, suit up and ride the long wave, leading the MENA region.

MENA debt boom leading to private sector growth

MENA debt boom leading to private sector growth

Mouayed Makhlouf says governments have become more receptive to private sector involvement in economies as debt levels have grown reports Zawya #financial services.

Zawya produced this article dated March 12, 2019, about how the MENA debt boom leading to private sector growth would afterall result in a more sustainable development model.

MENA debt boom provides a route for private sector growth: IFC chief

By Michael Fahy, ZAWYA

Governments in the Middle East are becoming more receptive to growing private sector involvement in their economies because public sector debt in many markets is ballooning, an official from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) has said.

Speaking on an investors’ panel debate at the Global Financial Forum in Dubai on Monday, the IFC’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) director, Mouayed Makhlouf, said: “For the first time, because of the massive rise in public debt across the region, we see a difference. Our narrative with these governments has changed.  Now, they are coming to us and they are saying ‘can you help us with the reforms?'”

General view of the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 22, 2018. Image for illustrative purposes. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Makhlouf said that the MENA region needs to create 300 million new jobs – “basically, double the population” by 2050 due to the burgeoning youth population in the region, and that Egypt alone needs to create around 700,000 jobs per year, although he said it is MENA’s fastest growing economy currently, with GDP growth of 5.3 percent, compared with a regional average of around 2-3 percent.

“The social contract in MENA is as such where most of the services (are) provided by the public sector.  But what you have ended up with… is a huge public debt that has been rising for the past few years,” he said, adding that debt-to-GDP ratios stand at around 96 percent in Egypt, 97-98 percent in Jordan and 150 percent in Lebanon.

“For us, the main thing we need to find in this region are… growth and jobs.  And I really believe both of these things can only come through a larger private sector participation,” Makhlouf said.

In a separate panel on the outlook for the region’s banking sector, JP Morgan‘s Asif Raza said that the decline in oil prices that began in 2014 had created opportunities for international banks to advise governments that are looking to diversify on how to embark on “monetisation and privatisation” of assets.

Naveed Kamal, MENA head of corporate banking at Citi, said that governments had run up deficits as oil revenues fell, and had financed these through “various instruments where banks have been involved”.

“And we expect to see that continue over the next 2-3 years.”

Although total GCC fixed income issuance declined by 16 percent year-on-year to $145.3 billion in 2018 as oil prices rallied, according to Kamco Research, JP Morgan’s Raza said the current pipeline is “huge”.

A faster flow

Raza said that at this stage last year, “over $15.4 billion worth of issuance was done in the MENA region – this year, it’s $28 billion”.

He added that in 2018, “the loan market was (at an) all-time high in this region”.  Figures published earlier this month from Acuris showed that syndicated loan activity in the MENA region last year outstripped bond issuance – with $133 billion of syndicated loans issued, compared to $89.5 billion in bonds.

Raza said that at the top end of the corporate banking market, “there’s lots of activity still happening”.

“There’s still quite a decent pipeline of financing and refinancing,” he said.

However, Citi’s Kamal argued that the market has been much tougher for SMEs in recent years.

“I believe that there is room for improvement for all countries in the region as far as creating the right balance for SMEs (is concerned),” he said.

He said that “time and again” in tougher economic times large corporates, government-related entities and even government departments have delayed payments to SMEs, which causes cashflow problems and affects their ability to repay creditors.

Quick exits

“And some of the legal framework that surrounds the corporate sector – we all know about bounced cheques and the consequences of that.  In summary, what happens is SMEs can’t stay back in a number of cases (to) fight through these cycles.  So, we see skips, people leave and that does not leave a very strong impact as far as consumer confidence is concerned.”

Yet funding shortages for private sector firms can also create opportunities – not least for the region’s private equity sector, according to Karim El-Solh.

Speaking on the investment panel, El-Solh said that his firm’s pipeline “has increased dramatically as a result of a lack of availability of funding for businesses elsewhere.

“The IPO market is not open; the bank liquidity has dried up so for us it’s an opportunity to come and be a provider of growth capital.  We are seeing more companies, better quality companies, we’re acquiring controlling stakes at lower valuations,” he said.

Makhlouf said more opportunities need to be created for the private sector, stating that levels of private sector involvement in the economy in the region lag behind other emerging markets.

“MENA region is only one-fifth in terms of private sector participation compared to Latin America,” he said.

© ZAWYA 2019