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COVID-19 retail impacts on consumer behavior here to stay: Survey

Published: Updated:

Consumer confidence is rising across the Middle East as a result of extensive vaccination programs, a consumer report published by PwC found.

Despite this confidence, the results show that the economic and social consequences of COVID-19 have impacted consumer behavior and that those changes are here to stay, the findings of the 2021 Global Consumer Insights Survey showed.

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The biannual study tracks changing consumer trends of respondents from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, at least 18 years old and were required to have shopped online at least once in the previous year.

The survey results make it clear that as a result of COVID-19 there has been a significant shift to digital across the Middle East – 67 percent of regional consumers believe they have become more digital between October 2020 and March 2021, compared to 51 percent of global consumers, particularly in Egypt where 72 percent of consumers confirmed that.

The survey highlights that online shopping and mobile shopping have accelerated due to the pandemic and are here to stay.

“In our 2020 Global Consumer Insights Survey, fielded before the outbreak of COVID-19, 31 percent of Middle East respondents said they were shopping via their mobile phone on a daily or weekly basis,” Norma Taki, the Consumer Markets Leader and Transaction Services Partner at PwC Middle East, said.

“Our follow-up COVID-19 Pulse survey in May 2020 found that 53 percent of Middle East consumers had increased their use of smartphones for shopping in response to the pandemic, compared with 34 percent of global consumers,” she added.

Mobile is now the main online channel, with 47 percent of regional respondents saying they use their smartphones most frequently for purchases, compared with 39 percent of global respondents.

Norma Taki, the Consumer Markets Leader and Transaction Services Partner at PwC Middle East said the 2021 Global Consumer Insights Survey showed that despite the pandemic, 56 percent of the Middle East consumers, compared with 45 percent worldwide, prefer visiting physical stores. (Image: PwC)
Norma Taki, the Consumer Markets Leader and Transaction Services Partner at PwC Middle East said the 2021 Global Consumer Insights Survey showed that despite the pandemic, 56 percent of the Middle East consumers, compared with 45 percent worldwide, prefer visiting physical stores. (Image: PwC)

Bricks and Mortar retail

Despite the growth of e-commerce, in-store shopping will remain important to Middle East consumers for many reasons. It should also remain as a part of multichannel retail strategies, the consumer survey found.

Shopping malls and physical stores are places to inspect the products in person, explore special offers, and also spend time with friends and family.

“Despite the pandemic, 56 percent of the Middle East consumers, compared with 45 percent worldwide, prefer visiting physical stores,” Taki revealed.

In Saudi Arabia, 59 percent of respondents say in-store is their channel of choice with proximity and convenience key although the popularity of community malls is increasing.

“Not surprisingly, those consumers that shop in-store consider increased health and safety as one of the most important attributes for a physical store, but other considerations vary across the region,” Taki said, offering several examples.

In Saudi Arabia, exclusive or limited-edition offerings, memberships or loyalty programs are the most important reasons for shopping in physical stores, she said.

In the UAE, 17 percent more consumers ranked increased health and safety measures as their top concern, while product range (35 percent) is the second most important attribute.

“Finally, for consumers in Egypt, the ability to see and touch the products (44 percent) is more important than increased health and safety,” Taki said.

The PwC survey highlighted that online shopping and mobile shopping have accelerated due to the pandemic and are here to stay. (Stock image)
The PwC survey highlighted that online shopping and mobile shopping have accelerated due to the pandemic and are here to stay. (Stock image)

Health and Safety

The report found that health and safety remain a major concern for consumers. In general, 40 percent of Middle East shoppers cite health and safety as their most important in-store concern.

Key safety measures that regional consumers highlighted for in-store shopping include mandatory facemasks (44 percent), social distancing (43 percent), hand sanitization stations (32 percent) and reduced capacity (31 percent).

Across the Middle East, 48 percent of respondents in the 35-44 age group put health and safety as their main in-store concern, higher than the regional average, while women in all age groups 43 percent were more anxious about this issue than men.

“In this rapidly evolving market landscape, Middle East retailers must rethink their business models to ensure they are meeting their customers’ changed expectations and do so quickly,” Taki concluded.

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