When Facebook first began to gain popularity over a decade ago, who would have imagined that it would end up as an eCommerce tool for businesses large and small? How has this platform — and the others that followed — transformed from a way of keeping in touch with friends and family to a way of reaching your ideal consumers?
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that businesses are turning their efforts to a platform where consumers spend so much of their time. 9 out of 10 young Arabs use social media every day.
Social Media Adoption
Millennials, in particular, are contributing to this surge in social commerce. Around 50% of Facebook users in the Middle East are aged 25–34, and 60% of MENA YouTube viewers are Millennials — they spend more time watching content online than on TV. In Qatar alone, the social media adoption rate is 36% and growing.
For this generation of digital natives, as well as Gen Z rising up behind them, social media is instinctive and authentic. It’s no longer a new concept or a novelty; we understand a lot about how social media users behave and how they interact with different content across social channels. And yet for so many brands, social media still seems like a step into the unknown. There is a tendency to plan engagement to within an inch of its life, rather than let it be the organic, intuitive thing that social media was designed for.
Although we can see that social media usage is growing across MENA as a whole, there are some interesting regional variances to note. WhatsApp and Facebook are the most popular social channels in the Middle East, being used by around three quarters of internet users. Twitter usage has almost halved since 2014, although it remains popular in KSA where 61% of internet users are active on the platform. Snapchat, although it has relatively low penetration compared to other platforms, is growing in popularity in places like KSA, Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt. Instagram has stabilized at around 40% usage over the past three years.
In Qatar, the top social networking sites include Facebook (37% usage), Instagram (46% usage), and Twitter (36%). Although, use of these social networking sites varies considerably by subsets of the population. As in other countries in the MENA region, the use of Facebook is universal. While expats are more prone to using Facebook, nationals however, have not embraced the social networking to the same degree — only one in three Qataris say they are on Facebook. Instead, they prefer to use Instagram, which seems to be the first choice of social media platform among those that are aged 35 and under.
This all points to a ripe social commerce market. Social media is here to stay, and although the specifics may change over time, it’s where consumers are spending a significant proportion of their free time. And if this is where the consumers are, it’s where merchants should be as well.
The Perfect Storm
There are several dynamics at play which have created this demand for social media in MENA. Namely: a young demographic, disposable income, and high mobile penetration.
These characteristics are more pronounced in Gulf states in particular. Take the UAE, for instance, where a third of the population is under 25 and smartphone penetration is at 91% — one of the highest rates in the world. In Saudi Arabia that figure is at 79%, and in Kuwait it’s at 86%, having risen from 49% in just two years. Much of the population in this region is wealthy, and there has been a lot of infrastructure development resulting in good network coverage, especially in urban areas.
Smartphone use and social media are starting to go hand-in-hand, with a growing number of users accessing social media accounts exclusively via mobile. Combine this with an eCommerce market that’s predicted to be worth $48 billion by 2022, and retailers would be crazy to ignore the opportunity.
Fortunately, social media platforms are one step ahead and have developed ways for brands and individuals to generate eCommerce activity without leaving the channel. Now, companies can use social media not just to represent their brand online and deal with customer queries, but also to showcase and sell their products and services.
Consumers are happy to go along with this too. In a world where the internet is packed full of competing businesses, most of which have not yet made a name for themselves, shoppers need the reassurance that they are making a good purchase decision. Social commerce creates a natural environment for them to find that reassurance; through reviews, recommendations and comments from other users. Peer recommendations are a powerful tool, and they happen naturally and authentically on these channels where sharing is an inherent feature. Add to this the impulsive nature of social media, and we get a ‘perfect storm’ for merchants.
Reacting to MENA social commerce
As more social commerce features are introduced to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the like, consumer acceptance has turned into expectation. If they see an ad for a product, they expect to be able to purchase within the channel.
SMEs can capitalize on valuable consumer engagement in such an authentic environment by using an online payment gateway which supports social commerce and integrates seamlessly with the platforms where their consumers are.
We know that visual social media — whether images or video — is becoming more important. Consumers are already there and willing, if not expecting, to buy. What better way to showcase your products and reach a new, ready-made audience?
Dibsy is also changing the payment service landscape by integrating the use of social media and the internet to accept payments. Business owners can now use the platform to send payment links to their customers using social media, SMS, or email and accept payments without having to pay extensive fees.
Learn more about Dibsy here.