Building a bridge between China and the Middle East: this is the goal of iMile, the Chinese logistics solutions provider based in Dubai. Cifnews spoke with Naveen Joseph – Regional Director of Operations, iMile – during last CCEE Dubai 2018
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, e-commerce is growing year after year. The Middle East alone has a population of almost 500 million whose internet penetration rate reaches 60%.
Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are among the top 50 GDP per capita countries. 50% of the population here is under 24 years old, the double of US market. Therefore, consumers’ shift to digital and mobile occurred naturally and it is now influencing e-commerce platforms strategies attracting their investments in the region.
As a result, cross-border e-commerce in the MENA area grew quickly also thanks to an increasing purchasing power and to favorable laws.
Governments already recognized e-commerce as a huge opportunity for the economy and incentives such as the Saudi Vision 2030, which is fostering private economic growth creating a region made of major consumer countries as well as great distribution centers.
However, MENA countries have often been a difficult market for international companies, even if China has always been the largest import source of the Gulf area. In this vibrant e-commerce landscape, the proportion of daily consumer goods from the PRC is quite large, but many Chinese brands have not entered the Middle Eastern market yet.
Therefore, Huang Zhen saw an opportunity to connect businesses in the Middle Kingdom with buyers in the Middle East and founded the iMile Delivery Services in 2017 with the goal to offer regional logistics support to China’s e-commerce giants.
Rita Huang Zhen already has 9 years experience in the MENA region where she worked as Alibaba Dubai CTO and Country manager for Huawei. iMile was founded in Dubai but it has offices in Shenzhen and Saudi Arabia benefiting of not only the strong founder’s experience in localization service and technology but also of Chinese background.
Born in the heart of Dubai and raised with the latest technology, iMile believes in providing organized logistics solutions by building a bridge between China and the Middle East.
Actually, iMile logistics provider focuses on serving both Chinese cross-border e-commerce retailers and local sites carrying various kinds of products from China to the Middle East. When consumers place orders on Chinese platforms, iMile takes care of the distribution among MENA countries with express delivery services.
Many e-commerce platforms have a lot of stocks in China but they find difficulties when entering Middle Eastern countries. According to Naveen Joseph – iMile’s Regional Director of Operations – the Chinese startup serves as a bridge between China and MENA region. Interviewed during the first Cifnews’ CCEE in the Middle East, Dubai, within the China Homelife Exhibition early in December, he explained how the company offers fulfillment solutions by building warehouses in the area.
Moreover, even though China is turning into a cashless society, 80% of consumers in the Middle East still prefer cash on delivery (COD) solutions while online payment is not yet popular or fully developed. iMile here works again as a bridge between two opposite backgrounds having a dedicated team specifically working on increasing the acceptance rate for COD.
However, the logistics brand still plans to partner with local banks in the future, allowing e-payment methods such as QR code scanning. In fact, the company embraces new technology in order to offer orders delivery “hassle-free”, as said by Mr. Joseph.
Although the Dubai-based business is new in the market, it already differentiates itself from traditional logistics providers thanks to its unique technologies such as automation and the use of GPS, which helps to optimize delivery routes and to better serve even the most remote areas.
In the interview, Naveen Joseph also said that “technology is going to be a gamechanger in the market, while iMile is going to be the key player in the logistics industry,” adding that “it will probably be the number one soon in terms of technology.”
“What we have as our strength is Chinese brains and technology behind us,” said iMile’s Regional Director in Dubai.
While many Middle Eastern startups are based in Dubai, the city has become a key location in China’s Belt and Road Initiative hosting around 4,000 companies from China.
China and MENA countries have mutual interests and their economic relationship is expanding beyond oil. Chinese companies are thus actively pursuing major infrastructure projects in the Arab region as part of Xi Jinping’s BRI. Here, the demand for renewable energy and technology is increasing, and these are the sectors where the Middle Kingdom is playing a leading role.
© Unsplash. Dubai, UAE. China Homelife Dubai 2018 took place from December 11 to 13 at the Dubai World Trade Center. Around 12,000 visitors joined the exhibition with a forecast in contracts of over $ 75 million for 3 days.
Therefore, the Chinese delivery service provider in Dubai perfectly represents Beijing’s concept to build a New Silk Road from the PRC to MENA region, a bridge indeed. The “One Belt one Road” Initiative is building new commercial routes along local key players such as UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have a lot to gain from the free-market area the project is going to build.
Actually, 90% of products come from the Dragon and the supply chain BRI is building is going to give customers a lot of options. Now that everyone and everything is going digital and import is so important, BRI initiatives are needed more than ever.
“This is an enormously impressive emerging market and the potential for collaborative growth is exponential,” said Rita Huangzhen. In fact, while Middle East e-commerce industry is expected to reach $ 48 billion in revenue by 2021, the competition among logistics players is rising. Noon is the local competitor, but big international giants like Amazon are also entering the game.
iMile, as the key player that tries to reach the top of the market, now works with more than a hundred Chinese e-commerce platforms, which are experiencing a 50% increase in business each month. It is present in three countries – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and China – but it plans to expand aiming at Kuwait, Egypt, Oman, and Jordan where investments in many technological sectors are increasing.
The final goal of the Dragon’s startup, besides building a bridge between two countries, is to become the leading cross-border e-commerce logistics company in the Middle East region. Huang believes the strength of this overseas venture is that they offer the service adaptation with a deep understanding of local policies and the culture.
Certainly, iMile has a higher gear compared to local competitors as it represents a focal meet between two forward-thinking nations. Therefore, while the two country’s e-commerce market grow at a staggering rate, the bridge iMile has built is going to be crucial not only in the domestic market but also in a wider trade network.
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