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Samer Saad, Regional Manager — Middle East, AppsFlyer
Samer Saad, Regional Manager — Middle East, AppsFlyer

Samer Saad, Regional Manager — Middle East at AppsFlyer talks about the changing trends driving online shopping behaviour

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Published: Tue 28 Dec 2021, 11:18 AM

AppsFlyer’s journey started over a decade ago when the company recognised an emerging need in the mobile industry. The app economy was taking off, but marketers, developers, and product managers had no way to accurately measure the success of their mobile marketing campaigns or create relationships with their customers based on trust.

Samer Saad, Regional Manager, AppsFlyer said that his company answered this challenge with a platform that provides unmatched and trusted insights while placing consumer privacy at its core. Today, AppsFlyer helps more than 12,000 companies — from start-ups to the world’s most prominent brands — build better products, create exceptional experiences, and preserve customer privacy. Today, as mobile-first becomes the global standard, AppsFlyer’s mobile marketing measurement solutions are more relevant than ever.

The ‘White Friday’ phenomenon

Talking about how ‘White Friday’ has affected consumer trends and changed the pattern over the years, he said that while ‘Black Friday’ had long been an established event in the retail calendar of the West, its Middle East equivalent is a far more recent phenomenon. Originally coined by in 2014, ‘White Friday’ and variants such as’s ‘Yellow Friday’ have steadily gained momentum — both with online as well as traditional retailers.

Saad continued, saying that based on their data, an interesting trend that has emerged is that mobile apps are increasingly driving online shopping sales. Moreover, spending on retail apps consistently surges during popular shopping periods: 125 per cent between February and June 2020 at the start of the Covid pandemic and during Ramadan; 95 per cent between September and November 2020 ahead of White Friday; and 105 per cent between February and April 2021 ahead of Ramadan 2021. This year too, overall installs of shopping apps in the UAE on White Friday, which fell on November 26, 2021, increased by 24 per cent compared to an average of the previous three Fridays in November, with spend doubling by 99 per cent.

Growth of e-commerce

Looking into the current trends to predict the future, Saad commented that e-commerce has dominated the Middle East over the past 18 months, as consumers retreated to their homes under lockdowns and other Covid restrictions. A PwC study from July 2020 showed more than half of all Middle East consumers to be shopping mainly online for essentials like groceries, and 92 per cent said they were likely to continue to shop online frequently even when the pandemic had passed.

It wasn’t just digital that got a boost either. Some 53 per cent said they were shopping more on their smartphone than before the pandemic, a trend that is also reflected in app installs. According to the latest state of e-commerce report, installs of retail apps throughout the Middle East increased by 125 per cent between February and June 2020 as the first wave of the pandemic hit. By comparison, global figures for the same period show a total rise of 58 per cent, highlighting just how much mobile usage grew in the region. Elaborating further on the change of consumer behaviour in light of the new normal, he said that since the onset of the pandemic, consumers across the Emirates have become significantly more reliant on digital services. He added that research by Cisco AppDynamics shows that people are using 30 per cent more applications today than they did before the pandemic and because of this increased reliance on applications, it’s no surprise to see 91 per cent of UAE consumers say their expectations of digital services have increased since the start of 2020. The report also found that the UAE consumers' brand loyalty now hinges on how significantly companies have invested in digital services during the pandemic — 82 per cent of the UAE consumers feel more loyal to brands that went above and beyond with the quality of their digital service during the pandemic.

Future of shopping

On the foreseeable future of shopping, Saad said that while there’s every indication that mobile shopping will continue to gain momentum, this doesn’t mean the end of traditional brick and mortar retail. In fact, this year, he said that the number of installs during White Friday 2021 was significantly higher than the previous Fridays in November. This is supported by a PwC survey which showed that 56 per cent of Middle East consumers still favour physical stores. So, instead, what we’re likely to see is retailers starting to focus on ‘hybrid-retail’ strategies. Perfectly timed offers, gamification of blended experiences, richer information, and shorter lines — all this and more can be delivered to today’s in-store customer via mobile apps, thereby elevating their overall shopping experiences.

Impact of Expo 2020 Dubai

Initiatives such as the highly effective Covid-19 vaccination drive and Expo 2020 Dubai have worked to accelerate the UAE’s economic recovery and help the country retain its position as a tourism and retail hub. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the UAE’s economy to grow by 3.1 per cent in 2021, citing a rebound in tourism and economic activity generated by Expo 2020 Dubai as supporting the country's recovery from the pandemic-driven slowdown.

This of course presents significant opportunities to companies across a range of sectors including hospitality, retail, events, construction and many more. Recent research commissioned by AppsFlyer found that nine out of ten or 91 per cent of the UAE organisations now offer their customers mobile apps. Moreover, 40 per cent of the UAE respondents stated there was at least a 26 per cent increase in mobile-driven revenues for their organisation in the last 12 months, with just over one in six or 17 per cent reporting this figure to be more than 50 per cent. As such, these applications will play a key role in helping organisations capitalise on rising consumer confidence.

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