Less tradition, more transactions

Liquid Retail’s Sachinn J Lala explores the ongoing transformation of the Middle East's e-commerce landscape,

Over a 15 year career in e-commerce and shopper marketing in the Middle East, I’ve had the privilege to witness, and be part of, the extensive digital transformation the region has undergone.

What was once a relatively untapped market has quickly become a booming hub for online commerce with no signs of slowing down, as experts estimate the Middle East’s market volume to reach US$50 billion by 2025.

If the trajectory is accurate, that’s more than double the market volume of 2020. This e-commerce expansion is a story of growth, adaptation, and the remarkable role that social media has played in this digital renaissance.

The Middle East e-commerce boom

As a region home to a young and tech-savvy population, the digital revolution has been welcomed with open arms, or perhaps more accurately, tapping fingers.

This does not come as a surprise; the MENA region has experienced substantial rates of internet penetration, with countries like KSA, UAE and Kuwait already presenting 100 percent of the population in 2022.

When paired with rising consumer confidence in online shopping and the advance of AI providing an ever-more-personalised experience, the adoption of digital retail preferences is here to stay.

The Middle East’s shopping landscape has certainly evolved from the traditional trading scenes that may come to mind. Todays consumers are increasingly turning to the convenience and accessibility of online shopping.

Whether it’s fashion, electronics, groceries, or even luxury items, e-commerce has become the go-to destination for discerning shoppers.

Liquid Retail CEO Sachinn J Lala

Social Media’s role in e-commerce

Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are no longer just sources of entertainment and connection but also powerful tools for businesses to engage with their audience and drive sales, as well as places to make purchases.

In a recent YouGov survey, 40 percent of UAE respondents preferred making purchases via social media e-shops, trumping the amount of those choosing to shop on retail brands’ own apps (31 percent).

An interesting adoption of trust when you look at the short time these sales channels have been operating, and a clear sign that there is a whole new space in which brands can reach and market to their audiences with a targeted, strategic approach.

Impact of the influencer

Local influencers claiming authenticity and relatability have amassed significant followings. These influencers are more than just content creators; they are ‘trusted voices’ in their audiences’ respective niches, with data in a 2022 report suggesting social network users in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt follow more influencers than the global average (22.1 percent).

Influencer marketing has transcended mere endorsement deals and evolved into an almost necessary relationship for communication and promotion between brands and their audiences, with influencer-promoted products or reviews resonating with audiences on a personal level.

This connection often translates to heightened brand visibility and trust, which has a direct correlation to sales.

The Middle East’s digital renaissance has shown us that consumer behaviour can and will change, markets can transform, and new opportunities can emerge, even in regions with deep-rooted traditions.

But it’s equally important to keep the core understanding of audiences and their drivers at the heart of a brand’s marketing.

It’s an exciting journey, and those who have mastered the foundations and are willing to adapt and innovate will undoubtedly find their place in this new era of e-commerce in the Middle East.

By Sachinn J Lala, CEO, Liquid Retail