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How to win the social commerce race in the Middle East, by Vamp’s Karl Mapstone

Tap into this lucrative market by building audience trust, advises Vamp’s head of Middle East Karl Mapstone.

While it’s true that the Middle East was slow to adopt e-commerce, preferring to shop in stores than online, the pandemic has accelerated its adoption. Following various lockdowns, shoppers in the Middle East have come round to the convenience of e-commerce, while platforms have improved their usability and fulfilment.

As a result, experts have been forced to adjust their estimates. Last year, the consultancy firm Kearney revised its predictions for the e-commerce market in the Gulf region from $21bn in 2020 to $24bn. By 2025, Kearney estimates, the market in this part of the Middle East will have doubled to $50bn per year.

But there’s another opportunity on the horizon for brands and marketers looking to increase sales: social commerce. This next frontier builds on the success of e-commerce and promises to make social campaigns even more lucrative – and crucial to get right.

#TikTokMadeMeBuyIt

Brands already understand the power of social media when it comes to influencing sales. Particularly those who have been lucky enough to be part of the #tiktokmademebuyit phenomenon, whereby TikTokers share their latest purchase inspired by the platform. That tag now has more than 6 billion views on TikTok and an incredible 83 per cent of TikTok users say that trending content has driven them to make a purchase.

Brands using influencer marketing also know how to engage and inspire potential customers, making meaningful connections with them. Last Eid, Vamp worked with department store Selfridges on an influencer marketing campaign. The authentic influencer content was transformed into Instagram ads to boost and better track conversions. We found a single influencer post was responsible for driving 141 customers to their e-commerce platform, which contributed £22,600 in sales.

Social commerce gives marketers an opportunity to further close the gap between inspiration and purchase. Turning social browsers into buyers in a mere matter of taps, without ever leaving the social media app. If we can shorten that path to purchase, catering to those impatient customers with short attention spans, brands stand to see an even bigger sales lift.

A golden opportunity

The potential for brands to make sales off the back of a successful social campaign is huge, but particularly in the Middle East. Here in the UAE, 99 per cent of the population is on social media, one of the highest adoption rates in the world. Those users are spending an average of two hours and 55 minutes on social media every single day.

Social commerce will help to turn this vast audience into shoppers with a smoother path to purchase, but that’s not the only benefit. Features such as augmented reality, where customers can virtually try on before they buy, and live-stream shopping, are upgrades within the social commerce space likely to be popular among the Middle East’s digitally-savvy consumers.

How to win the s-commerce race

Instagram and TikTok have pioneered social commerce, and they’re continually fine-tuning it. Instagram’s new ‘drop’ feature, for instance, enables customers to participate in high-buzz, limited-stock releases from retailers – all without leaving the feed.

The key to convincing social media users to impulse-buy a product is trust. Whether they’ve been thinking about a purchase for a while or have just discovered the product, their willingness to tap ‘buy’ depends on whether they believe the product will look or work the way the social media content suggests it will.

Polished ads or sponsored content are popular solutions, although it’s not unusual for users to scroll right by them. Genuine reviews and organic recommendations also boost trust in a product, but there’s little brands can do to generate these besides delivering on their promises.

The most effective approach is to work with influencers. Their endorsement of a product carries real sway among their followers, building that all-important trust. Brands can also fit influencers into their larger marketing strategy, leveraging the creative, thumb-stopping content they produce as advertisements on the social platform and beyond.

Analysts predict that social commerce will grow at an astonishing 31.4 per cent compound annual growth rate until at least 2027. At that point, the global social commerce market will be worth an estimated $604.5bn. For brands that are looking for a piece of that success, now is the time to get started.

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