Dubai: The food order-and-delivery portal Zomato’s imminent exit from the UAE has generated much interest from the competition. Sure, anyone logging onto Zomato UAE will be prompted to place the order with Talabat. This is because the online food order services of Zomato UAE was sold to Delivery Hero Group, which also owns Talabat, in 2019.
But will all of Zomato UAE’s existing customer base - the portal has its strongest hold among Indian and Asian residents - gravitate organically towards Talabat? Or does this mean an opportunity is opening up to pull some of Zomato UAE’s quite sizeable user base?
Among the potential suitors is etisalat by e& - yes, that’s right. The UAE’s telco and tech giant is working its way to be a ‘super-app’. Whether that’s selling insurance, grocery - or taking food delivery orders through its Similes program.
Antonio Ricciardi, Senior Vice-President for Consumer Intelligence and Engagement at etisalat by e&, gives an insight into how the company plans to go about winning them over.
What kind of growth is there in the food aggregate business?
The food aggregation business in UAE has always been a bit ahead of the curve on growth rates. With many contributing factors including high digital penetration, affordability indices as well as a skewed demographics that has a highly busy working population who needs these services. The market itself is growing by 6.3 per cent CAGR during 2022-26, and expected to have more than 5.5 million users - or close to 45 per cent penetration levels. This is one of the highest penetration levels for any country.
We believe the market growth can be further accelerated by customer disruptions. For example, on (etisalat by e&-owned) Smiles - though launched only in 2021 - we have seen a significant number of new customers who had never ordered via a food delivery app before. Or used to order once a while only as they considered such orders as a luxury, given high hidden costs like delivery fees and extra charges.
But is there room to sustain the sort of growth seen in the recent past? On the food aggregation business, we’ve seen some unique factors about UAE that stand out differently as a trend, and aid the market growth:
UAE consumers tend to place a premium on convenience - if one app is able to do the job of two, they simply love it. With this in mind, we have also added grocery delivery as a complementary service to Smiles. Hence Smiles Food and now also Smiles Grocery are now bundled with unlimited free delivery subscription – where customer can enjoy free delivery on any number of food or grocery orders, for Dh30 /month (with a 2 week free trial), as well as enjoy exclusive offer code We’ve also seen, time and again, that the UAE consumers are particularly very caring and discerning in the way they humanely treat the riders who deliver food to them in these sweltering conditions. We have hence added a ‘tipping’ feature that allows customers to pay Smiles’ delivery champions without having to rummage through their wallets at the time of delivery.
Many were talking about a slowdown on food order and delivery post-Covid - how much of that did actually happen?
The behavioral change that was caused by Covid has actually been permanent, and here to stay. People changed their views on ordering food and grocery that was once considered as a ‘luxury’ to now more a convenience-based necessity, during Covid, and this behavior is here to stay as well as accelerate the growth While Smiles has been one of the latter entrants, launched during the Covid times, we’ve seen a significant growth every week-on-week even post the Covid period, thanks to the customer confidence instilled by a continuous increase in variety of restaurants (of over 8,200 restaurants by end October. And a better ordering experience with an ability to earn Smiles points as well as redeem them for food. With over 8,200 restaurants, offerings of Smiles points for every order, option of unlimited free delivery, we believe a lot of customers are already gearing up for the shift to Smiles. As well as the convenience that Smiles offers as a ‘one stop shop’ for food and grocery delivery, as well as for cash vouchers, discounts, deals, travel and much more.