Thinking of Starting an E-commerce Business in the Middle East – Here’s how
Kuwait is the focus of this article as .kw has just arrived, and the e-commerce market is set to explode.
From a time when selling was conducted over the phone and, more recently, email, online commerce is becoming a big business in the Arab world and has been around since the early 2000s. And just like other regions is going through a paradigm shift in consumer preferences, searches, and expectations.
Kuwait is no exception and is fast becoming an e-commerce magnet in the region. Of late, we have seen some notable buyouts and acquisitions in the country and, subsequently, a mass proliferation of websites, app development, and new platforms, all vying to be the next buyout target.
However, somewhat inevitably, this has led to some sub-par apps appearing on iOS and Playstore with one or two-star rankings, and many companies asking themselves why and how this happens? The answer is quite simple; the wrong platform was chosen initially.
E-commerce is a natural bandwagon to jump on. Still, you will struggle if you have little experience with it and little to no background in online business in Kuwait or other Arab countries, as there is a different dynamic here. New SEO techniques are crucial in getting noticed by consumers and big businesses alike.
If structured correctly from the start, an online business with e-commerce is very viable, and with strong Kuwait SEO implementation, it can yield significant profits.
Here I pick out some essential elements that, if you get them right, will put you on the road to quickly realizing your ROI.
You need four things when you start your online business and SEO in Kuwait:
- The right product or service to provide
- Suitable e-commerce platform and software
- Reliable payment gateway
- Partner with an SEO company in Kuwait
Here are 5 Important Factors to Help Start an Online Business in Kuwait
1). The Right Product or Service for Your E-commerce Site in Kuwait
My first tip is don’t be closed-minded. While many people always tell you to do something that you love, and to the extent that can be true, more often than not, it can be detrimental to making a profit.
Because you don’t like seafood, for example, that should never stop you if you see a gap in the market or know of a niche in the seafood market that is working well in a neighboring country from doing your research and giving it a go in your local area.
Job satisfaction doesn’t always come from doing what you love; your profits can enable you to do what you like on the weekends! Identifying a category with a viable potential to be successful should be your starting point.
Research – Use tools such as Google Adwords and Google Trends as they are useful tools to assess demand for your idea. Simple high demand with low volume search should perk your interest; of course, this is the Holy Grail and won’t be easy to find, but you won’t know unless your search.
Once you find a niche with a high volume of searches, then use Google Trends to see if the demand is on the increase or decrease, as the same as a stock market investment, the upwards trends are where you want to position yourself for long-term sustainability.
Google and Yahoo have useful keyword suggestion tools for you to use.
If, of course, you stumble into searches showing that your passion is in demand, well done, you got lucky.
- Google search suggest
2). Researching your competition – Thoroughly
In today’s world, rarely will you end up in a niche with zero competition. So remember, if you run into an almost ‘copycat’ situation, then do your research and plan to differentiate yourself and promote this in your SEO marketing campaign.
To investigate the competition again, Google Adwords keyword planner and Google Trends are handy (free) tools to see your competitors’ actions. Check on their SEO using GTMetrix and Google Page speed, as this can give you indicators. If this is not your forte, find an SEO company in Kuwait that will help you with the analytics.
For example, you or the SEO Company in Kuwait search for ‘cheap airline tickets, and you find 340,000 searches a month; that sounds great, but there could be over 375 travel agencies, so there will be considerable competition. But, if you or your SEO Company put a good e-commerce digital marketing plan together and it’s on-point, you can still find success, so don’t be afraid of competition; use it as a marker and better it.
3). Choosing Your Domain Name
Don’t overcomplicate the domain name; ideally, look for the following:
- One word – One Syllable
- Multiple meanings
- Try to work it as a Keyword for the business
There are many hosting companies available online; I’m not even going to start listing them, and special offers and discounts should cost you anywhere from US$9.99 upwards.
In June 2018, I would have recommended .com, followed by .net and .co if you couldn’t get what you wanted, but with .kw now being available, this should be your target, and easier to get what you want to be one of the first.
4). Setting up a Payment Gateway
Collecting payments is, of course, the final and most important part of both your and the customer’s journey. In Kuwait, the dominant force in the marketplace is KNET, processing payments by both Visa and MasterCard as standard and debit cards from over 15 different banks.
You also have:
But with Skrill.com and Stripe.com, you need a presence outside Kuwait, namely in the US and Europe. Plus, 2Chekout.com processes in Kuwaiti Dinars.
5). Setting up the E-commerce Platform
A crucial part of the process
All e-commerce entrepreneurs need a solid foundation to grow a profitable business. So there are many options out there that it is easy to get overwhelmed and ask yourself how effective these will be in an Arab country.
Shopify or WooCommerce, what about Magento?
These are the typical questions that you will be asking yourself, and here are a few pointers to speed up your decision-making:
5.1 Magento – Heavy on the license fee starting at KD 30,000, and hosting is not cheap. Although it is a comprehensive platform, it’s not ideal for start-ups.
5.2 Shopify – Shopify is a good little platform and ideal for the Western US and European small e-commerce shops, but the plugins are not plentiful, and if you have ideas to be a big online store, this may not be for you.
5.3 Prestashop – Relatively new to the market comes with a fast load speed and easy-to-use interface. However, it is limited in options and design layout. Nevertheless, it is usable with KNET and easy to connect. In addition, hosting is reasonably priced, so I’d recommend checking it out.
5.4 WooCommerce – Picking holes in WooCommerce is hard. It’s a solid all-around platform. Load speed is super-fast, and hosting is not overboard; it has great plugins and customizing options, probably more than all the others. I would give WooCommerce the nod over the competition as it stands at the back end of 2018.
If you want longevity in an online store, income generation and growth are essential, but too many e-commerce start-ups disappear quickly.
A common mistake is to think that the above is hard work, and once you are online, the sales will come flooding in, and you can put your feet up on the beach. WRONG. The above is just laying the foundations to succeed; success itself must be continuously worked on.
Phase two is optimization, content, keywords, and SEO marketing. Then comes perfecting, content development, and marketing; this is the expensive part.
Depending on the product you are selling and how far your outreach goes will determine how you go about it. Do not think, ‘Let’s see if we get some orders first.’ Big mistake. Logistics should be worked on at the same time as registering the domain! It is that important.
Investment in marketing is up there with the most important spending your business can do. If you think having a niche e-commerce website will make people come to you, then think again. Social media marketing, SEO, and email marketing are crucial. My advice for a start-up is to begin using professionals and use an SEO company in Kuwait for full-service digital marketing. They will set you on the path, then throughout the first 12 months, self-educate so you know how this side of the business works for the future so you can look to bring this in-house and not outsource your dollars.
Cut no corners or expenses on this part of your business plan.
E-commerce can be relatively simple to set up, but don’t rush it; use the advice above and map out a plan of action, what steps you need to accomplish in what order, but make sure you achieve all of them, and lastly, don’t sell plastic forks and spoons online in Kuwait, identify a marketplace that will yield profits. Finding a niche is one thing if it’s too small, then there’s no money in it.
Sandy Bennington is an experienced tech blogger interested in business affairs; she loves eating out and is quite decent in the kitchen. She is associated with SEO Kuwait – a full-service marketing and SEO company in Kuwait.