Is noon on its way to deliver the best ecommerce experience in the GCC?

Noon.com, the $1 billion e-commerce joint venture founded by Mohamed Alabbar, was announced in November 2016 as a ‘future-focused company which is the biggest online shopping platform ever seen in the region’. Its launch at the time was expected in January 2017.

Since then, noon acquired JadoPado in May and appointed Faraz Khalid (formerly of Namshi) as CEO in July following Emaar’s acquisition of 51% of Namshi.com. Meanwhile, Amazon completed their acquisition of Souq.com in July.

On the evening of the 30th September the long awaited noon.com went live followed by a dozen announcements in the regional press. By the end of the next day, The National even published a price comparison benchmark with their direct rival Souq.com.

We visited the website of this new marketplace with a lot of excitement and asked ourselves ‘Is noon.com up to market expectations?’

Note: all our observations were done between October 1st and October 4th, 2017.

Product Catalogue

As part of our review of noon’s website, we counted between 150k and 200k displayed products. Whilst this number is under the announced 20 million, it is still an impressive online catalog for a launch, with categories ranging from Electronics to Grocery.

Noon managed to secure key brands across different categories while respecting their merchandising constraints. For example search results page does not display ‘Chanel’ or ‘Dior’ lipsticks when a customer searches ‘lipstick’. Respecting brand rules, customers can only shop Chanel and Dior beauty products from the brand specific pages.

We noticed that some of the suppliers were renowned local retailers such as Paris Gallery for beauty products, Better Life for appliances or Union Coop for groceries. Alshaya also recently acquired a stake in noon, which altogether reinforces the online platform’s intention to being perceived as a quality shopping destination. It will be interesting to see how these partnerships unfold in the future and eventually offer multichannel capabilities to customers.

Number of different products per category on noon.com (as displayed on the filters)

We observed that there were quite a number of items out of stock. This is likely to be fixed after a few weeks of operations.

Some products were published without images which noon handled gracefully by having a branded placeholder stating “No image available but we sell it”.

It seems that product prices are generally aligned to their regional and international competitors. For now the website only has non-personalised promotions in the form of discounts.
In addition to The National and Techradar’s price comparisons we ran our own extending the scope of competitors to include multichannel companies.

It is still too early to know whether noon will try to compete on price, promotions or product assortment yet. Nevertheless the new titan is a serious ecommerce contender and will enter the list of retailers to compare prices from. Supporting this affirmation Souq have already responded by dropping product and shipping prices.

Navigation and Searchandising

The navigation was easy with product categories clearly labeled and key brands featured prominently in the submenus which invokes a sense of confidence in noon as a trusted brand. Some categories were more difficult to find than others; the leading categories were displayed on the horizontal navigation while the remainder were hidden under the “All Categories” dropdown. We found “Audio and Video” under “Home and Kitchen” which we would have expected to see under Electronics and it was not easy to navigate to the whole selection of laptops. However, these small flaws did not alter our general impression of easy navigation across the website.

Filtering was not working for all categories. For example the facets proposed for Lancôme brand subcategory were irrelevant. While this is to be expected when launching a webstore with such a big assortment, it is very important to get this right quickly since this is one of the main ways for customers to find the product they are looking for in a large product catalogue.

The search engine did a very good job (“water” returns water bottles and “water dispenser” returned, well, water dispensers) and had a powerful autosuggestion feature. This is not an understatement. A good search engine is one of the crucial elements to the success of an ecommerce website.

The cross-selling features (“you might also like” or “customers who bought this item also bought”) were not relevant though and felt misplaced in the basket just before checkout.

Checkout

The checkout flow was seamless with only 3 steps – shipping address, payment details and order confirmation. It was also pretty fast, for a new user it took only 1 minute to fill in all required data.

Two payment options were given – by card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) or cash. Paypal was not proposed even though it is widely used by other online stores in the region. There was a message stating that noon don’t store any payment card information, which can be reassuring to some shoppers, as many in the region are still wary when it comes to online payment. However, during placement of several orders we saw that the card was saved anyway even though there was no option to save the card during the checkout.

The delivery charge was 10 AED for orders below 100 AED and there was no minimum order. This is highly attractive compared to the competition. We couldn’t find information about cash on delivery charges and change handling at delivery.

