Saudi Arabia is next battleground for e-commerce titans

Shoppers take a stroll through Riyadh's Kingdom Centre Shopping Mall. The Kingdom is being targeted by global e-commerce corporations. (Getty Images)
Updated 18 May 2018

Saudi Arabia is next battleground for e-commerce titans

  • KSA online sales expected to surge to $13.9 billion by 2021
  • Overall GCC e-commerce to grow to $24 billion by end of decade

The battle for Saudi Arabia’s online shoppers is on.

One year on from the Amazon-Souq deal, the Kingdom's youthful population is being increasingly targeted by the region's burgeoning e-commerce industry.

With the largest economy in the GCC and the youngest Internet-connected population in the world, the Kingdom represents a golden goose for the world’s online retail players.

Online sales in Saudi Arabia are expected to surge to $13.9 billion by 2021 from about $8.7 billion in 2017, according to market researcher BMI.

The overall GCC e-commerce market is now tipped to grow to $24 billion by the end of the decade, say management consultancy A.T. Kearney.

UAE-born Souq.com, which was acquired by Amazon in 2017, has already built up a following and brand relationships in Saudi Arabia since its launch in 2005.
After months of delays, Noon.com also launched in the Saudi market in December last year, after starting up in the UAE earlier in the year.

Investors in Noon.com, including Emaar chairman Mohamed Alabbar and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, have put $1 billion into the project.

Saudi Arabia offers great scope for retail players looking to expand said Sam Blatteis, CEO of The MENA Catalysts and ex-Google head of Gulf government affairs.

As he puts it: “The Kingdom’s population has already expanded 50 percent since the start of the millennium, and has the highest YouTube and Twitter usage on earth. At this point, the pace of change has never been this fast, and yet it will never be this slow again.”

He said: “Tech titans from the world’s two largest economies – China and Silicon Valley – are signaling they plan to expand in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s 2030 vision is only 12 years away and Saudi’s ‘Generation Y’ leadership is increasingly running the country. They are moving mountains to overhaul strategic industries from transportation to education legalizing ride-hailing apps to rolling out coding classes in schools nationally.”

As competition heats up in the marketplace and more players join the fray, trends will lean to specialization, said Monica Peart, senior forecasting director at E-Marketer.

“As more local e-commerce players arrive on the scene, you will start to see price competition and product competition. They will start to specialize, which will engender even more e-commerce activity,” added Peart.

But for e-commerce to really take off in Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC, shoppers “must be able to find better goods online than on the local shelves," said Peart.

She added: "For this scenario to become a reality, the region will need to ramp up its last-mile services, time-to-delivery, online ranges and its choice of payment gateways."

According to Walid Mansour, managing partner at Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP), which has investment in several e-commerce related ventures, including last-mile delivery company One Click, “e-commerce is growing at a very fast pace but faces challenges.”

Mansour highlights lack of data analytics as a key hindrance to the market. “What’s needed to boost the online commerce market is data, including predictive data, which leads to insights for actions, as well as automated marketing services,” he said. “But of course, there are a lot of (e-commerce) players in the market now, which means there is a lot of growth potential. The market is getting better … but it’s not there yet.”


Analysts urge Canada to focus on boosting the economy

Updated 06 July 2020

Analysts urge Canada to focus on boosting the economy

  • Canada lost one of its coveted triple-A ratings in June when Fitch downgraded it for the first time

TORONTO: Canada should focus on boosting economic growth after getting pummeled by the COVID-19 crisis, analysts say, even as concerns about the sustainability of its debt are growing, with Fitch downgrading the nation’s rating just over a week ago.

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau will deliver a “fiscal snapshot” on Wednesday that will outline the current balance sheet and may give an idea of the money the government is setting aside for the future.

As the economy recovers, some fiscal support measures, which are expected to boost the budget deficit sharply, could be wound down and replaced by incentives meant to get people back to work and measures to boost economic growth, economists said.

“The only solution to these large deficits is growth, so we need a transition to a pro-growth agenda,” said Craig Wright, chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada. The IMF expects Canada’s economy to contract by 8.4 percent this year. Ottawa is already rolling out more than C$150 billion in direct economic aid, including payments to workers impacted by COVID-19.

Further stimulus measures could include a green growth strategy, as well as spending on infrastructure, including smart infrastructure, economists said. Smart infrastructure makes use of digital technology.

“We have to make sure that government spending is calibrated to the economy of the future rather than the economy of the past,” Wright said.

Canada lost one of its coveted triple-A ratings in June when Fitch downgraded it for the first time, citing the billions of dollars in emergency aid Ottawa has spent to help bridge the downturn caused by COVID-19 shutdowns.

Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and DBRS still give Canadian debt the highest rating. At DBRS, Michael Heydt, the lead sovereign analyst on Canada, says his concern is about potential structural damage to the economy if the slowdown lingers too long.

Fiscal policymakers “need to be confident that there is a recovery underway before they start talking about (debt) consolidation,” Heydt said.

Fitch expects Canada’s total government debt will rise to 115.1 percent of GDP in 2020 from 88.3 percent in 2019.

Royce Mendes, a senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets, said the economy still needs more support.

“Turning too quickly toward austerity would be a clear mistake,” he said.