E-Commerce in Egypt – The Tipping Point: Episode 1

Episode 1: Identifying the stakeholders & controlling forces

Being at the heart of the E-Commerce scene in Egypt and while working on the preparations for robusta’s upcoming E-Commerce Summit 2018 (contact me if you’re interested in participation) I can’t help but keep asking myself what’s left till the market reaches its tipping point in Egypt. Inspite of having one of the highest social media penetration rates in the world with more than 33 million users on Facebook alone massive increase starting 2011 and between 2014 to 2017,  E-Commerce in Egypt hasn’t reached anywhere near the global E-Commerce growth rates for the obvious reasons like, for starters, the fact that the Egyptian customer is still hanging on having to see and feel the product they’re buying to make sure it’s good and being afraid to use their credit cards online and fearing their goods won’t be shipped (aka Egyptians have trust issues).

Being half engineer and half consultant, I couldn’t help but tackle this from a merely analytical perspective and run a quick mostly qualitative assessment of both the market stakeholders and controlling forces through a series of upcoming blog posts in an attempt to at least present the problem and try to find practical solutions and get you, the customer, the business owner, the rising entrepreneur, the big brand and anyone who believes, like me and everyone at robusta, that there’s a great future and opportunities yet to be snatched in the business of E-Commerce in Egypt, to weigh on this matter and give each other pieces of our mind, turning this from the thoughts of one individual to a discussion among those who are concerned and who knows what else. For starters, Identifying the stakeholders is mostly straight forward; however, identifying the controlling forces can get a little bit tricky.

Out of our experience at robusta for the past 4 years with several E-Commerce implementations, some of which are true models for successful case studies, I believe the most critical mix to look at of stakeholders and forces would be:

  1. Supply: that would be the retailers and product providers. Think B.TECH.
  2. Demand: that would be the end consumers. That’s everyone of us, the end users.
  3. Mediators: in some cases there’s a marketplace acting as a mediator bridging the supply & demand. Think Souq, Jumia, Edfa3ly, etc..
  4. Technology: that comes at the core and probably the key contributor to E-Commerce over the traditional brick-and-mortar retail and distribution.
  5. Logistics: though a key pillar of traditional retail, E-Commerce adds an additional layer of complexity to optimize on cost and meet customers’ expectations.
  6. Customer Service: in a global world that truly brings international E-Commerce players as close to local consumers as local players, customers expectations have truly hit the roof
  7. Marketing: between the classical 4Ps and the need to go almost fully digital, marketing becomes one of the key barriers to new entrants to the market to realize the full potential of the market
  8. People: most analysis would overlook the role of knowledgeable workers, management capacities and small business owners setting and E-Commerce strategies and respective implementations.

In the following series, I will look at each of the aforementioned and attempt to do an assessment of the current status of each in an attempt to look at the missing jigsaw pieces and anticipate the moment in time where they all click and unleash a huge potential of an economy on its own that can be a critical driver for economic development as it does not only develop the retail business but obviously creates lots of jobs on the logistics, customer service and significantly contributes to the development of the technology and financial sectors.

Would love to get thoughts on this as I plan to break it down into a series of detailed analysis of each of the aforementioned and I’m quite flexible to adjust for a more inclusive perspective that’s hopefully one step forwards towards the market tipping point.

I believe other perspectives looking at the topic could also be quite enlightening, one of which would be the study of the evolution in other more developed markets and the different phases it has gone through until it reached maturity.

4 Things Shaping the Future of Online Shopping


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Looking back at the last 10 years, tracking the evolution of the different technologies has become quite challenging of a task; one reason why is the speed of said evolution, another could be the immense number of new tools, practices and technologies surfacing in a single month let alone a year or two. However, if this has to tell you anything, it’s the fact that the current generations are aiming at surpassing themselves in terms of achieving the impossible and in return leveraging the experience of living from the tiniest detail to the greatest.

When it comes to one thing that has definitely evolved in the past few years in human lives, it’s definitely the shopping experience. Since we’re now almost always online, our mere day-to-day interactions online produce an incredible amount of big data which, with the increasing power of computing, is used to make our experience, as customers, richer, more seamless, more entertaining and of course more fulfilling to our needs.

