By Mohammed A. Baker, Deputy Chairman and CEO of Gulf Marketing Group
As people around the region pursue resolutions to set their 2019 on the right course, retailers too need to pledge themselves to the initiatives that will make their businesses more profitable – and that means understanding the headwinds that will shape the UAE’s retail sector in the year ahead.
At the top of that list is customer loyalty. Experts predict that the customer experience will overtake price and product as retailer’s key brand differentiator by the year 2020. As many local retailers grow and scale, it can also be difficult to maintain that one-to-one intimacy with their core customers. Creating those exceptional customer experiences will require UAE retailers to prioritize four essential aspects of their business strategy.
Consumers in the UAE still have a preference for brick and mortar over e-commerce shopping, with some estimates accounting e-commerce for only 10 per cent of total retail sales across the country. But that doesn’t mean that retailers can afford to overlook the experiential trend that’s sweeping the world. Millennials are one of the largest demographics in the UAE, and as consumers, they often buy into experiences rather than things. They’re also the first generation of digital natives, and this impacts their expectations at retail. Smart technology will help to build the experience they are looking for. Augmented reality, virtual reality, connected solutions, mobile applications and more can both supplement and enhance the in-store experience.
Building on the above, omnichannel retail strategies will be absolutely essential in the UAE in 2019. Omnichannel strategies create multiple avenues for consumers to interact with a brand, thereby increasing exposure, boosting communications, and enabling customers to connect with a brand in the ways most convenient to them. This can include brick and mortar outlets complemented by mobile apps, social media and websites, call centers, and so on. Most important, however, is delivering incredible customer service that is consistent throughout. This is a critical part of the customer journey that cannot be overlooked.
Stores that concentrate on one specific type of goods – and build an exceptional experience around it – are likely to do well in 2019. This ties back into creating a customer experience beyond expectations. A specialist store will be able to deliver a more concentrated, product-centric experience that fully encapsulates the lifestyle that customers either already lead, or aspire to.
Today’s consumer is more conscious than ever of their impact on the environment. They increasingly expect retailers to echo their preferences for sustainability. Some of the most successful companies have already started substituting paper for plastic, applying re-usable packaging, offering recycling services for older products, and committing to a percentage of locally-made product. This value will pick up speed in 2019 as accountability on corporates increases.