Sunday, 30 December 2012

India, Mind your Language

Setting an example.  This is what it all boils down to.  After the recent public outpouring we've seen in India, questions of morality and societal functions have been raised.

It's been a blame game.  Do we blame the police, politicians, families of victims, lawyers, judges, corrupt systems, the media or Bollywood?  

The fact is we're talking about respecting women.  Anyone who is from India knows that when cursing someone, mothers and sisters are what are referred to in a derogatory fashion.  If you want to talk about respect, it starts with cleaning up your language.  
The next time you swear or hear someone swear, make them aware of the fact.  There is no need to involve anyone's mother or sister.  

It may not sound like much, but if society has to change, these small changes are a first step we can make.

India: Give a Voice to the Rest of the World

Say what you may, but the uprising seen around India in the last week or so following the gruesome rape and subsequent death of the 23-year female medical student has helped bring to the forefront some of the issues that we face in society today.

What worries me though is that the people making the headlines in light of this are doing so for their own personal gain or image.  I'd put a tweet and Facebook comment yesterday that said the following:

Values are what we're taught at home not by lawyers and politicians. We need to realize that when reflecting on what happened in Delhi.

Having Bollywood stars, politicians, media personnel, lawyers and sports stars talking now isn't the solution.  They've got their own motives in most cases for showing up publicly.  This isn't to say that these people can't be effective in helping bring about a long term solution.  Actions speak louder than words and there is a way for them to use vehicles that speak to the people more effectively.

Social activists like Kiran Bedi
are at least willing to act and speak.
She's offered to help train police
forces into how to handle rape cases.
Bollywood stars - concentrate on making movies that address the moral and ethical issues that have been raised by incidents like this.  Let your art form be what raises awareness.

Media folk - focus on documentaries or news pieces that investigate, name and shame.  If a Bollywood star like Aamir Khan can headline a prime time TV show that does just this, why can't you.

Lawyers - work to get the legal system moving more swiftly.  Offer more pro bono time to the classes whose voices are never heard because they're too afraid or too poor to pay for legal representation.

Politicians - the laws are there but you have to lead by example.  How often do we hear about cases about an abuse of power at your level.  

Sports Stars - take advantage of your individual brand value and make visits to schools, colleges, community gatherings all over India and talk about these issues in your spare time.  I'm sure your sponsors would help fund you for your travels and collectively you could be seen to be involved in a CSR activity.

The unfortunate case is that when you have incidents like this that come to the forefront, there may be a few worthy people coming forward to highlight the issues without any personal agenda (e.g. Anna Hazare), but there are far too many who are out to grab a headline by taking advantage of an issue (e.g. Baba Ramdev).  

Being out on the streets and protesting has its merits but if we have to see a change in our society, we need to see if we're willing to commit to an issue and pursue it through whatever channels we have.  If not, save everyone's time and stay out of the picture.

India has a chance here to show the world that it is serious about tackling such issues and lead the world in creating a voice for the masses whose voices are never heard.  Take advantage of this and do us proud!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Movember Rain

So Movember is now and truly over.  

I'm clean shaven.  
I feel like I should be in a
Daniel Pearl movie
I look ten years younger (or so I've been told). 

I don't need to worry about accidentally shaving off bits of hair above my lip.  

I can finally enjoy soup without having to keep a pack of tissues nearby.  

People don't tell me that they'd be scared to see me in an alleyway.

I'm not mistaken for a movie star from the 1980's anymore.

I'm not told I've got black fungus growing on my face (though there were a few grey strands in there as well).

I enjoyed the moustache for the month but am glad I only had to keep it on for a month.

Will I do it next year?  Probably.

Did I raise much money?  No, but that was never my motivation.  I wanted to increase awareness for men's health issues.

Did I generate the sort of awareness I wanted to?  Honestly speaking, probably not.  I'd probably spend more time in the future researching the material as this was my big issue this time around.  

