What you need to know about Egypt’s e-commerce summit [Interview]

With unprecedented smart phone growth, improved connectivity, greater demands of branded products and a large population under 30, Egypt has been in a prime position for e-commerce growth. The local e-commerce landscape has grown rapidly over the years due to a number of local advantages.

With dozens of professional online platforms (ex. Shopify) and social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram creating their own form of online selling, e-commerce is becoming both a simple and complicated field.

It has become such a hot topic that even the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology requested help from the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to develop a national e-commerce strategy in 2017.

With e-commerce building up giant amounts of steam in the country and region, local tech agency robusta has taken it upon itself to help the local marketing and e-commerce community.

Robusta is opening the country’s first e-commerce summit in Cairo next week. So, we met up with cofounder and managing director Hussein Mohi El-Din to talk about the local market and the summit.


Let’s start with why e-commerce? What led to organizing a specialized summit?

There is no current platform uniting retailers and service providers in the e-commerce sector together to discuss the latest trends and challenges of growth. For this reason, we wanted to lead with the first e-commerce summit in Egypt, inviting industry leaders to celebrate the success of various digital implementations and deliberate on the future of the business landscape in the region.

The growing accessibility to internet platforms, coupled with growth in the numbers of internet users in Egypt, and advances in retail experiences has led to increased proliferation of e-commerce which will be revealed in the summit from the biggest influencers in the market.


Tell us a bit about the local e-commerce market. How big is it?

Egypt’s e-commerce market has grown gradually since the late 1990s, when the first Egyptian-owned e-commerce companies were founded. However, the market is still in its infancy.

The number of e-commerce websites in Egypt has reached a total of 450 different online retailers and marketplaces in Egypt in 2015, and the B2C E-Commerce turnover showed a 22% growth in 2017.

With a consumer market of more than 90 million people – around 60 per cent of whom are younger than 30 years of age and increasingly technologically and social media-savvy – Egypt, with its 30 million Internet users in 2015/2016 and a level of penetration of 37.8%, has the largest population of prospective online shoppers in the Middle East.


Does this mean people should invest in the market?

Definitely, E-commerce has strong potential to expand in Egypt and to help accelerate national economic growth.

Following intensive investment in ICT infrastructure since the mid-1980s, Egypt in the past two decades has developed a strong ICT sector by liberalizing the telecommunications sector, creating an environment conducive to an expansion of its information technology (IT) – enabled services industry and cultivating an information society with wider diffusion of ICTs and the Internet.


How would you suggest people and companies start?

Businesses are in need of hands-on training and business development support in e-commerce applications, in particular with new technologies, in order to upgrade their operations, to innovate and enhance productive capacity.

With this in mind, we are encouraging international companies to increase knowledge transfer in Egypt to accelerate the process of development. In addition to this, the start-up ecosystem is working more diligently to promote their ideas and business concepts through e-commerce because it is most certainly the future.


What marketing efforts or methods should companies try to get ahead?

It is important to become part of the online digital sphere when promoting a brand and the business. The digital landscape allows for more diverse content development to educate target audiences on new technologies, awareness on business operations and creative advertising.

Strategic investments in marketing are crucial to approach specialized target groups; age categories, hobbies and interests, professions and much more.


How important is it for online retailers and service providers to be proactive online? Why?

Being proactive and spreading awareness are important factors to boost e-commerce.

As e-commerce is largely in its infancy, improved knowledge of business operations can help enhance education of consumers and businesses.

Consumers and small enterprises need to learn more about how e-commerce may benefit them. They may be unaware of how to buy on an online marketplace, how online payments work, and safety measures undertaken by service providers. Filling information gaps and raising awareness in these diverse areas are crucial to the growth of the sector.


How should companies choose a social platform for their brand to focus on?

It largely depends on the objectives of the company and the purpose upon which they are using these social platforms. There are many tools now on social platforms that allow for research development, audience targeting, and measurement to specialize in communication.

With this in mind, it is essential that companies utilize these tools to enhance their understanding of consumer needs and behaviors.


Your agency, robusta, has just started the first e-commerce summit here in Cairo. Why did you decide it was time for Egypt’s e-commerce industry to have one?

robusta has been a service provider for e-commerce solutions since 2007, and we have developed a unique understanding for market needs in this sector. Seeing the volume of retail transactions, and the mobility of a more tech savvy generation demanding instant gratification, we knew it would be a matter of time before e-commerce became a main channel for retail groups. Consequently, we found a need to unite the industry on a platform [that will] encourage innovation, and recognize achievements in the sector to ensure there is consistent progress.


What’s the aim of the summit?

Our aim is to inspire established companies to embrace digital technologies and empower start-ups to innovate in the field. The untapped potential in the market has provided evidence that the market is ready for progress to begin competing in the region as a key player.

We hope that the summit will drive Egypt and its business to take the necessary steps to leverage e-commerce for consumer convenience, enhanced competitiveness of the enterprises, exports of goods and services, and to have a key role in economic prosperity with local and foreign investment.


What are the topics you are looking forward to the most?

The summit is hosting a wide range of local and international experts as speakers and panelists, to stir up discourse on how to harness and realize the untapped potential of utilizing e-commerce as a key pillar of business strategy. With this into consideration, we are holding a strategic track, executional track and a tactics track to attend to various business objectives for all attendees.

A startup competition will be held to stimulate entrepreneurs to become leaders in the e-commerce sector. We are hosting the most innovative start-ups to compete for a cash prize, sponsored by robusta.

To recognize the achievements of current market players, we are organizing an awards ceremony to commemorate the success of established companies pioneering the industry as a core business strategy.


What do you believe are the current trends in the local e-commerce community?

The growing digitalization of economies is affecting the way business is conducted, with significant implications for both national and international supply chains. E-commerce channels have deepened and expanded through the rapid proliferation of mobile phones, including among consumers in developing countries such as Egypt, as well as through the growth of e-marketplaces, social media, omni-channel commerce, broadband diffusion, mobile apps and numerous other technological innovations and practices.


If you could write a book about e-commerce in Egypt, what would it be called?

The rising star of the Middle East


What skills do you think a successful career in e-commerce need?

A successful career in e-commerce should encompass responsibility towards technological innovations, as well as determination to integrate all business structures towards digital transformation.

This requires thorough knowledge on all business processes, staying up to date on technological innovations in the market, and patience to develop long-term strategies for business solutions.

We are partnering with Wuzzuf in this event to activate employment opportunities in the industry to ensure there is sufficient understanding for the roles and responsibilities within sales and marketing departments.


Lastly, any advice for people or companies getting started in e-commerce?

My advice would be “choosing your niche” as it is the most important step in opening an online business.

Start this process by researching and identifying successful companies already working in this space. Make sure that the area is competitive, however, do not pick an overly crowded market.

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