Palestinian entrepreneurs: it's time for an e-commerce revolution

An employee stands behind a display of pastries for sale at a pastry shop in the West Bank city of Ramallah April 4, 2011. The hilly city of Ramallah, which lies just to the north of Jerusalem, has undergone a massive boom in recent years on the back of Western donor support, with new smart eateries and bars mushrooming alongside a plethora of pristine office blocks. Picture taken April 4, 2011.     To match Feature PALESTINIANS-RESTAURANT/      REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY FOOD) - GM1E7461L0A01

Palestine was not part of the rise in e-groceries in MENA until the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic Image: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Dawoud Zahran
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  • In the MENA region, e-commerce has grown rapidly but not in Palestine;
  • In recent months, driven by the restrictions of COVID-19, many Palestinian companies have used social media to offer delivery services for the first time;
  • Local entrepreneurs should build on this development with a customer-first focus.

Palestinian entrepreneurs should use the current circumstances caused by COVID-19 restrictions to add unique value to their communities. An e-commerce revolution, in particular, feels more timely than ever.

Uber and Airbnb, both currently valued at around $78 billion, emerged out of the 2008 financial crisis despite the dire economic restrictions. While many external conditions enabled the creation of these two companies, the fact that many individuals in the US at that time were looking for jobs and for more ways to generate income was also a factor. Who would’ve thought that sleeping at a stranger’s place and getting into a stranger’s car could become mainstream?

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Palestinian entrepreneurs should use the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to create their own revolution. In the MENA region, e-commerce has grown rapidly with a market value around $8 billion in 2017. One segment of ecommerce, e-groceries, which includes companies that deliver groceries to customers, has also grown, particularly in the Gulf. Palestine does not yet have its own share in this development, but this is changing.

In the past month, we have seen numerous Palestinian companies using social media platforms to offer delivery services, mostly for the first time. Importantly, their product delivery range is wide – from groceries to electronic devices and gym equipment. Many Palestinians are now, for the first time, experiencing the convenience of ordering a product online and getting it delivered to their doorstep. This is an exciting development and local entrepreneurs should build on it with a customer-first focus.

Where are the most groceries bought online?
Where are the most groceries bought online? Image: Statista

In the coming months, we could see many companies looking for options to outsource the product order and delivery process. Newly established start-ups could take over this operation for a large group of companies and charge a fee per order. This process could be implemented across various product segments, from electronics to flowers.

Most importantly, the Palestinian consumer market is ready for this revolution, especially with growing smartphone penetration rates and internet and social media usage. The main component has been missing: a large number of e-commerce first-movers on the supply and demand sides. But now this process occurs daily and will continue to develop if consumers, providers and enablers push for it – and they should.

Broadband penetration rates in Palestine vs the world
Broadband penetration rates in Palestine vs the world Image: Our World in Data

The foundational work needed to initiate an e-commerce revolution in Palestine has started and, in the midst of the current conditions, Palestinian entrepreneurs can seize this opportunity.

Article originally published in This Week in Palestine magazine.

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