Happy to be clean shaven again.
Am I thankful?  Yes, I had some good friends including Nameer Al-Durrah, John Martin St. Valery, James Piecowye and Saket Burman (who decided to join us midway through the month) who also grew a Mo.  

Am I thankful?  Yes, because I had a lot of people who helped amplify the cause whether be in the  press, social media or friends or family who spoke about it.

Am I thankful? Yes, because I had a wife and kids that tolerated the moustache for the month and still continued to feed me or go out with me.

My only regret this Movember was that the day it rained in Dubai, I wasn't in town so missed my opportunity to enjoy some Movember Rain.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, here's a link to my dedicated Movember page.

Thank you all for your support during Movember and I hope to see more of you sporting a Mo next year.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Movember Discussion: What to Check

Movember, Movember, Movember.  It's been a recurring theme on my blog, my tweets and my social media feeds this month.  Some of it has been serious, some of it has been scary and some of it has been just plain fun.

The whole purpose of Movember has been to promote men's health overall and even though the focus tends to be on prostate cancer, there are many other ailments men must look out for.

The fact is, many men get lazy when it comes to getting check-ups done.  This is why it was interesting when I was browsing through the Movember site this morning that I saw a checklist of what men should get checked at different age brackets.

There is a lot of controversy regarding this checklist on the Internet with several people claiming it is misguiding or misleading people thinking that they should just check for the bare minimum but isn't it better to at least check for the bare minimum than to check for nothing at all?

For example, if you are in your 20's or 30's, this is what the checklist says you should check for:

BLOOD PRESSURE  Every 2 years or annually if high/low

FASTING CHOLESTEROL  Every 5 years or more frequently
with an abnormal test result

DENTAL HEALTH  Annual check up

EYE HEALTH  Every 2 years or as doctor recommends

IMMUNIZATIONS  Tetanus-diphtheria at age 19 and annual
flu vaccine

SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES  Regular Checks and HPV vaccine if appropriate

SKIN CANCER  Look for marks or changes on your skin and have a doctor do an annual skin check

TESTICULAR CANCER  Monthly self-exam, especially
if there is a family history

As you get into your 40's, it's then about checking for diabetes, prostate cancer and other conditions that tend to develop as you get older.  Living in the United Arab Emirates where the rates of diabetes are extremely high as a percentage of the population, I would recommend checking for diabetes in your 30's.

To see the entire checklist on the Movember site, please do click here.  I also wrote a post on diabetes for my Movember series and that can be seen by clicking here.

Get yourself a check-up.  It's not a matter of it you can take the time out, it's a matter of planning when you will take the time out to go down to your doctor or medical facility and get these things checked.  Wives, girlfriends, mothers - you need to start nagging now onwards and make sure your loved one does get themselves checked soon.  There's no point putting it off...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Movember Discussion: Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that affects both men and women but keeping in line with the Movember theme that I've decided to adopt on my blog this month, I decided to do a little research and dig into how diabetes affects men.

The information I got was scary.


Most of us know that Type-II Diabetes is something that can be controlled if we take care of ourselves, watch our diet, get plenty of exercise, control our weight, be aware of any hereditary risk factors and manage our stress levels.  The risks associated with diabetes can include cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, loss of vision and nerve damage (Health Information and Consequences of Diabetes).

Diabetes in the UAE

The stats are scary in the UAE.  With the country prospering and the weather being as uncomfortable as it is during the winter, the UAE has gotten heavier, to the point that obesity has become a major concern.  This coupled with the food and sedentary lifestyle that many of us are used to has meant that a staggering 25% of the population in the United Arab Emirates is diabetic.  This is one of the highest percentages that you'll find and it means that one out of four people reading my blog in the UAE could be diabetic, many of them probably realize it but many may not (UAE and Diabetes: One in Four Has It).

Men, Watch Out

Men face several additional risks if they are diabetic when compared to women.

