How brands are reinventing themselves in the pandemic

Dubai - Business heads talk about lessons learnt over the past 18 months and new strategies to incorporate changes in the UAE market


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 21 Oct 2021, 1:12 PM

As the UAE explores new frontiers in its golden year —which also happens to be the year of the Expo 2020 Dubai — one thing that cannot be wished away is how Covid has altered us inalterably. But the great thing about this market is how pieces can always be picked up, and new beginnings can be made: in business models, in product offerings, in leadership visions, in supply chains… Since being aligned with a positive outlook has been the lie of land, let’s hear it from those who are holding the reins of the future — and changed — landscape that will unfold in the times to come.

Ayshwarya Chari and Shraddha Barot Amariei, Founders, 1115inc (SME consultancy)

1115inc was a business born during the pandemic, driven by the needs of the pandemic. We realised SMEs often do not have the (much needed) access to the kind of consulting expertise provided by the bigger multinational consultancies. So, we decided to combine our skill sets in e-commerce and marketing to offer an affordable, consolidated, end-to-end service for SMEs starting from the digital business strategy all the way to project managing the technology, setting operational processes and supporting with marketing.

Businesses across the board are realising that digitisation isn’t optional anymore. It is no longer an ‘if’ but really a matter of when, how fast and how big. Some traditional businesses need help with the adaptation to the current mindset and aggressive online pace. This is where we step in and help with the transition.

E-commerce is here to stay. While UAE malls have always had the edge with the concept of ‘shoppertainment’, the pandemic has driven home the convenience of shopping in your pyjamas.

1115inc regularly runs micro-surveys on behalf of our clients, speaking to their customers. Across various segments and verticals, we have seen that price followed by free delivery are the biggest drivers in terms of decision making.

Another positive trend we have noticed is that we are moving away from the cash on delivery (COD) mentality: in one survey, nearly 72 per cent of respondents said they preferred to pay online rather than use COD! This is also validated by what we see happening in terms of everyday transactions in the stores we monitor under our portfolio.

The key to pivot always begins with the client’s leadership. As consultants, we are able to offer solutions and drive the transformational pace but the leadership is who brings it home and really gives innovation life. We have had clients who drove innovation during the pandemic digitising swiftly and efficiently to be able to offer their customers seamless service. From Booktopia setting up a B2B platform to facilitate online book fairs for schools to TKD Lingerie offering ladies virtual bra fittings, SMEs truly accelerated this age of commerce in the UAE, that is now here to stay.

Richard Nicoll, Chief Strategy & Capability Officer, Liquid (Omnicommerce agency)

So much has happened in the past 18 months for us, it does feel a little like after the Gold Rush! If 2020 was the year of a massive yet hasty migration online for both shoppers and brands, 2021 and certainly 2022 will be the time for brands and retailers to take a more strategic approach to their e-commerce activities. FMCG brands have had to rethink their go-to-market strategies and those not already selling online have had to act quickly to encourage their shoppers onto e-commerce.

In the Middle East, that has meant a huge uptick in traffic towards online marketplaces such as Amazon and In addition, there is an increasing array of grocery aggregators such as Instashop, NowNow and El Grocer, as well as shopping online at the big grocery stores like Carrefour, Lulu and Spinneys.

Pre-pandemic e-commerce was not always front and centre of brand marketing efforts; however, in the past 18 months, selling online has become a major focus for brands and their distributors — so what was once considered niche is now core.

Brands have had to learn quickly how to play and win in multi-brand, online retail environments. They’ve needed to rethink their content, activation planning, ratings and review acquisition and search strategies to ensure their products are seen as the most desirable option.

With new brand-building functionality integrated into marketplaces, brands are heavily investing in ever richer content that’s created to convert views into buys. They’re also setting up shop with their own brand stores, built entirely on marketplace platforms.

Targeted content created specifically for commerce will help shoppers shop and prove to be the key battle between the online and offline worlds. In the Middle East, physical retail has always been a key cultural activity, so we expect this to return stronger too, with retailers investing significantly in digitisation in a bid to offer a seamless experience between channels.

