Five broad trends emerged from the survey, covering ten different products and services:
1. Traditional market segmentation no longer holds true. The 'chameleon' consumer has conflicting preferences and facets, which need to be accommodated.
2. Brands are increasingly likely to influence purchasing decisions within emerging markets, unlike the mature markets where lower loyalty is challenging companies.
3. Personalized communication and service is a priority. There are huge opportunities for organizations that can harness digital consumers through closer 'community' vehicles, such as social media and other digital channels.
4. Consumers are now equipped with all possible product, price and stock information and can simply bypass retailers that don't engage consumers with relevant information and a compelling purchase pitch.
5. These new empowered customers want a greater say in how they experience service and to be active 'co-creators', not passive consumers.
Defying categorization: the chameleon consumer
Ross Maclean, Customer Advisory Leader, Ernst & Young MENA, says: "The survey finds that in recent years, customer behavior has changed beyond recognition. In becoming a 'chameleon', the consumer has undergone a radical 'metamorphosis' and this change has significant consequences for all customer-centric organizations."
The challenge of categorizing consumers is demonstrated by differences in consumer behaviour between regions. The survey reveals, for example in Jordan, 74% of consumers want to pay by cash, while in the UAE the figure is just 39%. In Bahrain, 21% prefer to shop online, while in Lebanon and Jordan the figure is half that, at 10%, and in Kuwait it is 12%. Adding to the complexity is the very large number of transient expat workers in MENA countries, all with different habits and preferences.
Brand loyalty - products commanding greater affinity compared to services
Despite MENA's high numbers, the survey uncovers a regional split in brand loyalty. In MENA and other emerging markets, brands are increasingly likely to influence purchasing decisions, while brand loyalty is on the wane in the West.
Within MENA, the areas where brand affinity is highest are the more "product-driven" environments (food, clothing). Within the typically more "service-driven" environments (banking and insurance), emotional connection with brands is lagging. Consumers demonstrate an average of just 54% loyalty level to these service-driven sectors, compared with 66% to industries where the focus is more product-led.
"While brand loyalty in MENA is much stronger than in other global geographies, there is still an anomaly between loyalty to products and loyalty to services. This highlights the need for organizations to recognize the importance of customer experience in driving customer acquisition, growth and retention. Customer experience is the new brand." says Ross.
Consumer communication gets personal
Customers have turned their backs on established media channels and are electing their own spokespeople. The survey identifies a divide between mature and less mature markets' perceptions of the value of social media. When asked to rate the medium's worth as an objective tool for finding and validating information, globally, consumers gave it an unexceptional 5.4 out of 10; however, the more positive consumers of the MENA region responded with 6.3, as did China.
Ross adds: "MENA consumers have a new voice, they are amongst the most digitally engaged on the planet and their expectations are higher than they have ever been. Through social media, blogs, brand communities and other online forums, consumers are sharing their views, preferences, likes and dislikes with anyone who cares to listen."
Knowing it all, having it all
The report reveals that the web has inverted the global power relationship. It has given consumers the means to have it all their own way. In the MENA region, 65% go online at least once during the shopping process — above the global average of 62%, and above India (64%), though slightly behind China (68%). Within the MENA region however, there are some interesting country variations in willingness to shop online: in Jordan, 43% buy predominantly in-store, while just 10% shop mainly online. However, in the UAE, 38% say they shop mainly in-store and 21% online.
From consumer to co-creator
Consumers now want bespoke attention whenever they deal with a product or service provider, all the way through the shopping experience — from innovations they help shape, to immediate rewards for loyalty. Payment is one area where consumers want it their way. According to the survey, 39% of consumers globally prefer to pay by cash, whereas in MENA, 60% opt for cash, much higher than the global average of 39%.
"The trends identified in our survey have urgent implications for businesses in MENA. An understanding of these implications, supported by the solid principles of effective marketing, will help organizations navigate the new consumer environment. Engaging in dialogue with consumers, making service personal and providing an end-to-end brand experience are essential for the success of any business," concludes Ross.