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How should brands in the Middle East approach digital commerce?

Experts say personalization is the key to making a brand rise to the top

How should brands in the Middle East approach digital commerce?
[Source photo: Krishna Prasad/Fast Company Middle East]

The digital commerce landscape is changing and expanding rapidly as the Middle East’s economy grows. Companies deliver everything from restaurant food and fashion brands to electronics, instant groceries, and medicines – they have become ubiquitous in the cities and beyond.

Online shopping is rapidly changing how people shop, and it is nowhere more evident than through quick commerce: the apps that can deliver groceries and other essentials to your door within minutes. 

“The approach of big supermarket-style shops is becoming less popular. We are returning to the artisanal shop, but now, this is happening digitally. Webshop platforms, democratized drop-shipping/fulfillment services built for SMEs, customizable check-out and post-purchase experiences have all allowed these artisans to flourish and to find their customers anywhere in the world,” says Bassel El Koussa Co-founder & CEO Quiqup.

While only 5% of the Middle East’s retail market comes from e-commerce, it is one of the fastest growing in the world. Driven by the widespread use of cutting-edge technologies, it is estimated to reach a market volume of $50 billion by 2025. Experts say that in a region with the youngest populations in the world, the highest internet penetration, and fast-growing economies, these numbers are still only scratching the surface. 

For example, around two million, or 20% of the UAE population, have shifted to online shopping during the last few years, raising the number to 6.5 million in 2023. 

In today’s world, consumers can access various innovative retail technologies such as virtual clothes and glasses trials and faster financing options for purchasing vehicles. As digital transactions become more prevalent, companies adapting to this trend can gain valuable insights about their customers and offer personalized experiences and products. This shift towards digital platforms enables companies to learn more about their customers than ever before.

“Consumers ask for speed, ease of use, innovative buying experiences, and more. Online brands are also looking into new ways of capturing their interest, which is only possible with an innovative platform,” says Tolga Tatari, Co-founder & CEO at Akinon.

With e-commerce at peak levels and projected growth, retailers are investing more in online channels to meet rising consumer expectations, says Fawaz Alotaibi, co-founder and CEO of Kaykroo. “The food sector is experiencing a surge in delivery and grocery orders, driven by enhanced logistics networks and the hyper-availability of services in densely populated areas. Today, F&B operators consider delivery through digital channels a major source of revenue.”


Numerous brands are vying for our attention in digital commerce. To make their presence felt, brands need to speak directly to their customers. Brands can differentiate themselves by presenting personalized content based on their customers’ past purchases, browsing history, and research behaviors. This way, the brand can stand out, and personalization is the key to making a brand rise to the top.

This means that digital commerce is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore, experts say, brands should assess where personalization is lacking. This is where data comes into play. While data is crucial for personalization, human insight can improve it. To deliver personalized and contextual experiences, it is necessary to combine channels, data, and digital commerce expertise.

Navigating this diverse landscape poses a significant challenge for brands. They need to adapt by efficiently managing multiple channels and crafting an exceptional customer experience across each one, says Tatari. “Adoption of AI emerges as a catalyst in addressing these challenges. AI is one of the most crucial innovations, empowering business users to navigate and manage these operations effectively.”

AI and machine learning are becoming increasingly popular in digital commerce. AI can offer personalized recommendations, tailored product suggestions, and messages by analyzing customers’ data. 

AI-powered chatbots and virtual shopping assistants are now commonly used for instant customer support and product recommendations. As AI continues to evolve, businesses should consider how they can create even more intuitive and personalized online shopping experiences that cater to customers’ unique tastes and needs.

As consumers engage with digital platforms, they need to catch up on vast data trails. AI leverages this data to accurately forecast customer behavior and preferences, enhancing inventory management, pricing strategies, and customer support. “These improvements lead to more captivating and streamlined shopping experiences, providing businesses a competitive advantage. Additionally, insights derived from AI enable companies to make informed decisions, fostering innovation and market adaptation,” says Alotaibi.

El Koussa agrees that people’s preferences have rapidly accelerated towards more individuality and uniqueness. “Global access to trends, styles, and fashion has been highly democratized due to our connectedness to social media and other digital mediums. Today, when people buy goods, they look for things that represent and are bespoke to them.”

Tatari says customers crave a personalized, smooth shopping experience, so brands must meet these expectations and improve the service and overall customer experience.

However, unlike other retail products, consumer preferences in the food sector are unpredictable and challenging to identify,” says Alotaibi. “Yet, the advancement of sophisticated AI algorithms, coupled with the growing richness of consumer data, suggests that we may soon have technology capable of predicting our food cravings. This development points towards a future where technology anticipates our desires, transforming how we interact with food choices.”

On June 11, Fast Company Middle East’s Impact Council Future of Digital Commerce subcommittee will meet to discuss the significant trends in e-commerce. This subcommittee’s partner is Akinon, a cloud-based headless commerce platform focused on major retailers and consumer brands. 

The experts will also explore ways to sell through multiple channels, investing in the tools and experiences to unite digital and physical operations and cloud-based omnichannel experience platforms, thus empowering leaders to capitalize on the digital commerce landscape.

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