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GCC ecommerce sector to hit $19.7bn off back of coronavirus pandemic

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Spurred on through necessity, given the coronavirus-enforced lockdowns and curfews across the region, the GCC ecommerce market is expected to reach $19.7 billion by the end of this year, according to a panel of experts at the virtual roundtable on Intelligent Orchestration of Retail Experience.

It was revealed that Saudi Arabia is expected to claim the majority of the total ($8.3bn), followed by the UAE, with $7.5bn.

Hozefa Saylawala, director of sales – Middle East, Zebra Technologies, said: “During the initial phase of the pandemic and lockdown, a lot of retailers identified the gap as well as the opportunities. We have seen tremendous demand to engage with retailers keen to make the shift. Consumers are now asking for more self-service, contactless payment options for shopping.”

Adel Sajan, director of Danube Group, revealed that online purchases accounted for only five percent of total sales prior to the pandemic. “However, it jumped 500 percent to 25 percent of our sale during the lockdown, before settling at 10 percent currently,” he said.

Global retail sales are projected to reach $25.04 trillion in 2021 and $26.7tr in 2022, up from approximately $23.6tr in 2018, according to Statista, an online tracker of global economy and retail sector.

According to Alpen Capital, the GCC retail sector is projected to grow at a CAGR of 4.0 percent from $253.2bn in 2018 to $308bn in 2023.

Bhavna Buttan, vice president – market place transformation at Sun and Sand Sports, said: “Covid-19 is a blessing by default as it forced consumers and retailers to change behaviour fast. It also provided some good lessons for us in the last 20 years.

“At Sun and Sand Sports, we launched our digital sales channel six years ago, which consumers seldom used. However, Covid-19 pushed all of us into the digital space rapidly. We learned a lot and we also failed in a lot of areas. However, our online sales jumped 500 percent that more than compensated for the decline in the brick-and-mortar space.”

While fashion retail has transformed significantly, the biggest change is possibly being witnessed by the operators of grocery retail, supermarkets and hypermarkets where the jump in online orders forced them to undertake changes overnight.

Ashutosh Chakradeo, head of retail at Choithrams, said: “While our online orders jumped three times, our existing capacity was good enough to handle only a 50 percent jump. However, we managed to do some physical adjustment in timing as well as upgraded the technology to manage the rush.”