To coincide with the launch of the “Qatar National Ecommerce Roadmap”, a forum was hosted by Dr Hessa Al-Jaber, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for Qatar.
The program brought together regulators, service providers and entrepreneurs to explore ways to remove barriers to Ecommerce in Qatar and make the most of the country's comes to technology usage and levels of prosperity.
David Fuller, Redbox Digital’s Managing Director for MENA, attended the forum as part of a panel addressing the regulatory environment and technology. He was impressed by the turn-out and the energy in the room:
“Ecommerce is obviously a hot topic here in Qatar. There is a real sense that the country can be doing more and getting a bigger share of the digital pie. It’s great to see an organisation like ICT provide support across the board – not just addressing the big-picture infrastructure issues, but also providing incubator support for start-ups and enabling partnerships to be created that help everyone.”
The statistics are varied. It is a myth that Qatari and GCC consumers do not shop online. Information provided by Visa, PayPal and Aramex’s Shop and Ship suggest that there are consumers who use their credit cards to purchase from sites overseas and get products delivered from abroad in the absence of local Ecommerce options. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are the top 3 users of Shop and Ship and they are using the service to purchase items that have traditionally been the domain of the malls. Apparel is the most shopped for sector.
The numbers are low however. Within the Middle East, only 1.7% of retail purchases are through online channels, where the global average is closer to 7%. Access to “plastic money” is seen as one of the main barriers to Ecommerce.
ICT are determined to change the game. The government realises that the postal system needs to change, that payments need to change and regulations need to encourage consumer trust as well as make it easier for start-ups to test their ideas. This process has begun. Q-post will compete against private fulfilment providers, Q-Buy will provide tools to businesses wanting to get online. The Ecommerce Act is designed to support growth by, amongst other things, reducing the number of transactions required to establish a business.
There are already ‘disruptive’ Ecommerce service providers springing up in Qatar. Doha was one of Uber’s first cities outside of the USA. Local start-ups focussing on the services like last-mile delivery and some are replicating models that have worked overseas.
David commented: “If the energy and motivation that was apparent in the room today is sustained, then Qatar will have a lot to offer in the not too distant future. We will continue to support the initiatives of ICT to get Qatar business online.”