2021 will see UAE retail sector pick up speed


Research showed that 9 out of 10 consumers are likely to continue shopping online in the coming years after the pandemic and lockdowns
Research showed that 9 out of 10 consumers are likely to continue shopping online in the coming years after the pandemic and lockdowns

Dubai - The GCC's e-commerce sector is expected to hit $50 billion in the next five years


Rohma Sadaqat

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Published: Thu 31 Dec 2020, 10:30 PM

The UAE's retail sector will rally in the new year, with exerts pointing to returning consumer confidence, along with the Expo 2020 Dubai, as the key factors for growth.

Other factors that will contribute to the growth in the sector include the introduction and mass availability of the Covid-19 vaccine, the growing popularity of online shopping, as well as retailers in the region strengthening their omni-channel offerings.

Pandemic aftershocks and recovery

“As we move into 2021, we will undoubtedly continue to feel the effects of the pandemic as a community and as a global population,” said Shahram Shamsee, CEO of Merex Investment, a joint venture between Dubai Holding and Brookfield Asset Management that owns and operates several retail assets, including The Beach, City Walk and La Mer.

“In the context of the growing migration to online shopping and experiences, it is important for the retail sector, especially for lifestyle destinations and malls, to re-imagine and rethink the customer’s shopping experience by elevating this with a new meaning – one that they cannot find online,” he said.

He added: “In light of the pandemic and the safety protocols that were in place since its outbreak, we witnessed a surge in uptake for solutions such as curbside pickup among our customers. In the year to come, we anticipate an uptake in the number of homegrown brands that will step in to fill in the gaps left by mega international retailers. To counter the massive disruptions caused in 2020, retailers will need to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead in ensuring future preparedness.”

“Before the pandemic, 27 per cent of Middle East consumers were shopping for groceries exclusively or mainly online while after the outbreak of Covid-19 this number grew to 51 per cent with 92 per cent of those consumers indicating they will likely to continue to buy groceries mainly online even when social distancing measures are fully removed. This shows that there are more and new consumers taking advantage of e-commerce platforms,” said Norma Taki, transaction services partner and consumer markets leader, PwC Middle East.

Working with a new normal

Experts have noted that the global retail industry, currently valued at $25 trillion, will never be the same again, even with the availability of the Covid-19 vaccine. While vaccines might bring back normalcy in life, the retail sector will continue to evolve, due to a technology-led disruption where data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, perceptive analytics, and changing consumer behaviour will reshape the retail industry landscape to strengthen customer experience.

The GCC’s e-commerce sector is expected to more than double to $50 billion in the next five years, up from $24 billion this year, as pandemic-related movement restrictions lead to a shift in shopping habits in the region, according to a new report by global consultancy firm Kearney. Amazon, a relatively new player in the region, saw its sales in the GCC grow by 26 per cent to $76 billion in the first quarter of 2020.

“Through the Covid-19 crisis, everyday life changed, and we changed with it,” said Mudassir Sheikha, co-founder and CEO of Careem. “2020 resulted in a much quicker digital adoption that surely had a positive effect on our Super App’s usage, but it also accelerated the need for digital payments. We reinforced Careem Pay as the glue that binds all services on the platform together, covering peer to peer payments, mobile recharges, as well as bill payments.”

Offline to online migration, he noted, is now more important than ever. “Before the pandemic, we covered the mobility of people, with cars, taxis and bikes. But during the pandemic, our mobility of things business received much greater importance. This involved food deliveries, hosting catalogs of shops on our platform, and giving people the possibility to send and receive items without having to leave their house, or putting loved ones at risk. When people across the region were under lockdowns, we were able to provide for their essential needs, with the Super App.”

Expo 2020 Dubai brings the world to Dubai

“With Expo 2020, Dubai is set to bring millions of visitors to the city and given that we operate some of Dubai’s most popular destinations, including City Walk, The Beach and La Mer, Merex Investment believes that people will continue going outdoors to enjoy shopping and dining, and more importantly, share experiences with one another to feel connected as part of a community,” said Shahram Shamsee.

For destination operators, it is now more important than ever to work collaboratively with tenants to maximise the potential of leased spaces to enhance community experiences, in line with the ever-evolving lifestyle needs of the city, he explained.

“The year 2020 has been a roller coaster year full of new learnings, quick pivoting and unprecedented challenges, as the pandemic has created a new set of rules for the survival and success of retail industry,” said Renuka Jagtiani, chairwoman and CEO of Landmark Group. “But we as a team take Covid-19 as an opportunity to prove ourselves in tough times. It is only possible if we do proper teamwork, as the customer expectations have been changed, and the way we have to approach them should be far more creative and personalised so that we can easily develop the trust and interest in our customer.”


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