Digital commerce in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan (MENAP) has taken off in the past 18 months. And this wasn't just a temporary shift due to the impacts of the pandemic. In fact, by the middle of 2021, after lockdown restrictions were lifted, 95% of consumers were shopping online. One-third were doing so regularly.
So, after a transformational few years, where does digital commerce go from here? The short answer is onwards and upwards at pace. To learn more, we spoke with four ecommerce, fintech and payment experts to find out what's on their radar.
In 2021 we witnessed rapid consumer adoption of buy now, pay later (BNPL), provided by innovative fintechs like Tamara. Our data found that 25% of consumers used BNPL last year.
In 2022, that growth will likely accelerate. "I expect to see continued demand for BNPL, both from consumers and merchants," says Mo Yusuf, Regional Manager for Checkout.com in MENAP. "Our research finds that nearly half of consumers could be using this payment method by the end of the year."
Arjun Singh, Head of Financial Services for MENA at consultancy Arthur D Little, is equally bullish. "I think 2022 will be the year of BNPL in the region," he says. We'll continue to see mass adoption by consumers. We'll also start seeing innovative new offerings from those providing BNPL services, similar to what we've seen in Europe."
The market may also get more crowded. "BNPL is a growth space, so more firms will enter the market," Singh adds. "It'll also be interesting to see how the banks respond. They haven't made their moves just yet, but I can't see them standing still for much longer.
"Then there is the question of regulation," Singh adds. "There's a strong probability the regulators will intervene in the BNPL space to ensure the appropriate protection for consumers. A balanced approach is what I expect which will drive some level of protection but still allow BNPL to grow and flourish."
Offering BNPL is just one of the areas merchants should explore to meet the increasingly progressive expectations of consumers in the region. That's according to Reem Alharbi, General Manager, Saudi Arabia at Checkout.com, who says businesses cannot stand still and must continue innovating and improving the customer experience they provide.
"High consumer expectations will define 2022 in my view," she says. "Consumers are looking for a seamless shopping experience curated to their personal preferences. They're also increasingly demanding safety and security when shopping online with instances of fraud growing across the region."
Striking this balance between frictionless commerce and security will be crucial for businesses seeking growth in the coming year, adds Alharbi. "Businesses must ensure they're harnessing the most advanced payment technology available," she says. "And their payments partners must be on hand to offer them expert support and guidance."
MENAP remains a region layered with complexity. And despite the progress made in recent years, the fragmented payment infrastructure and underdeveloped regulation continue to limit merchants' ability to maximize growth in the region.
For Nameer Khan, Chairman of the MENA FinTech Association, this poses both an internal and external challenge for businesses. "The internal challenge is how fast a business can scale and pivot. It’s about adapting to a changing landscape, and sometimes the landscape in our region changes quite rapidly, particularly regarding regulation.
"An external challenge is rising competition. More and more players are coming in from international markets and local players. We have more experienced founders and entrepreneurs too, so the quality of competition has implications for how fast you can scale."
One key to solving these challenges is working with the right partners. "Strong relationships are essential for businesses to capture growth," says Khan. "Find the right partner, who deeply understands your business, and together it's possible to build solutions that turn the unique challenges of this region into opportunities."
"My outlook for ecommerce in 2022 is very bullish. I believe we’ll continue to see double-digit growth," says Yusuf.
Powering this growth will be businesses of all sizes.
"Smaller retailers are continually discovering the cost-effectiveness of the direct-to-consumer ecommerce channel," says Yusuf. "Particularly compared to running a traditional brick-and-mortar store. At the same time, larger retailers recognize that consumer demand for ecommerce is not slowing down," adds Yusef. "They will therefore continue investing in their ecommerce offering, as well as exploring more innovative offers like social commerce and hybrid shopping models."
Khan agrees with this outlook. “We've seen a remarkable growth of ecommerce across the region, but we're nowhere near the peak. There’s vast potential, and I'm excited to see what 2022 has in store.