  • Men who develop diabetes before the age of 30, have greater risks of vision impairment as compared to women.  Couple this with the fact that we have so many obese children in the UAE, it worries you even more.
  • Men are more likely to suffer from pain in thigh, calf or buttocks while exercising; suffer from cramps or changes in temperature; have swelling that is linked to a two-to-three fold increase risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.
  • Amputation risks are 1.4 to 2.7 times higher in men than women with diabetes.
  • Up to 50% of men can suffer from a loss of sexual desire or sexual problems if they are diabetic. This is twice that for women.  Almost 33% of men with diabetes suffer from erectile dysfunction.
There could probably be more information I could dig up if I researched into this more, but to see more, visit both the links I used to get this information (Men & Diabetes and Diabetes & Sex).

Movember meets Diabetes

November isn't just about talking men's health in Movember but also Diabetes Awareness Month.  This topic is therefore perfect as it's important for men especially to be aware of all the health risks they face and there would be many resources that may come across during November that could give them further information on diabetes in particular.  This Gulf News link has more information.

Diabetic Children

What scares me more is what impact this is going to have on the younger or future generations.  Are we setting the right example for them with what we eat, with our lifestyle or the attention we pay towards our own health?  Popping pills isn't a solution to control diabetes, changing our mindset is.  We live in a part of the world where we are more likely to suffer from diabetes and it is up to us to make sure we take control of the situation.

Months like Movember are a good opportunity to share knowledge and talk about these issues.  Take advantage of it and if you have loved one who you feel is at risk, talk to them about it and help them.  A little moral support can go a long way to making us all a healthier community.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Movember Discussion: Alcohol

This is the month of Movember and I will be writing about men's health issues on the blog this month.

The first topic in this series is alcohol.  This isn't uniquely a men's problem but considering the number of bachelors or people living without their families in this part of the world, alcohol can in many cases become a man's best friend.  For those of you with kids, it's also about what sort of example are we looking to set.

The below is an excerpt I found from Bupa's website and felt it was worth sharing.


In the UK, over a third of men drink more than the government's recommended limits. These state that men should not regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol per day, and that they should not drink alcohol for 48 hours after a heavy session to let the body recover.
It's easy to underestimate how much you're drinking. Although there is no firm definition of 'binge drinking', a measure of it can be taken as drinking double or more than double the recommended daily limit of alcohol. Nearly one in three men aged 16 to 24 drinks more than eight units in a session at least once a week.
Drinking too much can cause immediate problems, including injuries and alcohol poisoning. In the longer term, too much alcohol can cause liver damage, high blood pressure and memory problems.
To read more on the Bupa website about other men's health issues, click on this link.

I am growing my Moustache this month of November to raise awareness for the Movember movement.  If you'd like to donate and support this cause, please click here.

Let's get the word out about men's health issues this month if we can.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Grow your Mo!

November has started and so has Movember.

What is Movember some of you may ask?

If you go to the Movember website, it says as follows: "During the month of November each year, Movember asks men across the world to grow a moustache with the aim of raising vital funds and awareness for men’s health issues, specifically prostate cancer.

Guys taking part (Mo Bros) are helping to change the face of men’s health by effectively becoming walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November and through their actions and words raise awareness by promoting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health."
Could this be what I look like at the end of the month?

It was a movement that started in 2003 in Australia and is basically a man's version of the pink ribbon month.

I've decided to join the movement this year and have started growing my moustache.  I'd encourage you to donate to the cause this month as I start sporting my moustache (or Mo).  I've got a page on the Movember website where you can donate at the following URL: or

Rest assured you will be hearing a lot about this from me during the month of Movember, especially if you follow me on any of the social media networks I'm on.  So go ahead, don't just read this, start donating... 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

NFC - the new Bluetooth in the Middle East

This post was originally intended to be published on another blog I'm writing for but was considered too risqué so decided to publish this on my personal blog instead.

