This historic pandemic crisis has revealed many things that will certainly be taught in universities and used as titles in lectures. But we need a pause with one of the biggest points that concerns us in the UAE. Our topic today focuses on e-commerce, with which we should have many pauses especially after the first shock that we faced with it.
Only on paper
A lot of stores claimed to own, in one way or another, an electronic store, but in fact, these sites were just "something on paper". They had not been tested and their capabilities not scrutinized even during the first days of the crisis and the beginning of increased demand for them.
Not to mention the period of intensive use and the real challenges, as we were surprised by the collapse of these sites one after another, such as those operated by cooperatives and major retail stores. It is clear that they were not tested for even the simplest scenarios of online stores, such as training and creating a delivery fleet that must be prepared and equipped for electronic orders.
Often, some of them contented themselves with contracting one or two existing stores, or assigned it to a department or a small team without paying attention to it as an important source of income and a vital sector for them. A few of them have been spared this challenge.
Most of the cooperatives and major retail stores have delayed delivery or cancelled orders and made refunds to buyers after a certain period - often two weeks after receiving people's money and the procedures for returning the money collected also took further time. Some of them guaranteed their income by transferring money into points, to ensure that the customer would buy again from their store.
This is an act that needs accountability, what is the fault of the customer who did not know that to order the simplest things - frozen chicken, rice and milk - he has to wait for two weeks just because he trusted this online store and did not know that his order after all that wait will end up getting canceled. While, during this time, he could have gone to the nearest store and buy all his needs without relying on online stores.
Our pioneering and wise leadership has ensured people of food, medicine, security, safety, and stability Thanks be to Allah - there is no shortage of products at all.
Not enough of them
There are only two big e-stores in the UAE, and the others are not up to the level yet. However, one of them is still standing and the other stumbled badly for many reasons, which I cannot mention now. But the important point is the clarity of our need for major new players in this important market.
We can't just rely on such existing stores. This is a great opportunity to invest properly and thoughtfully. The great openness now to online orders has become acceptable to all and has also become a habit for many.
The strange thing is that the experience with electronics stores was different. In my experience with some of the biggest electronics stores - Sharaf DG, Jumbo and others - the delivery was fast and accurate, and some even sold non-electronic items in a smart move to cover the shortage on other portals.
Ordering from restaurants may have decreased in varying proportions, but as soon as all this started, one of the biggest apps moved fast and smart by including pharmacies, groceries, some other stores in delivering what people need. This act shows how a flexible and rapid positive transformation is required in all circumstances.
But the coverage problem for these companies is still difficult for users, and licensing bodies need to be more flexible to support such projects that serve large groups of people. Perhaps if a federal license had been created that would allow them to carry out the delivery process from different cities. Automatic coordination with fees between covered cities would make it more beneficial for everyone. This is just a suggestion.
It is one of the big problems, sometimes on account of delays, sometimes by delivering only one item from a long list of orders. And sometimes by canceling the delivery after a while as we mentioned before.
These companies need to schedule deliveries because delivering only one item a day from the list until it's finished increases the risk of a loss in customer confidence. "Half a cup is better than an empty one" - perhaps this is their principle, who knows.
Delivery of fresh products
Here, the scenario repeats itself. Even though some of them have their own stores and fleet, perhaps the intense pressure and resetting of safety standards to the utmost degree were reasons for them faltering and made them review their expansion plans.
Prices on some major websites have increased in varying proportions, reaching from 20 per cent to 200 per cent. Prices are still reeling unevenly than on global stock markets. So, you could see the price of the same product increase by Dh400 and you find the other rising by Dh1,000, or even more.
This "inflation" shows us the importance of having multiple alternatives to the current market, which lacks real competition, and the need for big traders and investors.
Many have begun to seriously plan an entry into the market and compete, either directly or indirectly. Let us look forward to the next chapter - it's going to be a lot better than this situation.
Those who took advantage of the situation would know that the time has come to correct their course. Otherwise, the options would be bigger and better.
- Ahmed Al Zarouni is a Dubai-based technology specialist.