International Women’s Day: bridging the digital gender divide in retail

Digital transformation is providing new avenues for the economic empowerment of women. And with more and more women embracing online when it comes to their retail businesses in the UAE, the digital gender divide is significantly decreasing.

To celebrate International Women’s Day on Wednesday, March 8, ME Retail News shines the spotlight on three businesswomen in the UAE who are using digital to forge ahead in retail.

From threat to opportunity

The Covid-19 pandemic triggered a dramatic shift to digital. As the virus spread around the world, retailers were quick to increase their online presence and delivery options. Some closed their brick-and-mortar stores altogether to become fully digital entities.

Sali Maher Zein is the chief executive of Siella Beauty.

She launched her company months after the coronavirus pandemic hit, so had to quickly pivot in order to make her business a success.

“When I launched Siella Beauty in February 2020, I immediately faced the challenge of Covid-19 and closures.”

As more and more pandemic-related restrictions came into force, Ms Zein decided to adopt a fully digital business model.

“Having based my business online, I was able to market my products and sell them through e-commerce”, she said.

As the pandemic secured its grip and social restrictions became part of everyday life, gaps in the retail market were also exposed.

Kanessa Muluneh opened plus-size fashion store Mulu online after she saw an opportunity in the market, .

During lockdown Ms Muluneh, who struggled with weight loss, decided to embark on a new fitness regime. It was then when she discovered that many online-only sportswear brands did not cater to her size. Something she was keen to address.

“E-commerce has taught me a lot when it comes to business.

“When I started with my brand, I had zero experience in the fashion industry and e-commerce business.”

To create brand awareness, Ms Muluneh launched a social media campaign.

She also runs educational programmes, so women can learn about the fashion industry.

“The fact that I could reach so many people from all over the world at once with the use of social media broadened my horizons on so many levels.

“Today I am proud to say that my team and I proudly build a large community of women who we connect with on a weekly basis,” she said.

The digital road ahead

Adapting to new technologies and evolving trends is key when it comes to business – and retail is no different.

Ms Muluneh is creating a new technology to deal with the high number of items that are returned.

“Fashion has some of the highest return rates compared to other e-commerce categories, and it can be difficult for plus-size women to know if the clothes are going to fit,” she said.

“I am currently building a digital 3D fitting tool that customers can use to fit and try on their clothes digitally before placing the order. This solution will reduce the number of returns even further and give our customers a new experience while shopping.”.

Alefiyah Johar is the founder of Missha, an online make-up business that was launched in 2015.

She has experience of a pre-Covid world, but quickly saw the benefits of e-commerce at the start of the pandemic.

“E-commerce provides the flexibility to work from various locations and time zones,” she said.

“As e-commerce transactions involve the exchange of personal and financial information, it is crucial to ensure that these transactions are secure and free from fraud. This requires robust security measures and protocols to protect customer data and prevent cyber-attacks.

“To overcome the challenge of customers not being able to try products, we have implemented a solution by providing beauty advisors who are readily available to answer customer inquiries through real-time chat.

“This personalised approach has been successful in addressing customer concerns and increasing customer satisfaction with our products.”