NFC or Near Field Communication has been one of those technologies that the smartphone industry hasn’t been able to stop talking about.  NFC is said to revolutionize how we pay for products in the future. We all know what a big deal sliced bread was so NFC is supposed to be the next big deal since credit cards were introduced so comparisons with sliced bread seem apt.

However, one of many features of NFC technology is a simple feature called “Tap to Share” or "Tap to Share" depending on who you speak to.  Put simply, it allows you to connect devices to each other by bringing them close to each other.  A headset or speaker can there by connected to your smartphone just by tapping it instead of using an awkward Bluetooth setup.

Fancy an NFC date? Image:

What does this mean in the Middle East?  For anyone who knows the region well, the use of Bluetooth has been somewhat unique.  Many consumers don’t simply use Bluetooth to connect devices but to connect to people.  With social norms being as conservative as they are in the region, it is not uncommon to see young males and females meeting over a Bluetooth scan and “hooking” up.  In the same way, it is not common to see BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) PIN numbers advertised on the back of a car and for BBM dating to start.

So while the rest of the world talks about NFC and payment gateways, the youth of the region I’m sure are trying figure out, how does NFC now fit into social life and will it indeed be a success in the region?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Quora Post on E-Commerce in the UAE

After my marathon series on E-Commerce in the UAE, I found a nice series of posts on the subject on Quora courtesy of PK Gulati's tweet yesterday.

It's an interesting string and definitely worth a read as you've got comments from others in the sphere such as Dan Stuart of Living Social, Narain Jashanmal of JashanmalBooks and Bhavishya Kanjhan who seems to be everywhere when a topic about tech or digital discussions pop up.

To read the Quora feed, click here and to read my original series on E-Commerce in the UAE, click here.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A New Gig as a Blogger

There wasn't unfortunately a rumour mill and no speculation about this, but I'm now officially blogging for the GITEX Technology Week on their official blog site called Tech Talk.   GITEX Technology Week is of course one of the largest IT exhibitions in the world so it is an honour and a privilege to be asked to blog for them.

I'm going to do a bunch of write-ups for them from now till the end of October so if in case you're wondering where some of my ramblings have gone, it may be an idea to check their blog page.  The first post should be published very soon.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

E-Commerce Regulation: Cat & Mouse Game

Paul Kenny, founder Cobone.
After concluding my series of posts recently on E-Commerce in the UAE, I just read this article from Cobone's founder, Paul Kenny about the role of government in E-Commerce businesses.  Cobone  like many other e-tailers is finding their own challenges and it is worth reading his views here.

Dot coms battling governments isn't new.  Dot coms trying to adapt themselves to work with UAE regulations where concepts like have a local sponsor, no tax but government fees and The Agency Law can make things interesting.

This probably isn't the last case of an entrepreneur getting frustrated by government but it's one of the fewer cases where you see someone willing to talk about it somewhat publicly.  The more we talk about it, the more awareness and education we can generate on the topic and this should eventually help all sides involved.

To read the full article as it appeared on Kipp Report, click here (Cobone: Trust can be lost with one click).

Saturday, 21 July 2012

E-Commerce in the UAE: Part 4

This is the last of a multi-part blog post on my views on E-Commerce in the UAE.  To read the earlier parts click below:

Whatever thoughts I have on this topic are my own.  They aren’t to be linked to my company or anyone else so if quoting me, please don’t quote me in my professional capacity as this has been written in my personal capacity.

Installment 4: Sustainability of an E-Commerce Business

Sustainability.  A simple word that often gets neglected by most entrepreneurs when building a business.  What sounds like a great idea today, also has to be a great idea tomorrow and the day after that.  In order for it to be a great idea, it also needs to be cash positive and profitable without getting carried away.  Even though as a budding entrepreneur you’re looking to be disruptive in your own way within your own industry, some of the fundamentals of business haven’t changed and you need to recognize that.  Some of this can be done on your own and some of it may require having the right supporting tools along the way available to you.

