Being in the business of building solutions for some of the biggest clients in the regions, I hear this question often from clients. A media report and Google’s Insights show that there is a significant market to shopping online in the Middle East.

With the recent crop of several online shopping/e-commerce sites in the UAE, we’ve begun to wonder if this trend truly resonates with YOU, the consumer as well.

Firstly, those solution builders (like ourselves) that are expecting to see this post ramble on into incessant whining over issues with payment gateways, should probably find another outlet. We’re not going to get into that debate. We’ve heard enough of it and don’t want much more with it. This is about the consumers and us – well, outside our day jobs – and how we look at shopping online, here in the UAE.

It seems that this trend is erupting. More and more brands want to sell products online. And we’ve been helping them do so too. But somewhere along the way, we’ve lost track of what it means to buyers.

 

TOUCH – FEEL – BUY

We’re never too far from a shopping mall, here in the UAE. And distances here aren’t that big either. Its no surprise then that the reason that most retailers are afraid to jump into the online space is because it might hurt what experience their consumers take out of it. Most of us, here at Innovations_Digital have spent considerable time in mature e-commerce markets. We’ve come to miss Amazon and its Prime two day delivery. We miss shopping online the way these markets have evolved to. But there was always an element of touch, feel and then buy online.

A visit to the Gap store would allow us to try the 1969 boot-cut before heading online to buy the same for 10% off the sticker price. For shoes it was the same. And so was it for electronics too.

We think from a touch-feel point of view, ecommerce will probably never compete unless Willy Wonka could truly build us his awesome TV. But there is a social recommendation issue in the region too. Reviews are hard to find – and believe – on sites that have shopping carts that we’re never truly ready to buy unless its pure WOM or peer pressure.

 

DOES EXCLUSIVITY WORK?

Gilt Groupe whipped up the private online luxury sales model and has been able to not only sustain it but diversify it as a lifestyle proposition across various segments. Since then many have followed. Rue La LaBeyond The Rack and Prive are all respected propositions similar to Gilt. In the local market, we’ve seen Sukar and MARKAVIP do the same. They offer luxury products at massively discounted prices to buyers in the region.

Have you ever shopped at either? Their delivery schedules are deplorable but most users probably forgo that for the huge discounts that they get on the oft repeating collections of Kenneth Cole, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. On a perception level, the Sukar and MARKAVIP may seem like gated communities but we’ve found that readily allow users access within 20 minutes of “applying for membership.”

So, this is truly a perception of “exclusivity”. The fact that you – and quite a few others – have access to exclusive discounted luxury products probably has a high appeal to consumers. We’re always eager to know if either of these sites is on your daily to-view list.

 

THE GROUPON MODEL

GoNabIt (now LivingSocial)Cobone and Groupon all thrive on the group buying model. But we’ve rarely ever seen a deal not been provided to the user even if the target wasn’t reached. Also, there has slowly been news pouring in that the Groupon Model is already beginning to fade for brands and merchants. While this issue shouldn’t be attributed to Groupon per se but its the effect that it is having.

How merchants can convert a one-time user who walks in with a Cobone voucher to a returning one should depend on the merchant itself. But its the non-exclusive competition that Groupon and its type of websites provide that it has the negative effect on merchants. Every week you can walk away with a massage deal from a different spa. Every week you can book a different yacht or redeem vouchers at different restaurants.

As a business I can understand why they hate it, but as a consumer you’re excited about the savings you’re getting. But somewhere after the initial rush to buy vouchers online, do you ever feel that we’re hitting a saturation point with what is available on these platforms for you as a consumer? If you’ve used Groupon, Cobone or GoNabIt, how often do you return to it?

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