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2020 roundup: Top market trends that kept the Middle East booming

Despite the global crisis we faced this year, there were many business models and ideas that became relevant, trending and popular amongst consumers.

There is no doubt the pandemic negatively affected the retail industry, except for those merchandisers who were supplying the essentials While we saw startups transitioning towards simply having mobile-optimized websites in the past few years, this year was all about integrating mobile functionalities into existing businesses Gen Zers are increasingly becoming formidable consumers in their own right

This year has been quite different for entrepreneurs and business owners. While at the beginning of the year, we were priding ourselves for some ambitious visions, the pandemic had other plans in store. However, despite the global crisis, there were many business models and ideas that became relevant, trending and popular amongst consumers. This is especially true for the UAE region, considering small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) contribute to more than 50% of the region’s non-oil GDP, where 95% of companies in Dubai belong to the SME league. While there were some hits and misses, this column will explore the industrial trends of the Middle Eastern market that kept businesses incoming in these uncertain times. 

Retail Technology

There is no doubt the pandemic negatively affected the retail industry, except for those merchandisers who were supplying the essentials. During the period of lockdown, consumers of the GCC and Turkey majorly focused on online spending for their groceries and personal care products. Although the industry witnessed a decrease in sales in non-essential items like apparel, footwear and travel-related items, the industry quickly got back to its feet with the aid of technology. Despite the ongoing pandemic, e-commerce sales globally were recorded to reach over $4 trillion in 2020 and are further expected to reach $4.8 trillion in 2021. Some of the trending digital tools that have been incorporated and used in the retail sector include computer vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze consumer pattern and behavior. This has re-invented a whole new shopping experience driving new efficiencies to the industry. 

Big Data Analysis
Even since 2010, the usage of data has increased exponentially. This is bound to grow further by 26% until the end of 2022. Additionally, the cost of computing big data production has continuously fallen considering how digital storage can be rented on the cloud. However, in 2020, many corporations have been making a transition to Industry 4.0 facilities. Companies are beginning to capture, store and analyze the data in a cost-effective manner allowing them to gather relevant and real-time data that can be utilized to explore numerous opportunities. One stand-out example for Big Data is Qsee, a startup that had built predictive and prescriptive analytics tools for their manufacturers using big data. The software developed can be used to predict the product quality with every incoming batch, cutting down on monetary and time-related costs.

Read: 2020 was supposed to be the year of 5G, but a certain virus had other plans

Embracing mobile facilities

While we saw startups transitioning towards simply having mobile-optimized websites in the past few years, this year was all about integrating mobile functionalities into existing businesses. We are seeing companies transform their businesses into more mobile-friendly operations with mobile payments, marketing, customer support and communication. Since the coronavirus outbreak, people have been hesitant about stepping into retail stores to shop, which automatically accelerated the trend of online mobile payments. Customers are now accustomed to making touchless payments using their mobile phone with solutions like Google Wallet, Apple Pay, PayTm, and Civic. 

On the flip side, mobile marketing has become an important tool for companies to promote their products. According to recent reports, 23% of people are attracted to buy a product soon after viewing its details on a mobile format when compared to a desktop format. Additionally, 55% of consumers would rather reach out to the customer care executives via mobile application than over a phone call. With customer patterns changing so rapidly, it can be safe to say mobiles have cemented themselves as a crucial aspect of promotion and sales for numerous startups and established corporations. 

GenZers – as employees and consumers
Generation Z loosely defines people who are born between 1995 and 2005. Research suggests that this group of individuals are one of the largest consumers, although some are even younger than the age of 10. Research from Hubspot claims that Gen Z’s control over $200 billion in direct spending and play a major influential factor in their parents’ expenditure owing a spend of over $600 billion. This generation is the only group who have been born into a full-digital world. They are tech-friendly and digitally savvy individuals who rely on technology for almost everything. In line with this, corporations are now considering Gen Zers for future potential employment, considering their strong tech skills, the desire to be financially independent and the ability to multitask. Unlike other generations, research says that one in four Gen Zers volunteer in their spare time, which has given them an edge for competitive employment opportunities. Most of all, this generation has been given the most exposure and it would only add value for companies to closely look into tapping them as both employees and loyal consumers.  

While this may not be the soundest year economically for many, there are some popular retail, consumer and industrial trends which entrepreneurs should keep in mind going forward.

Read: Recession, oil, fintech, crypto, China and GCC economies in 2021 and beyond