I’ll highlight a few factors that most e-commerce businesses need to look at uniquely in this region as trying to simply replicate what works elsewhere may not always work here.

Accepting a credit card over the Internet is risky.  It is risky for the cardholder but it’s more risky for the merchant or e-commerce retailer.  Firstly, the rates that most credit card acquirers charge for online transactions is in most cases significantly higher than those charged for retail-type swipe transactions.  The fact that a credit card isn’t in front of you means there are more chances of fraud in the eyes of most acquiring banks.  For most e-commerce retailers, they need to factor in these costs into their cost of sales because in some cases, it may end up that the cost of doing business online is actually more expensive than selling in a physical store.  
If you’re dealing with a local UAE-based acquiring bank, you typically also hear that their rates are higher than that being charged by overseas acquiring banks.  If you don’t have volume, then trying to negotiate a rate is going to be difficult.  Even a lot of the e-commerce players that you see operating in the UAE, use third-party payment gateways based outside the UAE because they work out cheaper (albeit in most cases, they’re still more expensive than retailers pay acquiring banks for swiping cards in their stores).
From a security point of view, the moment you accept a credit card, you are at risk as a merchant.  Most credit card agreements state that the cardholder has got a period of 12-18 months to dispute a claim and even when you’re 101% sure that the claim is fraudulent, the bank will in many cases side with the cardholder.  After all, “the customer is always right,” isn’t he and when was the last time a bank sided with you?
In such cases, you may be liable for a chargeback.  That means, you lose the money and if the good or service has been shipped or availed, you lose even more because there is that cost that is also likely to go out of your pocket.
Merchant beware.
There are companies that can help verify the authenticity of online transactions but again this comes at a cost. 
The bigger risk though is that if you’re shipping outside of your legal jurisdiction as there is very little legal recourse.  For example, if you are an e-tailer based in the UAE and you ship a product to a customer in Saudi Arabia, if he turns around a year later to dispute the claim and you know he’s lying, there is little you can do.  He isn’t in the same country as you and there is no court that can help you in this case.  If the transaction happened with a customer sitting in the UAE, then there is still the chance that the legal system assist can you.
A lot of these are issues that aren’t as much of a concern for a retailer who is based in the United States and ships within the United States because for them, there is always legal recourse, even across State lines.
Cash on Delivery is always an option but in an age of instant gratification, there’s nothing like knowing you’ve placed your oder, committed yourself and preparing yourself to benefit from the service or good you’ve ordered.

Having discussed in a previous installment about the strength of retailing in the UAE, the role of logistics becomes that much more critical.  If you’re going to charge a delivery fee, then this is an additional cost to the customer, if you absorb the delivery fee, it’s an additional cost of sale on you as an e-commerce retailer.  In the long term, you need to see how you manage this.

What is more crucial though is how are you going to differentiate yourself logistically as price alone isn’t a grounds to compete on.  Even if you’re product is Dhs. 100 cheaper than a retail store but if it takes 24-48 hours to receive the product and I have a mall five minutes away from me, I may still be willing to buy the product from a retail outlet.  Same day delivery, same afternoon delivery, express delivery are all concepts that many e-commerce retailers in the region are going to have to adopt.  This though costs money and you need to see how you manage to fit this into your operating model.
Act Local, Think Global

On the Internet, the competition is Global.  Even if you’ve got a fantastic selling proposition when compared to local e-commerce players and retailers, you need to not lose sight of the bigger picture.  This applies not only to how you price your product but the overall experience you provide the customer, whether it be your website design, mobile experience, social media strategy, etc.  You have to be top class to compete with global players.
From a pricing point of view, you need to keep in mind the global price situation as well.  Just because you’re cheaper than a local retailer who buys his product at an exorbitant price from a local authorized agent doesn’t mean you’re necessarily competitive if an international website is still cheaper than you. 
Know When to Say Stop!

