Online shopping
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The onset of COVID-19 has made UAE residents shop online more cost-effectively. While a majority of them earlier shopped online for clothes, watches, bags and shoes, now their preference has evolved into ordering groceries, workout wear, home appliances, beauty and personal care products, board games and diapers as they are forced to spend more time indoors.

Grocery, pharma and personal care products have seen the biggest spike in e-commerce sales in the UAE in the wake of COVID-19. The UAE fashion industry has seen e-commerce demand shrink by 25 per cent during COVID-19 while the local electronics industry has seen online sales spike by 10 per cent during the lockdown, according to RedSeer, a consultancy.

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Drop in demand in the UAE fashion industry during COVID-19

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Geethu Chandran, an Indian expat in Dubai, has ordered yoga mats, yoga blocks and a yoga wheel online for Dh150 to Dh160 amid the COVID-19 lockdown. “It was the need of the hour since I have a lot of free time at home and can’t head to the park to practise yoga.” Her husband, who never shops for clothes online, bought himself workout wear from Sun & Sand Sports’ website, which offered a discount.

Before the onset of COVID-19, Chandran would rarely buy clothes online since she prefers to touch and feel it. However, with the malls still operating only at reduced capacity, she now orders clothes online, but only from websites that have return policies. “I have also noticed that items that I set aside in my shopping cart are not in stock in a few days since the demand for online shopping is so high,” she told Gulf News.

Geethu Chandran

With all beauty salons not opening in Dubai and restrictions imposed on services offered, Chandran decided to instead order a Gelish nail care set online for Dh75 along with nail polish bottles for Dh30. “This way, I can do my nails myself once in two weeks and not spend Dh75 to Dh100 on a manicure at the salon.”

The family also bought themselves a hair trimmer online for Dh200. The mother of two has been giving her kids a hair trim while her husband uses the product as well. “My husband usually spends Dh100 for each visit to the salon for a haircut. So, that’s money saved,” she said.

I have noticed that items that I set aside in my shopping cart are not in stock in a few days since the demand for online shopping is so high

- Geethu Chandran

Geethu has also purchased pyjamas for her son online from Mother Care. While there were discounts on the website, by also using online coupons, she managed to get a 10 to 15 per cent discount compared to shopping in store.

The family shops for groceries online from Organic Foods & Café. “Although this tends to be a bit more expensive, I wait for when the site offers discounts twice a month. I usually buy packaged products online and prefer to shop for perishables in person,” she observed.

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As most beauty salons have restrictions on services, residents are buying stuff online and grooming themselves. Image Credit: AFP

Cut down on non-essential shopping

Mary P., another Indian expat in Dubai, would shop online for clothes and watches for a sum ranging between Dh500 to Dh1,000 every month before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the economic uncertainty, Mary has put paid to her non-essential shopping habits.

“I still keep scouring online portals and put things in my shopping basket, but never end up buying anything,” she told Gulf News.

A lot of my friends are buying more face masks, eye creams, skin care and hair conditioning products since the COVID-19 lockdown since they have all the time in the world to take care of themselves

- Mary P.

Instead, Mary recently bought herself an air cooler for Dh225 since she has been facing issues with her AC maintenance at home. “I am also thinking of buying a NutriBullet blender since I spend most time indoors. I have also been looking to buy skincare products although the good quality ones tend to be expensive. A lot of my friends are buying more face masks, eye creams, skin care and hair conditioning products since the COVID-19 lockdown since they have all the time in the world to take care of themselves,” she explained.

online grocery apps
Although online grocery shopping is more expensive, some residents went ahead for lack of another alternative. Image Credit: Stock photo

Put off by high grocery costs online

Annalisa M., an Indian expat who works as a legal professional in Dubai, has been shopping online for eight years. However, with the onset of COVID-19, she has strictly restricted her online purchases to groceries.

Annalisa M.

“Prior to COVID-19, I mostly purchased clothes and shoes online. I haven’t been going out anywhere because of the lockdown. So, I have not been shopping for clothes at all,” said the expat who has been in the UAE for four years.

Annalisa said prices of groceries online are significantly higher than buying from a supermarket. Although her corner grocery store delivers home, Annalisa opted for e-grocers since she was not comfortable making cash payments and preferred card payments instead.

“I ordered online and paid more since I wanted the grocery items in a few days. The marked up prices really put me off. If the lockdown had been extended, then I would have researched better and found more cost-effective e-grocers,” Annalisa added.

I ordered online and paid more since I wanted the grocery items in a few days. The marked up prices really put me off

- Annalisa M.

She said online shopping is a privilege not all can afford, especially in circumstances when you have faced a massive salary reduction or lost your job. “The e-grocers mostly deliver only if you order for a certain amount,” she said.

Boardgames
Families are increasingly buying board games online as they spend more time at home. Image Credit: File photo

Shopping for house wear, board games

Neha S., an expat living in the UAE for 15 years completely refrained from online shopping before the coronavirus pandemic. She frequented malls and insisted on touching and feeling products before buying them. However, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Neha is spending a lot more time at home and attending virtual meetings on Skype and Zoom. This made her purchase comfortable loungewear online.

“I haven’t stayed at home for this long. So, I decided to get myself four pairs of comfortable homewear for Dh400. There was a discount available online,” she told Gulf News.

The family of three has also purchased several board games like Scrabble, Ludo, Snake and Ladders, chess and playing cards to spend their free time during the lockdown. “We paid Dh350 to buy all the games from Amazon. I would have never made this purchase if not for the lockdown,” Neha added.

Before the lockdown, my husband and I were working, so we would come home late and not have time to cook. This has changed now and we are saving money on this front

- Neha S.

Neha’s family is also saving Dh200 on average per week by not ordering outside food. During the lockdown, Neha has been making all meals from scratch and not wasting any kitchen or fresh food ingredients. “Before the lockdown, my husband and I were working, so we would come home late and not have time to cook. This has changed now and we are saving money on this front,” she explained.

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Although she has been ordering groceries from Kibsons, InstaShop and West Zone Super Market, Neha said prices were on average Dh50 to Dh100 more expensive per order online. “The costs online especially increase for fish and meat products,” Neha said.

Buying diapers online

Another Dubai-based mother, who prefers to remain anonymous, said she has been purchasing diapers and wet wipes for her son in bulk online.

“I can get two packs of Fine Baby diapers with 140 pieces for Dh105 on FirstCry.ae. If I were to buy this in store, each pack would cost Dh80. There is significant cost savings to be had by buying online,” she said.

Online grocery prices up by 15 to 20 per cent during COVID-19
The UAE’s online grocery industry saw price increases of 15 to 20 per cent on some fresh categories such as fruits where supply disruptions meant increased freight costs, which was passed on to customers. “Our research showed that speed of delivery (not price) was the most important criteria for e-grocery customers while shopping online during the COVID-19 period,” said Sandeep Ganediwalla, Managing Partner, RedSeer MEA, a consultancy.

Online fashion as a category did not see significant price changes during COVID-19 in the UAE. “Specialty categories like semi-essentials (baby and sports) saw a marginal increase in sales and prices,” added Ganediwalla.

Premium smartphone and gaming products saw a price increase of as much as 20 per cent during COVID-19, according to RedSeer. “Premium laptops was another category that saw marginal price increases (less than 10 percent). Price continued to be the top criteria for customers when they bought electronics during the COVID period,” he said.