Don’t go looking for off-the-shelf solutions to launch an eCommerce business. It won’t get your business far.
“Building [an eCommerce platform] on a $5,000 off-the-shelf open source technology and putting it out there doesn’t work,” said Mona Ataya, CEO of Mumzworld, the portal that specialises in child- and mother-care apparel and accessories and which earlier this month picked up $20 million in additional investor funding. “A lot of companies come out and say they have great technology … we laugh when they do that. It takes time to get it right.
“Because we understand the complexity going into creating great technology. You need the deep pockets to understand customer journeys, the cross-selling and upselling opportunities. It’s expensive to develop that sort of technology, including for mobiles and apps.”
But it will not deter new entrants from trying their luck. In the UAE, there is a belief that while Souq and noon dominate as multi-brand, multi-category marketplaces, there are still opportunities in the “verticals”, which are portals that specialise in a single category.
For retailers and brand franchises, this does open up multiple windows. “Marketplaces will always fall slightly short of portraying a brand’s actual DNA and ability to promote local and exclusive offerings,” said Rani Nasr, Head of eCommerce at Chalhoub Group. “We want to accelerate getting our goods online.
“This doesn’t mean we don’t want to partner with marketplaces and third-party sites — the more channels that interact with our consumer the closer we are to them.”
There are — gradual — changes too in the way merchandise is being sourced by the virtual shops. “Yes, a lot of brands are distributor-managed or distributor-led … this has been the way that the region has traditionally been operating,” said Ataya. “Where you are sourcing from local distributors who have signed agreements with the respective brands. That’s changing.
“As brands recognise that the online world is kind of opening their options, the distributor scenario is evolving. We (now) work with retailers, distributors, wholesalers and brands directly — the whole gamut.
“Seven years ago it may have been all from distributors … today’s it’s not. The idea for us is to source the best deal at the best price for the customer. If the distributor is not allowing us to do that, the world of open markets allow us to go directly to the brand.”
But are such changes from the past changing fast enough? At speeds more tuned to a digital economy? “Not fast enough,” Ataya said.