This ties back to the initial word I mentioned, sustainability.  In an effort to put all the bells and whistles onto a website, we tend to lost sight of the fact that the Internet is the greatest source of information out there.  Sometimes, there are aways of getting things done cheaper without doing it all yourself.  Maybe in the pursuit for perfection, you run over budget and time frames.  There is no point in having the best online resource if there isn’t business to justify the costs of developing it.  
Stand out from the Crowd

How many group buying or coupon sites are there out there?  How do you stand out from the crowd and provide a value proposition that stands out not only to your customers but your investors as well? How many group buying or coupon sites do you know of in the UAE?  Will all of them succeed? Loyalty is difficult to come by but shoppers are actually more loyal online than we give them credit for.  
From my own personal experience, I know I’ve used Expedia or Amazon to book hotels or buy books without looking at the alternatives.  Even when I know there are alternatives that are cheaper, I’ve still continued to use these websites because there is a level of confidence I’ve developed with them and don’t mind paying a premium in these cases.  There are some local e-tailers who’ve started gaining the same trust from their customer.  Whether they’ve done it with service, responsiveness or logistical advantages, they’ve managed to shift the conversation away from price at times and get away with charging more than traditional retailers do at times.
Revenue Stream

How often have you heard someone talk of a great idea and then realize there is little or no revenue stream?  Worse still, how many people have spoken of revenue streams that seem completely unrealistic.  At the end of the day, money talks.
Economies of Scale

If you do have an idea, you need to ask yourself if it is scalable.  Scalable in two senses: one is can you grow within a budget that makes sense and secondly, is there a big enough market for it so you have enough volume generated to make a profit.  Remember, this isn’t the United States or Europe where there are millions of consumers who can potentially buy from you.
Concluding Thoughts To E-Commerce in the UAE

For any business to succeed, it needs enough volume at the right price.  If this doesn’t happen, you’re fighting a battle before you’ve even started.  As excited as we get about the UAE, we need to assess the fact whether we indeed have the critical mass.  For a retailer, hotelier, restauranteur or airline, there is always a tourist population to fall back on.  For an e-commerce retailer that only serves the UAE population, there is a much smaller population that makes up your total potential market size.  If you decide to work outside the UAE as well, then you need to see whether you’ve protected yourself legally and if you’re business is scalable at a cost that makes sense across more than one geography.
The fact is that the UAE is a unique market.  A textbook approach will not work in this part of the world.  There is a growing retail and e-tail market.  Whichever way you look, you can’t avoid it.  How it grows, who grows it best and what models adapt themselves best to the UAE is something we will see.  I know of a few e-commerce players who seem to have their game hat on and are talking the right language and many more who are talking in general terms but look to have missed the boat fundamentally.  The same goes with retailers.  Many have grown aware of the fact that they need to recognize e-tailing however, some have understood better than others how to adopt it into their business.  If retail grows, it is not necessarily at the cost of e-commerce and vice-versa, e-commerce may grow in the region not at the cost of retail but because the number of opportunities that exist have increased overall.
In the meantime, there are a lot of consultants out there who are making a lot of money from this.  Some of them doing it justifiably as they know what’s happening but again like in any business, it’s a case of buyer beware.  The consultant you’re hiring may not more much more than you.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this read on my thoughts on the e-commerce space in the UAE.  As I mentioned earlier, you may or may not agree with a lot of what I said.  I’d be happy to hear your thoughts as well but do appreciate the fact that this is an opinion piece and I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I’ve said.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

E-Commerce in the UAE: Part 3

This is a multi-part blog post on my views on E-Commerce in the UAE.  To read the earlier parts click below:

Whatever thoughts I have on this topic are my own.  They aren’t to be linked to my company or anyone else so if quoting me, please don’t quote me in my professional capacity as this has been written in my personal capacity.

