By Tamara Pupic
The first Webit Digital Commerce Summit MENA examined some of the tech industries challenges, and how businesses can develop the sector
Some of the region’s leading tech entrepreneurs have come together to discuss the future of MENA’s digital market, which they claim is in the midst of a hyper growth era.
A select group of 200 invitation-only attendees from the technology industry, including start-up companies and entrepreneurs, convened for the debut Webit Digital Commerce Summit MENA at Madinat Jumeirah.
Organised by the Global Webit Congress, the conference on Wednesday aimed to help develop the region’s digital market, through a series of panel discussions, seminars, networking opportunities, idea-exchanges, and sharing of best practices from around the world.
The event focused on the future of digital commerce across MENA, touching on issues such as payment gateways, investment, retail challenges, and possible rewards.
Highlighting the windfall waiting for tech businesses, founder and MD of iMena Holdings, Khaldoon Tabaza, said: “There is a potential for the MENA region to increase the wealth from online businesses from the current $500m to $15bn in the next five years.”
On the sidelines of the event, chairman of Global Webit Congress, Plamen Russev, told Arabian Business: “It’s a huge, amazingly growing market, and I think that here new players are going to pop out in the market to deliver the digital content in the right way.
“That is where we are heading, but because it’s not still a big thing here, we are putting more stress on the traditional digital commerce.
“You see how funny it is, we are talking about the traditional digital commerce while it’s only a couple of years old – but, that’s the reality in which everything changes so fast.”
One of the hot topics in the digital industry is mobile payments – an issue which was highlighted by Basema Aljaberi, e-commerce manager of the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA).
She explained that in the final quarter of 2013, 68 percent of UAE residents accessed the internet via mobile phones, with 48 percent booking air tickets, 22 percent booking hotel accommodation, 19 percent buying clothes, and 18 percent buying electronic equipment.
“Mobile purchase is a huge opportunity to tap into,” she said, adding: “In Q4 of 2013, purchase expenditure via mobile was at nearly $250 per month in the UAE, which is higher than in Kuwait, Qatar, and KSA.”
The ongoing issue of payment gateways was also discussed at length, with Pieter Sleeboom, co-founder and COO of Triperna and COO of Cobone explaining the benefits to companies which can refine payment technology and systems.
“Out of $50bn of revenues from the travel market, only $10bn is done online. 87 percent of people still pay in cash, so that’s an opportunity,” he said.
Bidding to improve the sector, Muhannad Ebwini officially launched HyperPay at the event. The CEO announced the launch exclusively to attendees, explaining that the company offers holistic payment across multiple channels to the region’s retail, e-commerce and travel industries.
Touching on two common criticisms of payment gateways – efficiency and security – he said: “Our solution integrates all transactions in less than 10 mintues, and has the most advanced fraud prevention system.”
On the subject of investment, Tabaza pointed out that 85 percent of funding to the region’s tech start-ups comes from international investors, rather than local ones, and that local investors are behaving “more as operators”.
However, members of the panel discussion ‘dComm Giant’s Stories and Challenges’ sounded a message of hope, suggesting that it is only a matter of time until investment grows.
Ronaldo Mouchawar, CEO of Souq.com, said: “The market is growing, and the deal size is only relative to the business size.”