Noon VP says business is soaring as coronavirus continues to drive shoppers online
With the annual Black Friday retail period looming, Neha Choudhary, Noon’s vice president – Onsite Operations and Strategy, says business has never been better.
Noon, the local digital marketplace giant, has its own version of Black Friday called Yellow Friday, which runs from November 23-29, and which Choudhary believes will be even more successful this year, given the recent surge in e-commerce due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a wide-reaching interview, Choudhary talks to Arabian Business about the impact the pandemic has had on Noon’s business model, consumer spending and local SMEs which were forced to make a sudden shift online.
AB: Given all that has happened this year with coronavirus, have you seen an uptick in the number of users of Noon as compared to last year?
NC: Covid was a very unfortunate time for a lot of us and unfortunately, people were forced to stay in their homes and did not have an option but to shop online. An example is my own parents who were never online shoppers but had to do try it during the lockdown.
This has helped us acquire customers that we probably wouldn’t have acquired before and there has been a big growth-acceleration for many e-commerce companies.
For Yellow Friday specifically, we expect a higher uplift than last year’s event because Covid is still around us. We expect a lot of activity as Black (or Yellow) Friday is a global concept so it will be a season of sales in the malls and across online sites.
However, with social distancing measures still in place in the countries we cover, people can have the advantage of shopping from the comfort of their home.
Even before the pandemic, during last year’s Yellow Friday, we saw five times more users accessing the site as compared to the period before the sales event. It is a very exciting time for us.
AB: How has coronavirus impacted consumer spend on Noon in terms of the categories they purchase from?
NC: We saw a big shift in the ‘at home’ categories where we had people buy daily essentials on Noon and sports equipment for working out at home. These categories saw an unprecedented uplift.
To react to that, Noon launched two new companies. We launched Noon Daily, within Noon, which is our grocery service.
We also launched our own ‘on-demand’ platform, Now Now, which gives customers the ability to shop from their local neighbourhood and get their items within minutes.
SMEs coming online during Covid was something quite big that we saw. Malls were closed during lockdown so what we did was bring the Dubai Mall online on Noon. We had several brands come online which had not been online before through the Dubai Mall and we set it up in a matter of weeks. This was to address the issue of people not being able to go out during the pandemic.
AB: What was the market response to Noon Daily? And did you conceive of it only because of coronavirus?
NC: To be honest, grocery has always been a very interesting category for us and it was something that we had always wanted to do. Noon has historically been known for other categories and I don’t think groceries were a focus.
With Covid, grocery became the front and centre. Even for ourselves, as customers during the lockdown, we all realised that we needed to get our essentials every day without trying to secure permits to go to the grocery store or put ourselves at risk.
Noon Daily helped solve that problem and any grocery plans that we had were accelerated immediately.
The reaction to it has been incredible. Noon Daily is something I work on closely and, for something that is so new, I think its exceeded expectations.
AB: Why do you think Noon Daily has been so successful?
NC: Covid has shifted customer behaviour. A lot of people felt they had to go to the grocery store and touch their fruits and vegetables and so they can’t buy them online. Covid forced them to go online and now people have just become more used to it.
AB: How do you distinguish yourselves from the competition both for Noon Daily and Noon platform?
NC: For us to gain competitive advantage, we stick to a few basic principles. One of them is to be very visible. For example, for Yellow Friday we are using all marketing channels whether they are online or offline and making sure we are in the customers’ face and they know about us.
With that comes a bunch of Unique Selling Propositions which differentiates Noon from the competition. For example, we’ve launched our own loyalty service called Noon VIP, partnered with different banks, such as Mashreq, and are offering our clients very competitive deals, prices and offers.
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I also think a key point here is the trust aspect. Customers order on Noon and they trust us to deliver their items. Keeping that trust, especially during peak times like Yellow Friday, is really important for us to build on.
AB: How are you supporting SMEs in their adoption of digital platforms?
NC: SMEs contribute to around 90 percent of the UAE economy so supporting them is our main goal. For SMEs to go online, there is a range of things they have to think about. Whether it is technology, logistics, customer service or marketing, a marketplace such as Noon helps SMEs gets those things very easily and very quickly.
I think for SMEs, being a part of a market place gives them access to hundreds of thousands of customers every day.
For us as Noon, we really see ourselves as a local e-commerce company. We launched a new initiative called Mahali, within Noon, where customers can see products by local UAE sellers. It is very important for us to support local businesses and in fact, it is one of our top priorities at Noon.
AB: Are there other expansion plans for Noon?
NC: Right now we are in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. Focusing on these three countries and ensuring our customers there get top service is very important to us.
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Within these countries, we will be expanding different categories within Noon, be it our beauty stock or our baby stock. Our goal as a company is to be trusted the marketplace where people in these countries can come to.
AB: What do you think the future of retail will look like?
NC: We have seen it happen in China or even here where we have opened up the economy more but online has not gone away.
The future of retail for me is therefore an omnichannel setup where you need both online and offline. What I think has changed with Covid, with people being at home more, is that it has allowed them to see the efficiency of online. It has allowed people to see how much time they can save and how they can trust an online partner which maybe wasn’t the case before.
So while I think brick and mortar stores will always exist, what is important here is every retailer now knows that online presence is key and it can’t be just offline alone; having both is very important in the world we are in right now.
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