8 ways consumers in MENA adapted their shopping behaviour this year

Celine Youssef, Sally Monem / July 2020

Travel restrictions, store closures, home schooling, and more; COVID-19 turned most people’s lives upside down overnight — and one area that was immediately impacted was retail. From a shopper’s initial research up until the moment of purchase, suddenly many customer journeys were taking place exclusively online.

But what can retailers do to overcome the challenges brought by this major shift? Smart Shopper, a study commissioned by Google and conducted by KANTAR in May 2020,1 shines a light on shopping behaviours during the pandemic to help inform brand, marketing, and consumer strategies — now and in the future.

1. Some retail categories show higher shifts to online shopping than others

With a large number of stores forced to temporarily close their physical outlets in the MENA region and operate with significant restrictions, there has been a strong shift towards online purchases in 2020. The biggest change in shopping behaviours was seen across fashion, home and garden, and consumer electronics as shoppers in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt restricted their movements to essential journeys only. Beauty products and food and groceries, however, witnessed a lighter change in shopping habits — likely because these are available in grocery and drug stores, which remained open.

Action: Be clear. As your physical stores reopen, using ad extensions will allow shoppers to easily see any changes to your operating hours or conditions of opening.

Online vs offline purchases year-on-year

Smart shopper

2. Shoppers increasingly prefer online and channel-agnostic purchases

Even in this dynamic environment, physical stores remain a crucial part of the user journey. But as routines and schedules change for retailers, so do the shopping behaviours of their consumers, with shoppers demonstrating an increase in online and channel-agnostic purchase preferences. This shift makes omnichannel strategies, and being present at all touchpoints of a consumer journey, even more relevant.

Action: Be integrated. Ensure your online and offline teams work as one unit by giving them shared KPIs.

Preference of purchase channels across verticals with shops closed

Smart shopper

3. Convenience is valued above all else

Despite significant changes in consumer behaviour — from spending more time at home to picking up new hobbies — the motivations behind where people choose to make purchases remained broadly the same during the first half of 2020. Convenience was still the number one factor across most retail categories. And unsurprisingly, home delivery and availability were also key.

Action: Convenience is key. Display shipping options and availability in marketing messages, as well as providing an online chat option to ensure customers have all the information needed to make a purchase easily.  

Drivers of online vs offline purchases

Smart shopper
Smart shopper

4. More online shopping means more pain points

As the number of consumers shopping online has increased, so too has the volume of pain points faced by buyers. Over 65% of consumers in the UAE, KSA and Egypt faced an issue while shopping online in 2020. The majority of pain points were caused by inconvenient user experiences. These include: too little product information, slow customer support response time, lack of product reviews, registration or login needed, and unavailability of preferred payment methods.

Action: Be seamless. Ensure users’ wish lists and baskets are synched to their accounts, so information is available no matter which device they are using.

5. Search and video play a bigger role in online product research

As they research their products online, shoppers in MENA have been using online video and search engines the most, across all categories. Retailer websites and apps, and social media have also grown in popularity.

Action: Be helpful. Give shoppers an additional reason to choose your products by creating instructional videos they can find on YouTube.

Online touchpoints hit by shoppers as they research

smart shopper

6. Price, availability, and speed are reasons to switch retailers

Consumers who bought new brands, or tried new retailers in 2020, were not overly concerned about quality or recommendations from other shoppers. Instead, for shoppers in MENA, convenience, availability, and price were at the forefront of purchase decisions, with speed being the most important factor of all.

Action: Be fast. Where possible, offer consumers free and/or next-day delivery to increase the likelihood of a purchase. Ensure that delivery offerings are clearly shown in Search Ads text to attract more users.

7. Brands are expected to care about sustainability and social issues

A brand’s stance on sustainability or social issues is important to shoppers, with 87% in the UAE, 88% in KSA, and 86% in Egypt saying that they cared about at least one sustainability aspect when purchasing online in 2020. From fair working conditions and diversity and inclusion to environmentally friendly production and avoiding harmful ingredients — the sustainability factors that impact a shoppers purchase decision were wide-ranging.

Action: Be transparent. If your products are sustainable let shoppers know both in your display ads and across your website and app.

54% of consumers care about at least one of the below aspects

Smart shopper

8. Shopping apps are on the rise

Over 85% of MENA consumers now have shopping apps installed on their phone and these apps are a mix of retailer and individual brand apps. Shoppers in the UAE, KSA and Egypt are most likely to have apps from consumer electronics (> 89%), home & garden (> 88%), and fashion (> 80%) installed on their phones.

Action: Be always on. Native apps can not only provide a faster, more reliable experience for shoppers but, with their phone always by their side, an app can also increase the conversion window.

Taking action

As the uncertainty and inconvenience caused by COVID-19 continues to have an impact on consumer behaviour, now is the time for retailers to be clear, available, and seamless. Listen to your customer’s needs, learn from their behaviour, and adapt your operations accordingly.

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