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Five Things To Look Out For During The MENA Region's Luxury E-Commerce Boom According to a Bain & Company report, the sector is forecasted to achieve $8.9 billion in 2021- underlining the tremendous potential that remains untapped.

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The unassailable growth of e-commerce witnessed in recent months is remarkable. While many would attribute this growth to the COVID-19 pandemic (which essentially forced people to resort to online shopping), the fact is that the Middle East has been preparing a fertile ground for e-commerce to thrive for quite some time now– both from the demand and supply perspectives.

Whilst routine e-commerce segments such as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) have grown following the pandemic, the growth of the luxury e-commerce sector across MENA has been relatively muted. According to a Bain & Company report, the sector is forecasted to achieve $8.9 billion in 2021- underlining the tremendous potential that remains untapped.

The omnichannel transformation

Consumers stand to be the overall winners here, as an increasing number of luxury fashion retailers have started to embrace a truly omnichannel approach. We're seeing the spotlight being shone on the need for retailers to invest in digital platforms that mirror the in-store experience. Ultimately, consumers want to see an exciting, upscale customer journey online- one that feels safe, helpful, classy, and most importantly, tailored to their needs.

The e-commerce opportunity is further amplified by the shift from desktops to smartphones; the now ubiquitous apps present value-adds that many brands tend to overlook. From building customer loyalty to delivering a sense of 24x7 connection (that strengthen the brand narrative), they are integral to the 360-degree transformation that luxury brands must make to unlock the potential that digital commerce offers.

The case for online luxury retail

Luxury retail is as challenging as it is brimming with opportunities, and capturing a share of the luxury e-commerce market is crucial. What is needed is an integrated approach led by creativity, technological expertise and business acumen to accelerate the region's luxury retail sector towards its true potential.

According to Bain & Company, 70% of high-net-worth purchasers in the region say they are now comfortable shopping online, even though they would have traditionally leant towards the in-store experience.

As we begin to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, in-store footfall is on the rise. But this does not mean e-commerce will disappear; in fact, clients will now demand access to both the in-store and the online experiences, and expect an equally prestigious visit digitally and in brick-and-mortar stores. It's not about online and offline competing anymore, but more about how they complement and reinforce each other to offer "the shopping experience of the future."

Transforming the online luxury shopping model

There are no shortcuts when it comes to driving luxury e-commerce sales. Brand value matters, and highly discerning luxury customers will expect nothing short of excellent service and a personalized experience- even online.

The true value proposition of luxury e-commerce is about providing a 360-degree approach, where everything from a cursory website visit to product delivery is a seamless and elevated experience. This has been mirrored in the extensive work my company, Emakina, has done with luxury retailers, including a project with Chalhoub Group for YSL Beauty, where a perfect marriage between technology and aesthetics was the main objective.

The rehaul offered the YSL Beauty team a system that facilitated the integration of new digital marketing campaigns and product information availability, while also implementing an order management system that offered customers a clean, fast, and attractive user experience, from A to Z.

Related: Chalhoub Launches KSA's First Fashion Lab To Foster Saudi Fashion Talent

The right fit for connoisseurs

The growth of luxury e-commerce will continue to go from strength to strength. That means, retailers must rethink how they bring the exceptional features of their products online to simulate the luxury in-store experience.

In fact, that is precisely what was delivered for Graff, the world renown jeweler. Graff needed an all-encompassing e-commerce platform to give discerning clients a delightful online shopping experience, equal to the prestige of a boutique visit.

What customers gained from this strategic transformation was a concierge-like experience, where different integrations allowed them to be in touch with the brand– such as the option to request more information, book a private appointment, create a customer account and log-in via social platforms.

It also offered fantastic integration with its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for customer, order, inventory, and price book management. To give users a feeling of safety when shopping online, the website was linked to all major payment providers. Emakina also implemented FedEx, AvaTax real-time tax calculation tools, Google Maps, Outlook, WhatsApp, and computer telephony integration (CTI), for an extra layer of convenience.

The new tools enabled Graff to collect customer information such as interests, preferences, and appointment requests for personalized communications and marketing activities– which created even more value in the onward journey.

Now is the right time

We believe that now is the right time to evaluate the luxury e-commerce landscape to develop a more strategic, tech-driven and aesthetic perspective. This offers brands a strategic pivot to amplify and safeguard brand equity as well as value, and provide customers an even deeper journey than an in-store experience can offer. By gaining customer insights that are not readily available in-person, brands can leverage data to tailor their products and the retail experience to exactly what customers want.

Online commerce has also opened another window for luxury brands– the ability to offer specially curated pop-ups and exclusive online collections. This helps global luxury entities to assimilate into local cultures, such as creating customized seasonal collections, as was seen with the Dior virtual pop-up launched during Ramadan.

Where to from here?

Today, customers are returning to stores as malls across the region operate at larger capacities; however, many have adapted to the convenience of online shopping. With an explosion of digital fashion in recent years, it is progressing beyond desktop purchases and into the realm of brand-specific apps. Customers who are already lovers of a brand want access to brand portals at all times for ease of purchasing, and carefully curated apps offer just that.

From a digital agency perspective, it's really about developing a 360-degree view of digital commerce, and how it can exist across a brand's platforms in order to increase customer loyalty. It's therefore no mystery that fashion houses such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Dolce & Gabbana have entered the tech and digital fashion space- creating a new platform for brand self-expression.

As tech-savvy Gen Z and millennial consumers enter the luxury market, the key is to focus on showcasing authenticity using fashion as a means of expression, both in the virtual and physical world.

Related: Follow The Leader: Nisreen Shocair, CEO, YOOX Net-A-Porter Middle East

Murat Yoldas Ertugrul

VP – MENA, Emakina

Murat Yoldas Ertugrul is the VP for the MENA region at Emakina.
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