Installment 3: Government Regulations
 The question of who governs the Internet and what is on the Internet has always been difficult to answer.  Does it need governing?  Is it always a case of buyer beware?  If it is governed, should the same rules apply online and offline?  There’s always been stories popping up in the press about Amazon battling the government as several states feel they’re being cheated out of sales tax.  Locally, we’ve seen stories appear recently in The National about group buying sights coming under the radar of government officials (click here for the story).  Where do we draw the line, if indeed it needs to be drawn and what should consumers be aware of?
The Agency Law

In the UAE, we’re subject to something called affectionately as “The Agency Law.”  The Agency Law basically stipulates who the authorized agent is for a brand and says that he should be the legal importer of the brand into the country.  Anyone who imports a product from a particular brand and isn’t the registered agent, may be in trouble.  A lawyer could probably tell you the ins and outs of this better but this is the Cliff Notes version of The Agency Law.  
What does this mean for retailer and e-commerce players in the UAE?  
As a retailer, it means we’re bound to buy all of our products through authorized agents if we’re not the registered agent ourselves.  In most cases, the authorized agent is one legal entity only which means, we’re restricted to buying from one entity and then selling the good or service onto the consumer.  As you can imagine, this can make negotiating the best deal a little more challenging when the agent knows he’s in a sense protected by the government and as a retailer, we’re bound to buy the products at the prices dictated, irrespective of what margin the agent keeps for himself.
When the same retailer then decides to sell online within the UAE, then he is technically still bound to source the products from the same channels he is dealing with for his physical stores, which in this case is the authorized agent.  Will an agent sell to a retailer a product cheaper because he is selling it online?  In most cases, he doesn’t care.  A sale is a sale.
So what then happens when a pure play UAE-based e-commerce player starts selling in the UAE?  Technically, he is obliged to buy his products from the authorized agent and in most cases, I’d assume his buying price would be in the best situation on par with that of the retailer as they both would be buying from the same source.  The difference in pricing should then come in the form of what retail margins they both decide to work on.  However, in most cases, most pure play UAE-based e-commerce players aren’t acquiring the products from the authorized agent.  They’re buying the product from wherever they can source it and selling it onto the consumer.  These goods are often referred to as “Grey Goods.”  In a sense, many of them have an advantage over many UAE-based retailers and this in part due to the fact that many of them aren’t moving in line with the laws of the land.  
It could be argued that the authorities have decided to keep one eye shut when this happens or that the volumes are not significant enough for them to take notice but this then opens up another can of worms with regards warranties, refund policies, etc. which I’ll elaborate on further.
Aramex's Shop and Ship service has spread its wings
to countries like China
There is another scenario here though that also has to be considered with regards to The Agency Law.  The internet is global and as a customer, you are free to visit any website, in any part of the world, including most e-commerce websites.  Some may ship to the UAE directly and for some others, you can get goods shipped here more creatively using services such as Aramex’s Shop and Ship service.  So when you’re buying a product from an international e-commerce player and importing it yourself to the UAE, are you breaking the law?  The common consensus tends to be that if you’re importing one unit for your personal use, that is generally OK but if you starting importing products in larger quantities for the purpose of resale or products that are banned, you can end up in hot water.  In such cases, it is then assumed you know the risks of importing these from a non-UAE based entity and as such as a buyer, you’re aware that there may be little legal recourse if the product is not what you ordered or defective. 
Grey Goods