Sanjay Vazirani, Art of Dum (F&B)

The pandemic has taught us most of all gratitude. As an organisation, the lessons learnt are 1) Segregating good expense and bad expense; 2) Staying frugal, by keeping fixed costs low and aligned with long-term business survival and variable cost mapped to revenue; 3) Getting an intelligent mix of in-house and outsourced talent pools; 4) Staying focused on our core brand ethos; 5) Moving the hygiene protocol from aesthetically clean to clinically clean and following it as a religion more than just compliance; 6) Moving towards minimalism and sustainability. There is a strong desire to return to the essence: quality, hygienic and delicious food with less extravagance — minimalism and ‘Less Is More’ is the mantra of the day.

It was a challenge but we approached it as an opportunity. It gave me a chance to go back to the drawing board and work on increasing cost-effectiveness without cutting corners. We conceptualised and introduced a cloud kitchen brand ‘Art of Dum’, which uses recyclable packaging and zero plastic. We have reoriented our product offerings for catering and have moved towards less interactive and assistive service.

As we link the world communities with delicious food, we’re also elevating our business practices through our set of shared values of socially responsible growth and sustainability strategy. Operating in a responsible and sustainable manner is central to protecting and adding long-term value to our business. We’re on a journey when it comes to our sustainability work. We are proud of the progress we’re making.

Toufic Kreidieh, CEO, BFL (Brands For Less) Group (Consumer Retail)

At the start of the pandemic, we became more conscious of health and safety best practices. Physical stores and other establishments began to apply social distancing policies and enhanced their sanitation practices. Those who never tried ordering online were also encouraged to do so. Aside from transitioning to e-commerce, retail companies also sought creative and cost-effective ways to maintain store operations. Retail employees were reassigned to roles that would not compromise their health and safety, while some of their previous tasks were taken over by advanced technology and automation. In terms of supply chains, we began optimising our logistics and inventories to maintain operations in case of border and customs issues.

At BFL Group, we took the challenges faced by the global economy as an opportunity for us to expand further and enhance our market position. We increased investments in our e-commerce platform, looked after the health and wellbeing of our staff, and extended our operations. Our efforts were recognised by the community, and we received the Heroes of the Pandemic accolade from Middle East Awards 2021 under the E-Commerce category.

We leveraged data gathered from consumer shopping trends, their purchasing behaviour, e-commerce trends, and other vital factors in the market. These data and information helped us tailor our strategies to meet the challenges, demands, and changes in the industry.

For instance, we noticed a surge in sportswear and fitness accessories during the pandemic, so we made sure we have stocks to meet this demand. We understand that this trend is a result of consumers’ heightened interest to stay healthy amid the health crisis. Sales in our kitchen wares and products also recorded a notable increase. We saw a surge in this category as a result of people staying at home and honing their cooking skills.

We understand that consumers are affected financially due to factors, such as salary cuts, job layoffs, among others. Staying true to our brand, quality and value, we made sure that our consumers can still afford to shop the best quality products even with the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Vandana Bhalla, Marketing Head-International Business Division, Titan Company Limited (Watches)

Our consumer research [post pandemic] shows that women across the UAE, and particularly here in Dubai, are seeking accessories for self-expression. In our latest collection, Pastel Dreams (wrist watches), we have tried to capture the current trend for minimalism with pastel shades represented in interesting materials and patterns. Minimalism as a trend has been heightened by the pandemic and young millennials are embracing it to feel freedom from all the chaos. All the watches in our new collection personify minimalism with classic clean lines, specially designed skeletal hands and clutter-free dials. The pastel hues further enhance the minimalist styling and give the wearer a soothing vibe. The collection is just another example of us listening to our consumers and giving them an accessory that fits into their current lifestyle: a watch that allows the wearer to stay cool, calm, and collected.

The youthful aura of pastel shades — cool ice blue, misty violet, dusty rose, Tuscany tan, mint green and sand — matches the effortless vibe of today’s young woman, who works hard, plays hard, and covets accessories that are feminine but also versatile.

The collection definitely has something for every woman’s watch wardrobe. The event calendar is full, work is in full flow and the UAE is hosting the world’s greatest show — Expo 2020 Dubai. Life is the closest to normal it has been for a while. Joy and optimism fill the air and smiles are back on everyone’s faces. We were inspired by this good vibe and have created an accessory that is playful, modern, and versatile.

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