Middle-east’s new battle ground

Souq vs. Noon: the ultimate showdown.

Being an obsessed online-shopper - the kind who shops almost anything that can be shopped online, I couldn’t help but notice that the online selection of products in UAE region was still limited (compared to my reference points of India and the US) and left a lot to be desired.

Having been a super-loyal customer of Amazon, first in the US and then in India, I could really feel the Amazon effect (or lack thereof) on my life after recently moving to Dubai.

Eager to find my next go-to destination, I tried shopping on existing sites such as Souq and it didn’t disappoint but didn’t wow me either like Amazon has done in the past. However, with the much-hyped launch of Noon.com, I wondered how this new entry would shake things up in the region given that now there are two 600-hundred-pound gorillas in the ring — Amazon backed Souq vs. Emaar backed Noon.

So I decided to pit them against each other and see how they stack-up. The plan was to find and purchase a specific item — let’s say Nike White Sneakers, from both platforms and rate the experience across the complete customer journey — Discovery » Purchase » Delivery » Service.

First, let me share the Methodology.

I wanted to arrive at an NPS score, which has now become the de-facto measure of customer experience. However, rather than assigning a number based on my gut, I decided to construct it from ground-up, using data from my experience during each stage of the journey.

See below an example of how the Score Card is created by assigning raw scores (on a scale of 0 to 10) to each stage based on the experience. After the raw score is multiplied by the corresponding weight (which is based on my assumption of the impact of each stage on the overall customer satisfaction), you get the weighted scores, which then add up to a final score between 0 and 10.

Sample Score Card

Based on the calculated score of 8.1 above, the customer rating the experience would be considered Passive on the scale below. The NPS is then calculated by first aggregating of all such data points (each customer) and then by applying the formula below. Since this post is not about NPS, I’ll keep the details for another post in the future.

Formula to calculate NPS

Let’s now look at how the two compared.

I started my quest of the white Nike sneakers using the respective iOS mobile apps of both Souq and Noon and here’s how they stack up against each other on various parameters:

  1. DISCOVERY: There are three ways I could find the Nike sneakers and I wanted to test each to see how the two platforms handle the experience.

a. Search for “Nike men white sneakers” on both apps resulted in the following :

Search results on Noon were very relevant to my search query
Search results on Souq were less relevant to my search query

Conclusion: clearly the Search on Noon was more relevant and focused than that of Souq where shoes of brands and colors that were not a part of my search query were shown.

✪ Considering that Noon had only 5 shoes to match my search, it would have been nice to offer an option to see white sneakers from other brands.

b. Navigation from the home menu usually allows a way to quickly narrow down to your desired results. Let’s see how the two faired on this aspect.

Noon’s navigation was quite friendly and allowed me to narrow down my choice quickly
Souq’s navigation left a lot to be desired as I couldn’t navigate it to my desired selection and hit a dead-end

Conclusion: The multi-layered navigation of Noon quickly allowed me to arrive at the desired page of Sneakers, post which I was able to filter by brand and color to see the desired results. In contrast, Souq’s navigation wasn’t so friendly for a drill-down capability, which would have been ok if the filters were able to provide the necessary options of drilling down by subcategory — sneakers and color — white.

c. Brand selection from either the homepage or the brand navigation

Navigating from the brand page doesn’t lead to the desired selection
Navigating from the brand page resulted in a red route (dead-end) since I couldn’t even reach only men shoes

Conclusion: Navigating through the brand route on either platform didn’t allow me to my find my desired selection, but with Noon at least I was able to reach Men’s selection of white Nike items, something I couldn’t even achieve on Souq.

The Winner: even though both platforms need to make some improvements in their UI / UX when it comes to discovery of products, overall it felt that Noon offered a much cleaner and user-friendly experience.

2. PURCHASE: when it comes to the purchase experience,

it should be intuitive (feels familiar), efficient (with fewest possible steps) and dependable (should work without a hitch, all the time).

Let’s see how both the platforms stack-up.

a. Step 1: From Product Detail Page to Cart

From the PDP to Cart — Noon
From PDP to Cart — Souq

b. Step 2: Checkout

Steps to complete the Checkout — Noon
Steps to complete the Checkout — Souq

Conclusion: The checkout experience on both platforms was quite comparable with both following the best practices to make the checkout as easy as possible for the customer. However, given that Souq had an instant checkout option on the PDP page and the feedback prompt at the confirmation page, gives it a slight edge.

✪ Noon should consider adding a quick checkout and a prompt for feedback at the end of the transaction.

The Winner: this one goes to Souq with a narrow margin for the reasons listed above.