The standard shipping time is next day for orders fulfilled by noon and up to 4 days for orders fulfilled by third-party sellers. Customers don’t have the option to select date and time of the delivery. This is a must-have when shopping groceries online.

In a nutshell, we found all the basics were in place, on par and even beyond regional standards. A one-click purchase button and more payment and delivery options would make the marketplace even better.

On the downside we noticed several important data validation and session management loopholes during checkout, especially for guest checkout, which we hope will be fixed soon.

User Experience – during Purchase

Noon is noticeably the first Arabic-first ecommerce website. The User Interface was perfectly written and the typography worked well. The website is de facto setting a new design standard in the region.

The responsive behaviour of the website worked well throughout and the design was well adapted for mobile. We also tested noon’s mobile apps which were lightweight and as intuitive to use as the responsive website with images loading quickly. Surprisingly, we weren’t able to find them on both Android and IOS app stores by searching for ‘noon’ (it did work for ‘noon ecommerce’).

With their editorial-like homepage and clean graphics noon feels more like a department store than a marketplace, which fits with their initial statement of being a premium shopping destination.

The product list page had an efficient and well spaced grid layout with big images. We found the prices difficult to scan as they are visually blended with the product title text. The promotions were hard to spot and inconsistently displayed. Sometimes the discount sticker appeared and sometimes not. In our opinion the display can be further improved for categories such as grocery.

The product detail page layout was very well designed above the fold, with key information visually hierarchised. We found the cross-sell carousel oversized, which caused annoyance when scrolling to view the product descriptions. This annoyance was exacerbated by the fact the product descriptions were lacking in information. Lastly, the customer reviews integration was questionable as it was a concatenation of many other website’s reviews. This raises the question of relevance for the regional customer base but it is good to have some authentic reviews on there.

Upon adding an item to the basket users are automatically taken to the cart summary page, which in our opinion adds an unnecessary step and deters users who want to continue shop on the website. This will become increasingly frustrating for grocery shoppers in particular.

User Experience – post Purchase

We ordered grocery supplies for our office as a test run and unfortunately only 5 items out of 14 were delivered on time. All the remaining items were delivered the next day, without additional charges.

The emails we received were nicely designed, which proves noon pay attention to the customer experience beyond the website. Incidentally, we did not receive any account creation confirmation email after we registered. The first email we received was the order confirmation email.

Customer support chat is provided which is very good and helpful but we will need to review its efficiency after a few days of operations as on the first day we waited for more than 10 minutes without any response.

The packaging was of very high quality, and was delivered by an employee dressed on-brand as well.

From the delivery boy outfit to the scotch tape, a great attention was paid to details

In a nutshell, the quality of the user experience through the entire customer journey was above regional standards. Branding was perfectly executed from the homepage through to packaging, getting them on-par with successful omnichannel department stores.

There were pitfalls and areas of improvement regarding customer journey efficiency, for instance when it comes to account confirmation email and stock control. We believe that these can rapidly be corrected since the basics are solid.

Performance

We were impressed by the loading performance on desktop. Product pages load very fast (less than 1s) and checkout is seamless. However, we found the website on mobile and the apps were slower than average, slightly dampening our first impression.

We also observed cross-browser issues, for example Firefox on mobile returned a blank page and desktop Safari loaded only the Help chat on the bottom right hand corner, without any data.

Lastly from an SEO perspective we noted that the product pages were not indexed in Google and they did not have the required metadata so far, although long tail is one of the key ingredients of a successful marketplace.

Overall impression

Noon’s launch was worth the wait as the overall front-end execution quality, excellent page load performance, search features and design execution largely met our expectations. The product catalogue, although not as big as announced, is impressive especially considering the product data is also in Arabic.

There were a certain number of important defects to be fixed urgently given the exposure noon has at the moment mostly concerning product stock, handling of customer data and user sessions.

We hope noon will swiftly correct the issues we encountered and extend their product assortment and content in order to catch up with their direct competitors. In particular considering Amazon are anticipated to unveil aggressive development plans in the region.

This said, noon already showed they will play a key role in the regional landscape, and may well become to ecommerce what Dubai Mall is to retail.