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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

A new age in cyber-consumerism

The growth in online shopping, coupled with the arrival of VAT, should have local retailers thinking seriously about ways to up their game

More and more retailers are offering deliveries at the doorsteps of their e-shoppers within hours. Simon Dawson / Bloomberg
More and more retailers are offering deliveries at the doorsteps of their e-shoppers within hours. Simon Dawson / Bloomberg

The arrival of Amazon-branded goods this week on regional e-tailer souq.com wasn’t all that remarkable in itself, unless you’re the kind of person who gets excited by those practical packing cubes Amazon uses and computer cables offered under the label AmazonBasics. Be that as it may, big changes are afoot. And if you can’t already hear the stomping march of the mighty online warrior into the region, it will soon become hard to ignore.

Amazon’s US$580 million (Dh2.1 billion) acquisition of Souq this spring opened the door to the next step in the evolution of online shopping in the region. Amazon brings the cachet of a global name, and the expectation that its full catalogue and benefits are not far off. That isn’t to say that it’s the only one challenging the dominance of mall shopping in the region: close to home, there is wadi.com and noon.com, expected some time this year.

Farther afield, Farfetch, the online fashion site based in London, offers luxury goods delivered to your door in Dubai within a mere 90 minutes, the same amount of time (with a big dose of hyperbole, we grant) some say it takes to get in and out of Dubai Mall’s car park on a busy day. Other global fashion sites have started to target the region with offers of free delivery, Ramadan promotions and customer service in Arabic.

The inevitable growth in online shopping, coupled with the arrival of VAT next year, should have local retailers thinking seriously about ways to up their game. If they can’t offer better value, then they would be wise to improve the shopping experience, starting with much needed improvements to customer service. Mall culture is a healthy part of the UAE’s social fabric, but if brick-and-mortar retailers don’t improve their offerings, it’ll mostly be the food court that gets the business.

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