Imagining what the future could be like could appear to be easy from afar yet remains difficult because you never know what the next breakthrough is or where it is coming from. However, if the future is anywhere, it’s lying right in the palm of our hands, the smartphone. Think of all the things made easy by having your smartphone on you, countless, right?! Consumers are now engaging with brands on various channels through their mobile phones, be it social media with the brand itself or finding inspirations from influencers or with the brands’ e-commerce platform.  The sheer number of clicks and actions a customer has to go through to go from engagement to purchase is still hindering. Brands have been reinventing the customer experience through mobile by distributing their online presence between e-commerce and mobile apps for more reach, all you have to do is scroll, but it is not yet enough, carts are still abandoned and needs are yet to be fulfilled in a better way.

We imagine a future with less friction and an even more seamless experience and we think the next 4 things are what will be taking our shopping experiences up a notch or a few in the next few years.

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Machine Learning and AI

With the help of machine learning and AI, your desired product will find you not the opposite, since a unique experience is all about being personal, an experience tailored just for you, right? If you think online shopping still lacks the presence of someone there to turn to for inquiries and questions, chatbots are now developed and equipped with all the information anyone would need, ready to answer all your questions and might even take over the whole customer support as we know it.

Augmented & Virtual Realities

You will be able to find all the info and reviews you’d be searching for to determine whether you should purchase X or Y as you point your phone towards the product using AR experiences online or in-store. The lack of the sensory element in online shopping will be a thing of the past, overcome by creating engaging buying experiences using VR though which you can see the product, place it where it fits, try it on and customize it to your taste.

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Digital Fingerprinting

You won’t be afraid to share your personal information to make a purchase online because you won’t have to when you can present your unique digital fingerprint for authentication, reducing the number of steps needed to checkout and leading to higher conversion. Digital fingerprints will also be of great help in avoiding fraud in online transactions protecting both retailers and customers.

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Personalized Payments

Online payment is still such a hurdle to many, right? Personalizing payments should come as a natural evolution to personalizing the whole shopping experience. Retailers will be providing means for customers to decide when and how much they’re willing to pay, gaining not only their loyalty but also the certainty to come back for more.

As a retailer, are you ready for the future? Are you ready to engage the customer on more than meets the eye? The survival in this game will be not only for the smartest, but also for the first and not necessarily the best anymore. Hop onto the train of the new first and you’re guaranteed a notice from a customer overwhelmed by choices yet holds the upper hand all the way and is always looking for only what calls their name.

A Better Way for Obtaining Best Sellers in Magento

Best Sellers, New Arrivals, and Promotions are three cornerstones of any ecommerce solution; they add great value for both customers and store owners.

Best sellers offer customers quick view over the products that other customers buy the most, which adds to the customer’s confidence when deciding to make a purchase and makes it easier for the customer to choose between alternatives.

The method of calculating best sellers is pretty straightforward; you count how many times has each product been sold and order the result by summed-up quantity ordered; then you’ve got yourself a best-sellers widget or products slider that should most probably be placed on the homepage.

In development mode, and on staging server as well, everything is working as you expected, until you move to production and the store owners decide to launch huge campaign that will drive thousands of visitors to the homepage; everything falls apart then, as each request makes Magento recalculate the best sellers and then load every product to show the product’s card.

Caching to the rescue, you tell yourself, and it helps relieve the stress off your database and your store comes back online. You could then make a change and try to refresh the cache while the visitors are hammering the homepage with requests looking for your store’s best selling products and that is exactly when you realize that even those split seconds of recreating the cache can become minutes of downtime as the requests keep hitting Magento while it is recreating the cache are all cache-miss that hammer the database directly until Magento gets it act together and starts serving content from the cache again.

Now let’s back off a moment, Magento has some powerful reports, one of which is, guess what, “Best Selling Products”! So why don’t we check how does Magento generate such report without bringing online stores to their knees, meanwhile, applying one of the most known software engineering principles in the process, which is DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) while we’re at it. Okay?!

Magento doesn’t generate this report on the fly or, to be specific, it doesn’t calculate best sellers on the fly; however, it makes use of it’s own cron jobs to aggregate best selling products every day and save them in a database table for later use. This allows Magento to directly hit this pre-calculated table of best sellers and just do the work of getting every product’s attributes, while sacrificing the ability to get fresh and up-to-date list of best sellers, which is not that crucial in most cases.

So let’s stand on the shoulders of giants and make use of that pre-calculated, automatically-aggregated table of best sellers we say, and instead of calculating the best selling products for every request, just query this table for the period you wish and then fetch the attributes you want to view for each product.

As a rule of thumb in Magento development, make sure to invest some time checking if the feature you want to develop/implement is already implemented in a way or another in Magento; this will save you so much time and effort on the long run and will also, most probably, give you a better idea for doing things. Have you encountered a similar problem while using Magento? Tell us what you did in the comments.