Matter of fact – News, Views & Trends from the World of Public Relations

Ahmad Itani, Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Cicero & Bernay Public Relations.

In the UAE, we love our smartphones, and that is a fact. We have the world’s highest smartphone penetration, which currently sits at 80.6 per cent but continues to grow every day, and more than 90 per cent of the nation’s population also has access to the internet. This means that we spend a record amount of time browsing the web on our phones — around five hours a day, according to the latest estimates.

This is the perfect environment for e-commerce, and particularly ‘m-commerce’ — commercial transactions conducted specifically through mobile phones — to flourish. While e-commerce currently accounts for only 2 per cent of retail sales in the MENA region, it is tipped to be one of the biggest growth markets in the UAE over the coming years.

Frost & Sullivan estimates the market could be worth up to $10 billion by 2018 and AT Kearney expects e-commerce in the UAE to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25 per cent a year up to 2020. Growth will also be spurred by Amazon’s acquisition of Souq.com and the recent launch of Noon — a new platform offering 20 million items for sale in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Within this e-commerce boom, it is m-commerce that will take the lion’s share, as it already accounts for a higher proportion (36 per cent) of e-commerce sales in MENA than anywhere else in the world. Of these mobile sales, 47 per cent are made via apps, which have a conversion rate that is three times higher than that for mobile websites.

In alignment with economic diversification plans in the region, the exceptionally high potential of e-commerce, and particularly m-commerce, will open up entirely new growth avenues in the world of retail. On the other hand, brick and mortar shopping destinations stand to suffer if they do not manage to effectively blend their on-ground offering with a digital presence that engages today’s tech savvy consumers.

For communication professionals, I believe the key to success will be blending online and offline buying experiences to encompass the whole customer journey and create memorable moments across all touchpoints. M-commerce apps can be used innovatively to provide mobile discounts while customers shop in physical stores, allow customers to organise for their shopping to be delivered to their homes, or even use location-based technologies to drive footfall and walk-ins. In this mobile world, a customer who tries on a shirt in a store but wants it in a different colour can log onto the brand’s app and complete that purchase within seconds.

The lines are blurring between online and offline commerce, and mobile marketing will be what bridges the gap, maximising return on investment for clients and creating seamless, device-tailored shopping experiences for customers.