Online shopping in the Middle East is rapidly evolving, having grown by the staggering 1500% over the last decade. With a dynamic young population, speedy internet penetration and very high levels of personal disposable income, the Middle East is quickly emerging as one of the fastest developing ecommerce markets in the world!
So, it is no surprise that by the end of the year, ecommerce sales in the region will touch $15 billion, and are expected to grow even further reaching as much as $41.5 billion by 2020.
Although this growth is expected to be witnessed across all ecommerce categories, the fashion segment is particularly one to watch, since the wealthy and fashion-loving Middle Eastern shoppers become more and more open to purchasing their lavish garments and accessories online.
However, before tapping into the growing fashion ecommerce opportunity, retailers operating in this segment should understand that the Arab consumers are very unique in their online shopping flavours and expectations.
The Middle East requires a different online approach to build and maintain strong customer relationships, in comparison to western markets such as the US or Europe.
Fashion is immensely popular in the Middle East and shoppers in the region follow this industry closely, showing a great understanding of fashion and luxury trends.
Middle Eastern consumers are also very brand and quality conscious, since brands are considered to carry status – which is of high importance in Middle Eastern culture. Looking for luxury and flamboyance, Arabs assign status to brands in everything they buy, from cars and smart phones, to clothes and accessories.
It is a common practice for the women in the Middle East, for example, to buy expensive designer brand-name dresses, even though they will never be seen by in public outside of their immediate family.
It is worth mentioning, though, that many high-end fashion products and brands that convey status in other countries may not be established enough in some Middle East markets to convey status.
So, before entering the Middle East ecommerce industry for fashion, retailers need to make sure that their product offering will appeal to Arabic shoppers, in terms of brand quality and recognition.
As well as treating fashion as a symbol of status when doing their product selection for the Middle East, retailers need to consider the popularity of certain type of clothing in the region, keeping the local culture in mind.
Political and religious influences in the Middle East, for example, disallow women to bare hands and expose certain parts of their body, which poses a restriction in terms of choosing their ensemble.
So, certain fashion categories might not only be poorly accepted by the Middle Eastern shopper, but they might also be seen as disrespect for the local religion and customs.
By contrast, some high-end fashion labels are highly successful and extremely popular among the Middle Eastern customers for their collections of scarves, long-sleeved pieces or more conservative garment lines.
Another consideration retailers should embrace, before setting their sights on the Middle East, is the importance of creating trust among the consumers in the region.
Arab online shoppers tend to buy from companies that speak their language, so translating and localising all content to suit the specifics of each Middle Eastern market is critical. This creates trust and makes shoppers in the region feel more confident about purchasing online.
Another shopping trait that characterises the Middle Eastern consumer is the need to touch or try out before they buy, especially in the context of a fashion purchase. So, providing sizing charts and high-quality pictures and videos of the products, is key.
To further encourage online purchases, providing a cash-on-delivery (COD) payment option is highly important, as up to 75% of all local online transactions are COD. In addition, having an Arab speaker ready to take calls, from customers new to online shopping, will provide the buyer with a sense of security when purchasing the product.
Last but not least, showing respect to the local culture, by creating advertisements that are friendly to the areas of society that are more conservative, or by offering special discounts during religious holidays like Ramadan, will create even more trust and will add to the success of your ecommerce store.
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