Five Key Growth Considerations For SMEs Within The Evolving Regional E-Commerce Ecosystem
Creating the right infrastructure and opportunities for SMEs and helping them navigate the e-commerce, retail and logistics waves is critical, especially for those looking to make their mark in the e-commerce industry.
Economic diversification is critical to the future of the Middle East region. Regional governments understand that creating a knowledge and servicesbased economy, where businesses of a range of sizes can grow, will help achieve sustainability. As such, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have increasing opportunities for development in the region.
Over the past decade, Middle Eastern governments have been investing in creating the right infrastructure to help SMEs flourish. Dubai, in particular, has set ambitious development goals in the 50 Year Charter including the establishment of the world's first virtual trade zone targeting 100,000 companies, as well as the transformation of universities into free zones in order to promote economic growth and innovation. These goals offer exceptional opportunities for promising SMEs. In addition, a number of measures have been taken to reduce costs and boost business confidence. This has led to growth and increase in not just the number of SMEs, but also their contribution to the GDP of countries in the region. For example, in 2019 it is estimated that in the UAE, SMEs contributed 53% to the national GDP, up from about 49% in 2018. The UAE federal government aims to increase this rate to around 60% by 2021, underscoring the importance of this contribution in supporting the country's long-term economic plan.
Given the pace at which the world is evolving, coupled with the young, digitally mature population in the region, there are increased opportunities for SMEs. Creating the right infrastructure and opportunities for SMEs and helping them navigate the e-commerce, retail and logistics waves is therefore critical, especially for those looking to make their mark in the e-commerce industry. Here are five considerations for SMEs to keep in mind when pursuing growth in the e-commerce ecosystem:
1/ Know your customer
Be aware of the changing customer expectations that are driving global e-commerce trends, how they apply to the business, and what can be done to successfully adapt. Feedback from customers and shippers highlight that technology and digital transformation will continue to play a critical role in the future of e-commerce and trade. Hence, small businesses must use data and technology to continue to understand their customers' needs, expand their services, and select the right partners to meet the requirements of the demanding online shopper.
2/ Go global
The advent of the virtual marketplace means consumers now research for the best price, no matter where the product is, be it in the town they live in, or another continent altogether. It has opened doors for small and medium companies to trade across borders in a way that was never possible before. Take advantage of the opportunity to trade cross borders with ease, but be sure to do it right by customizing your platforms and logistics strategies accordingly. Historically, there were aspects of cross border sales such as taxes and duties that were difficult to manage; however, today, all of those complexities can be taken care of by logistics companies. At the end of the day, SMEs that don't go global will be at a significant disadvantage in the future.
3/ Get your channel strategy right
Depending on the growth strategy, SMEs may need to consider direct selling, through online marketplaces or e-commerce platforms. With an omnichannel strategy, off and online operations need to be integrated to provide a seamless experience to customers.
Selecting the right application program interface (API) plug-ins and modules to enable additional options and integrate with these platforms might seem like a complicated process, which is where a reputable logistics partner will step in and guide, based on one's needs.
4/ Focus on what you do well, let others do the rest
Work out which partners are needed, and create a partner strategy to capitalize on the most advanced capabilities available. When choosing a logistics partner for retail and ecommerce, small businesses should focus on those that can provide delivery options –speed, cost optimization, and reliability- to differentiate their offer. The highest levels of service commitment and digital integration, along with automated back-end support, visibility, and reporting are competitive advantages to build brand loyalty. The clearance efficiency offered by the delivery partner can also be an important differentiator for small companies– one wants a partner that will ensure that correct shipping documentation, relevant approvals and authorizations are in place to avoid any delays, and ensure products are delivered in the shortest possible time.
5/ Be ready for change
Last but not the least, don't get locked in. E-commerce is an emerging economy that necessitates flexibility, so it is critical for SMEs to ensure they are ready to change as it evolves in order to successfully accommodate changes in customer demands and development of new solutions. From the outside looking in, one could think the world of e-commerce is fragmented and complex, with multiple risks and as yet, undefined rewards. However, with the growing number of full-service providers and technology solutions to facilitate the online journey at every step of the way, it is becoming much easier to get a foot in the door.
Now, what SMEs need to remember is that they don't need to own -or even actively manage- all parts of the e-commerce ecosystem. Almost every element of the e-commerce process -from live customer tracking, to delivery options, returns management capabilities, chatbots and contact centers, as well as localization of currencies, languages, and delivery options- can be outsourced to either one full service logistics provider, or a network of players.
With the right partner, they can gain advantage from the ability to overcome geographical limitations, increase market reach, and achieve scale- without having to make any bricks and mortar investments. The right partner will also provide SMEs with the agility and flexibility required to tap into high growth markets. As such, what SMEs getting into the e-commerce space need to focus on is finding the right partners with the right capabilities- this is crucial to remain competitive.