The bigger questions of grey goods then arises.  In a free market society, we should all be able to buy from where we want and sell to where we want.  That doesn’t mean though that as a retailer or e-commerce player we violate the sanctity of current trading patterns that exists but rather we allow them to become more efficient.  A lot of the responsibility for imbalances in pricing that exists from country to country lies with the brands themselves.  If a brand serves their customer (in this case, the agent, distributor, retailer or e-tailer) properly, then they may not look to source from other countries and circumvent The Agency Law.  
The difficult part for most consumers buying online today, is that they can’t distinguish between what products are coming from the authorized agent and what is being sourced from the Grey Market.  Why does this matter to the consumer?
It is assumed that a product procured from the authorized agent carries an official warranty which will be honoured by the authorized agent at their service centre on behalf of the brand owner.  If there is a complaint that is not being attended to, then matter can be escalated to the Consumer Protection Department at the Department of Economic Development or the Ministry of Economy who will intervene on behalf of the customer with the said retailer and agent where required.
You can't talk about Grey and not
mention this, can you?
Buying a product from the authorized agent also ensures that the product comes with right language manuals and user interface for the region.  It should also conform to the standards put forward by the UAE authorities.  In short, it is authorized for sale and service in the UAE.
For example, in the case of any devices that include a WIFI connection, wireless or wired modem of any sort, they need to be authorized by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) for sale in the UAE.  For books, music or movies, they need to be authorized by the National Media Council.  For many home appliances, they need to be authorized by the Emirates Authority for Standardization & Metrology (ESMA) to ensure that they conform to certain standards set forth by the UAE government.  In the case of food or medicines, they would also have to be approved by the relevant authorities in the UAE to ensure they’re safe to sale.
With a Grey Good bought from an e-commerce site, you are on your own.  There is no retail store you can run into to make a fuss or police you can call to the scene.  Even where an e-commerce player says they will provide their own warranty, there is no guarantee that said website will be in business a few months from now or what quality of warranty service you will get.  There may also not be a government department that may be willing to support you as in some cases, many e-commerce businesses that operate in the UAE have their legal roots outside of the UAE.
Sale or No Sale. Festival or No Festival?

As a retailer in the UAE, you need to take permission for just about everything.  To go on sale, you have to apply for permission from the Department of Economic Development (DED).  To have a special offer, you need to take permission from the DED.  To run a competition, raffle or contest, you need to take permission from the DED.  To participate in events such as the Dubai Shopping Festival or Dubai Summer Surprises, you may need to pay a participation fee to the Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment (DEPE).  

While I’m not going to talk about the need for why we pay and if is it justifiable, what this has ensured is that when as retailers we do advertise a markdown or a discount, these are genuine discounts.  The penalties for misleading the consumer are quite hefty and the DED is swift in their actions here.  So the question therefore arises, how genuine are the discounts you see online since many of the offers are largely unregulated?
I have seen many cases where discounts have been advertised that are misleading.  With electronic products, the price of a product varies depending on the lifecycle of the product.  When a product is approaching the end of its life, it tends to be sold at a lower price.  Prices may in fact change several times during the course of the product’s life so when a price comparison is made, should it be against the last selling price or the launch selling price?  I’ve seen cases where certain websites advertise the “retail” price as the launch price of a product, which may have been the price retailers were selling the product for a year earlier and using this as the benchmark for comparison.  This is something that many retailers wouldn’t get away with but we see this happen all the time online.  Just as you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet, you also have to throw caution to the wind and look at an e-commerce players reputation before believing that all price discounts are genuine.  
Concluding Thoughts on Government Regulation

If there differentiating factor between retailers and e-commerce players comes down to where you source products from (i.e. authorized agents versus grey market), then this may be something for the government to look into.  The Agency Law by their very nature are archaic and many of the benefits that the agent system today provides can still be implemented but it would mean that many of the responsibilities that today sit with an authorized agent would shift to that of a distributor or a brand themselves.  Even for e-commerce players to grow, they need support of the brands.  Many work against the brand in this region and just like retailers who are heavily on brand support, e-tailers would need the same.  Amazon for example works alongside most of their major suppliers.  There are promotions, offers and a supply chain that is managed in conjunction with that of Amazon and the brand suppliers.  The same needs to happen in this part of the world if e-commerce is to grow.  At the same time, The Agency Law has to be re-looked into if efficiencies have to be achieved in terms of supplying goods to a consumer competitively.  Protectionism is an era that passed us several decades ago but is a concept that still exists somewhat in this part of the world.
In the next and final installment, I’ll talk about: Sustainability of an E-Commerce Business