By Mohammad Baker, Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Gulf Marketing Group
The Middle East loves shopping. Dubai, Kuwait City, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah and Riyadh are among the top retail destinations, each contributing a significant share to the national economy. Retailing in the UAE is expected to reach AED200 billion by 2017, growing by five per cent on average each year, according to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Retail and wholesale trade in the UAE account for more than 11 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and close to 30 per cent of Dubai’s GDP. Dubai ranks only behind London globally in terms of the number of brands available to consumers. Brands need to see consumers from the region as vital to their global operations.
In today’s dynamic retail environment, customers are bombarded with choice and variety like never before. As the retail industry develops, it is important that the market continues to create opportunities for both retailers and consumers. The region has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates.
Consumers here are ever more empowered and more influential than generations before them. With so much choice, it is also safe to assume that brand loyalty is also just as fleeting. So it is important for brands to be aware of what they are promising and how they are delivering on them.
Effective planning in order to effect a favourable customer decision needs the collaborative effort of several pieces coming together: the technologies, the manpower and the channels.
Technology has successfully permeated all aspects of our lives and the retail industry has benefited from a distinct first-mover
advantage. Insights gathered from usage trends from online shopping and innovations such as interactive mirrors and augmented reality are all supporting consumer engagement and personalising user experience.
It has become even more important to understand and track customers’ experience and to look into if and where any conversion breakdowns take place. Such constant stimulus has drastically altered customer expectations, especially in terms of ease of navigation, interactivity, and more importantly, speed of delivery.
To set yourself apart from the competition, it is crucial to be able to understand consumer behaviour at every stage, from creating a need or recognising it by targeting the right demographic. Sometimes a brand needs to go where the consumers are.
Then it comes to being present on platforms that consumers look to for information that fulfils that need. To convert this process into a sale, you need to be in their consideration set when they make a final choice. Digitisation has accelerated this process, so it is important to keep up.
But usage tracking should be done respectfully, if at all, to ensure that while retailers are helping consumers make the right decisions, their privacy is protected and respected.
On digital platforms, customers are also influenced by peers who are now enabled with the ability to edit or block brands from their reality. To mitigate this, physical stores can still be developed to give the customer more face time with the product and an expert team, delivering a multi-faceted experience.
Mobile, web and brick-and-mortar platforms can come together to deliver a true omnichannel experience that balances aspiration with accessibility. The inclusion of mobile into the equation has created a more personalised experience, affecting shopping behaviour anywhere, anytime and across device platforms. Making such a connected experience happen is mandatory for both existing customers and those you are looking to acquire.
It is crucial for brands to realise that customers want their loyalty to be rewarded. This holds the potential for them to become truly engaged, and even to become ambassadors and influencers if properly managed.
In today’s digital age, such loyalty is usually scarce irrespective of how strong and compelling the brand proposition might be. This can be seen as a distinct opportunity to form deeper, longer-lasting relationships with their customers.
In today’s impersonal and digitised retail landscape, it is important to ensure that
relationships with customers are authentic and cared for. Much of today’s innovation, especially in application development, is coming from a need to solve an issue or respond to a pressing situation that can affect broad audiences.
Brands will have to participate in these innovations or risk getting disrupted. The opportunity is to provide consumers the opportunity to engage and shape the products and services they consume, and to have a higher level of interaction and say in what getting what they want.
An expanded version of this article appeared in the May 2017 issue of Gulf Marketing Review. The views expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Gulf Marketing Review.