Dubai The medium is getting to be as important as the message.
Thatâ€™s why, as never before, local IT distribution and retail channels are taking centre stage alongside the very technology that they aim to sell. Or in other words, they â€” and the tech consumer â€” have never had it so good.
The recent confirmation that Apple has extended its online store offerings to local consumers only goes affirms that distribution â€” and the consequent reach it offers â€” is the only game in town.
The distillation of all things tech into tablets and smartphones and the insatiable demand from consumers has created the momentum. And thereâ€™s nothing to suggest this cannot be sustained â€” one need only look to the gradual build-up of anticipation for the upcoming iPhone 5 launch among local consumers to know this is the case.
â€œThereâ€™s no such thing as waiting two or three months after the US launch â€” the UAE consumer wants it on a same day basis,â€ said an operator of a leading UAE online shopping portal.
â€œAny delay in meeting consumersâ€™ expectations and the channel provider risks ending up as stale as yesterdayâ€™s technology.â€
How can it be otherwise in what is proving to be â€œThe Golden Age of the IT Consumer,â€ according to Jyoti Lalchandani, regional managing director and vice-president at tech consultancy IDC.
â€œWe are documenting a nearly 60 per cent increase in demand for smartphones across the Gulf, with mobile becoming the new enterprise platform,â€ he said.
â€œWhile email mobilisation is growing strongly, extended mobilisation of other apps represents the next big wave. This is forcing many organisations to think differently about the impact of mobility, in terms of proliferation of devices and bandwidth, security, regulatory requirements and so on,â€ he said.
â€œIDCâ€™s research indicates that smartphones, for example, will take over as the personal computing device of choice in the next one to two years.â€
Rules of engagement
While the many on-line shopping portals are putting on their game faces, what of the leading distributors and retailers?
The rules of engagement have certainly changed for them, but has it been in their favour?
â€œIn the UAE, the distributor has always been an important part of the value chain; in consumer electronics most local distributors have been in the business for quite some time and are quite aware of local regulations as well as have a pulse on the market,â€ said Deepak Babani, chief executive officer of the Eros Group.
â€œThey will always play an important role as long as they work in tandem with the principalâ€™s objectives and values.â€
But the brand principals themselves are getting into the direct outreach programme with the consumer in their sights.
While Appleâ€™s on-store for the UAE is the most celebrated outcome of such a trend, in June, Panasonic launched an online channel for UAE shoppers. It started off targeting the UAE shopper, but will be extended to have a regional coverage as well.
As if contending with the many online shopping portals were not enough, local distributors may feel hard done by having to contend with the principalâ€™s versions as well.
However, Ashish Panjabi, chief operating officer of Jackyâ€™s Electronics, isnâ€™t quite ready to take on a pessimistic tone. â€œWe live in a global marketplace and a consumer will get a product from where he has to if we canâ€™t offer it to him,â€ he said.
â€œThat is the reality today and that is going to be what dominates going forward. The role of distributors is more of that of logistics and retailers â€” both online and offline â€” are a vehicle to get the products across to the customers.â€
Clearly, itâ€™s not just technology that is in evolution. For much of the UAEâ€™s distribution and retail channels â€” so set in their ways â€” are in the throes of a rapid makeover.
They need to for the medium could well end up being the message itself.