My Startup World speaks to Mansour Al Thani, the CEO and Co-Founder of itcan, about the regional ecommerce market, the technology trends that are driving online sales and digital marketing trends in the region
What is ITCAN all about? What sort of products and solutions do you offer to the market?
We are a full-fledged e-commerce performance marketing company that provides a diverse portfolio of e-commerce, technology, performance and branding solutions to clients representing various industry verticals. Our company takes pride in offering a unique perspective to our clientele – a strong branding and performance marketing expertise. Our team of experts provide specialized solutions for performance marketing, mobile app development, digital marketing and e-commerce support.
Which markets do you currently cater to?
We have marked a key presence in the Middle East and GCC markets since our first entry in 2015. The success that we have achieved in these areas can be attributed to our key understanding of the culture, the people and e-commerce trends surrounding the Middle East and the GCC region.
Do you work with clients directly or do you have a channel model in place?
At present, we work directly with our clients. Our success in providing e-commerce marketing growth to our clients has resulted in a high number of word-of-mouth referrals. Aiming to complement this, we have also started creating and implementing a channel model.
Please tell us about the UAE’s e-commerce market?
Despite recent reports forecasting continuous growth for this segment, we still have a long way to go in terms of e-commerce. Amidst the fact that smartphone penetration rates in the Middle East and GCC region are the highest in the world, leading retail brands still have a lot to do to further digitize their retail experience. Once this challenge is addressed, there is a huge potential for growth.
In fact, online shopping has become a preferred medium of purchasing products, and companies are competing to provide stronger customer convenience and satisfaction. In the UAE alone, local players have now started to shine out as global players in the rapidly evolving e-commerce ecosystem. With this in mind, Itcan has forged strategic partnerships with these companies and has placed strong focus on the growth of their e-commerce businesses.
When it comes to shoppers in the region, do they prefer online or offline shopping activity?
As earlier stated, smartphone penetration in the region is one of the highest in the world, which demonstrates that Middle east and GCC consumers are highly sophisticated in the use and adoption of new technology or concepts – resulting in online shopping as a highly preferred way of purchasing goods.
The increased preference towards this form of purchase can also be attributed to factors like the cash on delivery method of payment, easy to use e-commerce websites & apps and express product delivery times.
Amidst this growing preference, consumers still enjoy the experience of shopping in real time. Industry analysts have shared that both online and offline methods of purchase can try to complement each other via the development of an omni-channel model that would be beneficial to the brand.
We have seen some high-profile shakeups in the ecommerce industry in the region. Do you think there is still place for more players in the market?
The market is forecasted to experience continuous growth for the long term, which allows room for more players – even in the presence of these high-profile shakeups. In fact, the competition grows day by day and is widely complemented with the emergence of newer, smarter and more innovative ways and solutions directed towards customer retention. Companies should utilize their USPs to build and sustain their presence in the market, placing key focus on the whole customer process from order to actual delivery.
What are digital marketers in the region getting right when it comes to engaging the audience?
Digital marketers in the region have a strong understanding of the culture, trends and consumer behavior, which in turn, allows them to prepare tailor made messages that specifically targets a consumer segment. Personalizing the experience proves to be beneficial in terms of stirring in brand loyalty and credibility.
According to your experience, what else has to be done in order to justify the kind of investments that go into digital marketing campaigns in the region?
In terms of managing marketing budgets, companies should focus on stronger KPIs and keeping close watch on the campaigns they run. Reviewing and benchmarking successful campaigns can be the basis of further investing into more digital marketing activities. Data analysis can significantly help making high and successful investments for any campaign. Repeated testing of different campaigns to reach to the right strategy and methods is important, and thus investments need to be properly allocated to each phase of digital marketing.
We have seen programmatic as a type of digital marketing concept being peddled by digital marketing agencies in the region? Does programmatic really work in this region, when you compare a very measly audience of six million?
Programmatic commerce is a phenomenon where consumers and businesses allow purchase decisions to be made on their behalf by connected devices based on pre-programmed parameters and learned preferences – a concept made more popular with the emerging presence of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) and smart devices. It is of course part of the service portfolio of many agencies including us for retargeting and customer retention. While it has its advantages, companies like us generally apply it as we see fit as part of the omnichannel approach to e-commerce performance marketing.
According to you, how do e-commerce solutions help companies reach their market, convert leads and meet their revenue targets?
E-commerce companies, including Itcan, place strong understanding on a brand and its intended audiences. Using this information allows us the ability to create customized performance and digital marketing strategies that are relevant, innovative and unique – driving in an increase in online transaction activity and achievement of revenue goals.
What is the future of e-commerce solutions in the UAE?
The emergence of m-commerce / mobile app solutions has resulted in the development of a new channel where innovation and creativity (such as personalized push notifications, geo-location tools, chat bots, integration with social media applications, etc) serve as key factors to reaching the target audience. Various solutions that cater to this shift from websites are continuing to be implemented. Many of the e-commerce solutions that are being offered by providers these days include plug and play while customization is less. However, companies like us are now offering more personalized solutions that are catered towards customer experience, which has led to a rise in adoption by brands / customers.