Building on the surge in digital commerce since the start of the pandemic, Visa (NYSE: V), the world leader in digital payments, hosted the third edition of its eCommerce Summit for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Held virtually under the theme, “Thriving in The New Normal”, the event brought together government representatives from Dubai Economy (Dubai DED) and Saudi Ministry of Finance, local banks such as Commercial Bank of Qatar, businesses including Daraz (Alibaba Group), Azadea Group, Noon and Kidzapp, and payment platform providers to explore opportunities to further drive digital commerce and help businesses thrive in the new normal.
While the MENA region’s eCommerce sector was witnessing significant growth of 15-20% per annum even before COVID-19 – outpacing other regions on the back of higher smartphone and internet usage – consumers’ shift to online almost overnight because of the pandemic has accelerated that growth with the sector accomplishing almost six years of digital advancement in just six months. According to Visa’s consumer security study, since the outbreak, nearly half (49%) of Pakistani consumers opted to pay with card instead of COD. In a series of forward-thinking panel discussions, presentations and engaging Q&A sessions with attendees, delegates shared their predictions for future eCommerce trends in the MENA region and its fundamental role in business recovery and future growth of national economies.
The panel discussions highlighted the mainstream emergence of integrated commerce and the critical balance retailers will need to find between eCommerce and commerce IRL (in real life) to deliver the ultimate customer experience. Visa’s Back to Business Holiday Study in 2020 found that 45% of consumers polled in the UAE plan to do more than half of their shopping online while 34% plan to shop mostly in store or IRL. Panelists shared their experiences on new frictionless integrations merchants can introduce as part of their offerings such as curbside pickup and alternate contactless delivery options. Point-of-sale payments and financing platforms are expected to undergo major transformation to ensure digital-first options become a preferred option, and use of digital wallets is also a rising trend for 2021, with the different modes representing tremendous potential across sectors that typically relied on in-person transactions.
Madhur Mehra, MENA Head of Merchant Sales and Acquiring at Visa, said: “While most of 2020 was spent in reactive mode, the resulting preference for eCommerce is lasting. eCommerce leaders from the merchant community and financial institutions are in the driving seat in 2021 to capitalize on the momentum and continue to explore new technologies and innovations to support their customers. Small businesses in particular now have the chance to expand digital presence of their business and expand the reach and sales not just to recover sooner but also capture future growth by investing in new digital technologies. Our studies show that merchants who adopted eCommerce in 2020 or invested in digital payment solutions were able to better survive the impact of the crisis than those that did not. We work closely with the industry, leveraging Visa’s expertise, innovative digital solutions and analytics, to support them in understanding consumer behaviors and expectations. By collaborating with our panel of experts we continue to foster a supportive ecosystem for businesses to unlock new commerce opportunities and develop low-touch commerce solutions.”
Ehsan Saya, Managing Director- Daraz (Alibaba Group) said: “At Daraz we saw dramatic adoption of prepayments during the pandemic. Almost half of all spend on our platform was done through digital methods, a 170% increase versus 2019. Our strong and deep partnership with Visa was one of the key enablers in helping us achieve our mutual goal of financial inclusion for Pakistanis – with about 1 in every 3 customers transacting on Daraz using digital payments.”