3. DELIVERY: experience is what separates the men from the boys in e-commerce since it is the first physical, and some would say, the most important customer touchpoint — the moment of truth. To stress test the capabilities of the two platforms, I chose the items that were fulfilled by their own teams and the results were surprising:

Noon’s delivery experience was superlative

Noon shipped my order within 1 hour and delivered it within 6 hours of placing the order. The delivery experience was superlative since the delivery man, who called before coming to check if it was convenient to deliver, was extremely professional and courteous. At the time, I assumed it to be an exception but my follow up orders with Noon have made me realize that

some-one in the background has put in great efforts to make this a key point of customer delight.

Opening the packaging and seeing the attention to details was as delightful as the delivery. Overall, one of the best experiences I have had ordering online.

Souq’s delivery experience

Compared to Noon, Souq took a lot longer to ship and deliver the package and the item was finally delivered on the 3rd day from ordering. While I couldn’t personally receive the Souq package, I did speak with the Souq delivery man, who seem to be very direct and transactional about the delivery. It was clear that this was just another delivery for him. The packaging of the box seemed to just reinforce what had been an uninspiring experience so far.

Conclusion: I strongly believe that the front-line staff is one of the most important assets for any business and investments in grooming and training can create a long-term impact on customer loyalty.

In addition, while cost is an important consideration, the additional expense of adding finer details to the packaging truly creates a memorable experience and can have significant payoffs in terms of higher customer lifetime values. ✪ Souq must take a leaf out Noon’s book here.

Winner: This was hands-down a Noon show all the way. It checked all the marks that you need to delight the customer. Souq has quite a bit of work to do to raise the bar for this moment of truth in the customer journey.

4. SERVICE: this is another area where the customers are won or lost forever. In fact, post-sale service-pains are what makes a large population avoid shopping online as they don’t want to deal with the hassle of returning or exchanging. An area which Amazon has mastered and hence, created millions of super-loyal customers.

For starters, both players do not have an option to place a return request on their Apps, which seems a bit strange since it is a best practice to provide self-returns and avoid customers calling in, a more expensive service to provide. Before I picked up the phone to place the return request, I decided to check the web version to see if it had that option, and it did. Hopefully, they will have this option for the app soon.

For Noon, the return request from that point onward was a pretty smooth process and in fact, the item was picked up with 24 hours of raising the request. Whereas for Souq, it took longer to pick up the item than it did for Noon.

The comparative timelines for the order completion

Overall, Noon had a couple of additional points of better communication compared to Souq. For deliveries, Souq is now using a service called Wing, and all the delivery related messages were coming through Wing, which seems to have been integrated in a hurry. The UX needs some thinking as you can see that the delivery messages were received from Wing instead of Souq and were not only redundant but also weren’t timed correctly and lacked key information such as the sender name(Souq is nowhere in the message).

Finally, the Refund process is where Souq did much better than Noon. While I got the refund of the amount from Souq back to my credit card, Noon automatically issued me a store credit instead of refunding it to my card.

Since I wasn’t informed at the time of the return that I would only get a store credit, I felt this was done without my consent and should have been clearly informed at the time of initiating the return.

However, since the experience prior to this was great, I knew I would be back soon to spend that store credit.

Conclusion: This was a bit close considering both sides have room for improvements. Hence, I would consider this a near tie.

The Final Tally:

As you can see below, Noon scored way better than Souq on most parameters and delighted me as a customer on several fronts, whereas the Souq experience was a bit underwhelming with no real delight.

The Winner

In my experience, Noon delivered a much more delightful experience than Souq. Not too mention the Noon’s distinctive branding (including the packaging) which is nicely carried throughout the customer journey has had quite an impact on my purchase decision and I have placed numerous orders on the site since this experience. Opening that brown box with bright yellow accent feels like a delight and that’s the warm and fuzzy feeling that builds loyalty.

Final Score & the Winner

In Summary,

While it’s too early to declare winners in this market, it seems like Noon is off to a good start and will serve as a nice wake-up call for Souq, which has enjoyed a near monopoly for several years.

Being a die-hard Amazon fan and knowing that Souq is now part of best e-retailer in the world, I have no doubt that Souq-Amazon partnership will quickly raise the bar and bridge the current gaps I experienced.

Regardless, very exciting times are ahead of us and no matter who leads this market, the customers in GCC are going to win. Go shopping!

Please share your own stories and add valuable insights to the above analysis.

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Amit Rawal

Amit Rawal

@Apple Inc — Global Product Leader for new-age Data and Analytics Platform. Love using tech and data to deliver joy.