Beyond Translation: Winning Ecommerce in the GCC

Ryan den Rooijen
Ryan den Rooijen

The GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) is still in its infancy regarding ecommerce, seeing online account for just over 10% of total retail sales even after COVID's acceleration. Concurrently, these countries boast the highest Internet penetration rate globally. The convergence of these factors presents a powerful opportunity for brands.

As an ecommerce veteran entering this market, one might be tempted to impose preconceived ideas about what should exist and how to create it. After all, a blank canvas invites artistic expression. However, ego can hinder progress; it is through humility that organizations can truly capture the hearts and minds of their customers. This means starting with a good idea of the customer journey.

On the one hand, acknowledging that omnichannel retail is an established field is essential. Global best practices exist for retail marketing, digital product design and development, merchandising and trading, planning and operations, etc. Avoiding the urge to reinvent the wheel enables growth and improves quality.

Take user experience benchmarks. Having a third party scrutinise your shortcomings in detail may be uncomfortable, but the resulting insights can be invaluable. You might think, "My business is unique; should we not be doing things differently?" The reality is that adherence to best practices is crucial not only because they are effective, but also due to standardization. Customers shop with numerous brands, and keeping pace with evolving standards is critical.

Cars? Where we're going we don't need cars. 😎 Photo by Mariam Soliman.

Conversely, a one-size-fits-all approach to regional or local ecommerce risks leaving value untapped and, in some instances, may even compromise the business's integrity. Translation is one example as not everyone speaks English. Yet, localization extends beyond language to the overall customer experience.

Thoroughly understanding the local context is crucial for crafting genuinely customer-centric experiences. Businesses must grasp the unique needs of regional customers, from payment preferences to delivery options. For instance, some GCC consumers may favor cash on delivery over digital payments, while others have specific expectations for delivery times and customer support.

Acknowledging prevailing cultural norms is also vital. For example, modesty in clothing is highly valued, requiring businesses to balance showcasing global trends with respecting local sensibilities in product offerings and marketing materials. Critically, these norms can even vary within countries and cities.

Building a robust local team with in-depth market knowledge is therefore an important factor for navigating the regional ecommerce landscape. Hiring experts who comprehend the cultural, linguistic, and operational nuances allows businesses to adapt strategies and connect with customers more meaningfully.

Success in the GCC's ecommerce market requires a delicate balance between global standards and regional customisation. This means having the confidence to champion best-in-class solutions, while keeping an open mind with regards to the local context. Facing competition from both domestic and international players, this dual-pronged approach ensures brands can stay relevant.

– Ryan

Ecommerce & Omnichannel

Ryan den Rooijen

Chief Strategy Officer of Appsbroker CTS, the leading Google-dedicated consultancy. Formerly Chief Ecom & Data Officer.