Dubai: The message for UAE retailers is simple enough — make your web and smartphone presence compelling. Whether shoppers turn up at your brick-and-mortar store may well depend on it.
According to a spokesperson at the digital consultancy RBBi, 50 per cent of all product/service searches done on a mobile ends up with the user visiting the store... within a day. And for those who did so using a computer or tablet, the conversion rate was still a high 34 per cent.
And retailers and their brands had better show up prominently in the online searches — 75 per cent of users never even move on to the second web page.
In reality, they [the search engines] are a strong medium to drive consumers to [physical] shops. This would also explain the extensive spike in usage of ‘near me’ queries across both mobile and desktop devices for brick-and-mortar retailers.”
- Khushal Khan | Search engine optimisation manager at RBBi
“There is a gap in brick-and-mortar retailers providing e-commerce and full-fledged transaction capabilities alongside their struggle for visibility on search engines,” said Khushal Khan, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Manager at RBBi. “And 93 per cent of all online experiences begin with a search engine.”
According to Khan, it’s a myth that search engine results only favour pure-play e-commerce sites over those operated by more traditional retailers.
“In reality, they [the search engines] are a strong medium to drive consumers to [physical] shops. This would also explain the extensive spike in usage of “near me” queries across both mobile and desktop devices for brick-and-mortar retailers.
“We have to understand we live in a market with over 80 per cent of the population using mobile internet and on the lookout for convenience when it comes to making a purchase. While Google is keeping up to speed with its end of search quality and providing users with as relevant results as possible, the brands are way behind in taking effective measures to ensure they get maximum online visibility in the local search-sphere.
“It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that brick-and-mortar retailers will need to adapt to online platforms as an additional channel to maximise their profits. The question is how soon.”
That’s exactly it. Even with the prospect of online opening up another revenue channel for them, there are still only a limited number of UAE’s brick-and-mortar retailers who have given their full-scale commitment to it.
Generic retail houses such as Landmark (landmarkshops.com) and Apparel (which owns 6thstreet.com) are making their case online, as is Al Tayer Group with its luxury apparel and accessories portal Ounass.com. Hypermarket operator Lulu Group is also gradually expanding its online footprint.
But there needs to be more of their kind. Traditional retailers can even now work towards a better mix in what they offer online and off. One way to do so would be to create customised “experiences” at their physical stores.
“I am a firm believer the internet will not kill shops, it will liberate them,” said Ebrahim Ebrahim, managing director at Portland Design Associates, the UK branding and retail strategy firm. “Increasingly we are looking at money not changing hands in-store.
Retail is about three things: recruitment [sourcing customers], transaction [sales] and retention [loyalty]. Increasingly we are looking at transactions happening online and physical stores being about recruitment and retention.”
- Ebrahim Ebrahim | Managing director at Portland Design Associates
“Retail is about three things: recruitment [sourcing customers], transaction [sales] and retention [loyalty]. Increasingly we are looking at transactions happening online and physical stores being about recruitment and retention.
“The space retailers do have will be used more and more for experiences rather than for transactions, much like the Apple store which is designed to be entertainment and leisure-driven.
“Retail will take on more of a hybrid role, for the most part anchored by food and beverage whilst turning into more of a social destination. A good example of retailers turning experiential are beauty stores. Brands will create a hybrid of products and services, like make up stores selling products as well as offering services like manicures and pedicures on site.”
Customer loyalty is there to be won
In the UAE’s e-commerce space, consumer loyalties are still far from going one way or the other. That being the case, brick-and-mortar retailers are still in with an even chance to win them over.
“Consumers are more likely to give preference to buying from a local retailer if better service and ease of shopping [online] is guaranteed,” said Khushal Khan at RBBi.
Going forward, expect more loyalty/membership programmes to start showing up on-line, as retailers and brands vie for ways to win over shoppers and get them back in again.
Amazon’s Prime membership programme is definitely the touchstone in putting together an army of committed shoppers.
The UAE and Gulf region’s online space is still up for grabs. According to a spokesperson at AAA Loyalty, “Digitally-powered loyalty programmes are empowered with data that allows businesses to send out target specific messages. Additionally, it is easier to use and can help maintain data on loyal customers.
“Unlike the regular loyalty programmes, AAA Loyalty is equipped to face the digital transformation. Our programme is on a digital platform and all transactions are online. As such, we are in a position to be at par with the online retailers.”
AAA Loyalty expects to rack up 10,000 members before the end of the year, principally from the UAE. And once it starts pushing outside of this market, it hopes to raise over 100,000 members by 2018.
More to White Friday than gadgets and accessories
Last week’s ‘White Friday’ shopping blitz wasn’t all about the latest iPhone or a must-have fragrance. Even the more mundane of day-to-day service needs were there for the asking.
Through a first-time alliance with Souq.com, Helpbit was offering up to 50 per cent off on electronic gadget repairs, pet grooming, laundry, home cleaning and even on handymen. These service offers were valid until December 31. “We aim to ensure that our tech-savvy customers not only have exceptional experience on a huge selection of services, but also have the peace of mind that they are getting the best possible price point for their desired service,” said Mohammad Sleiman, managing director at Helpbit.