Yes, it's just a click away... Eid sales will all be happening online this year, and e-tailers are out to make this a decisive breakthrough moment for themselves. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: UAE’s online shopping portals can look to land a decisive win during the upcoming Eid promotions with discounts of 20-40 per cent across categories and one-off special prices, and with more eye-catching offers to follow.

It’s already happening on tech gadgets where 30-40 per cent savings are quite common, and will start to show up more prominently on fashion and accessories in the hope shoppers will once again start spending in these categories. The Eid sales will show whether fashion and apparel retailers can clear most of their stock, which has been piling up.

Some portals also had success in getting brands to launch their latest collections directly through them rather than go brick-and-mortar first.

Online advantage

This year, online portals will have it all to themselves - shops and malls still cannot host any sales promotions, in line with federal guidelines on commercial activity during the time of COVID-19. Some retailers were hopeful sales would be allowed immediately after Ramadan, but to date, the restrictions are still there.

Trying times

This is why the 20-40 per cent price-offs will be decisive. At a time when peoples’ concerns about their financial status are escalating, online retailers are hopeful there will still be plenty who would buy. Once they get online and make a purchase, retailers hope they can convince them to make a few more.

It’s a make-or-break Eid sale this year, market sources say, because the next opportunity will come along much later in the year. Which could add to the uncertainties. Only option is get them to buy… now. If discounts and other promotions can make that happen, let it be.

So, for now, all those shoppers wanting to buy and at a discount, are heading online. “There are spikes in online shopping even in categories that were primarily store-based,” said Vijay Samyani, Managing Director at Concept Brands Group. “It is challenging to pull customers into brick-and-mortar stores, especially for fashion retailers, as they are spending less on this category unless there are promotions.

“Online portals have the field all to themselves. If any retailer is carrying stocks he wants to dispose of, online is the best way forward.”

According to Sandeep Ganediwalla, Partner at RedSeer Consulting, "Given that offline would have less of discounts, we expect to see increased activity online. However, players should be mindful of their delivery and fulfillment capability while offering these discounts - they wouldn't want to overwhelm online channels and create a poor customer experience."

There are spikes in online shopping even in categories that were primarily store-based

- Vijay Samyani of Concept Brands Group

What’s the status at malls?

Malls in the country have re-opened for business, but strictly adhering to the 30 per cent limit on visitor traffic at any given time between 12pm to 10pm. Individual outlets too maintain the same percentage cut-off, but retailer sources say that current visits are way below the 30 per cent mark. (Supermarkets remain the exception.)

“We are hopeful the authorities will soon give an indication of when malls and stores can get back to normal operating hours (from 10am-10pm weekdays and 10am to midnight on weekends/holidays),” said a source. “And just as important, when we can relaunch in-store promotions.

“Retailers need the promotions to clear older stock – right now, we are pushing as much of this stock to online portals.”

Online surge continues

Online shopping portals recorded some decline in transaction volumes after April 25, which was when malls and street-side stores had their re-opening. But the decline isn’t anywhere near what volumes had been before the COVID-19 restrictions.

“Although the traffic on our site wasn’t as strong as during the complete lockdown, we are still experiencing a similar level of transactions,” said Alex Tchablakian, Chief Operations Officer at LetsTango.com, the tech-focussed portal. “I feel customers are still wary and practicing good social distancing - so the decline hasn’t be as sharp.”

Same-day delivery – that’s how online will convince more shoppers to buy

- V. Nandakumar of LuLu Group

It’s a sentiment others in the online space are sharing – and even those who have a feet in both physical and e-retailing. “Online transactions are on the rise – I don’t think it’s ever going to go back to the levels in February,” said V. Nandakumar, Chief Communications Officer at LuLu Group. “We introduced express delivery with the help of Dubai Taxi and bike fleet companies. This ensures same-day delivery – that’s how online will convince more shoppers to buy… and keep buying.”

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What are people buying these days (beyond grocery)

All through March, notebooks was the fastest moving product category outside of food stuffs and daily consumer goods. Notebook demand has now subsided, but other gadgets are starting to take their place.

“We’ve got a lot of enquiries for big-screen 4K TVs, like the the 85-inch Samsung,” said Tchablakian. “Tablets too remain a buyer favourite, as is the new iPhone SE. Then there are the coffee- and bread-making machines.”

Clearly, there are many shoppers who wouldn’t mind spending a bit more on their in-home entertainment and recreational activities.

“Customers have adopted short-term behaviours during the pandemic that in many cases will become permanent,” says a report by ibuz consultancy. “Consumers will emerge into a new economic reality, changing behaviours in profound ways.”

That may be, but for the next few days, UAE’s shoppers will go by that old deal – go where the best promotions are on offer.

I feel customers are still wary and practicing good social distancing - so the decline in online shopping since malls re-opened hasn’t be as sharp

- Alex Tchablakian of LetsTango.com