Online retail disruption is revolutionising the way we shop in the region
June 19, 2017 | 3:43 PM
by Times News Service
Norma Taki, retail and consumer partner at PwC Middle East. - Supplied picture

Muscat: The retail sector is witnessing game-changing developments, with industry players entering the Middle East’s retail market, according to PwC Middle East’s latest report: “Retail Disruption—what’s the outlook for the Middle East?,” released on Monday.

The report interviewed over 24,000 people across five continents in 30 countries. In the Middle East alone, PwC surveyed over 1,000 online shoppers across the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Saudi Arabia about their shopping behaviours and expectations.

Norma Taki, retail and consumer partner at PwC Middle East, commented: “Our findings tell us that the face of Middle Eastern retail is indeed changing and it is a ripe market full of opportunities. The appetite for investing in online retail continues to grow with high profile acquisitions from heavyweight players, such as Amazon and and, along with the anticipated launch of Noon, which is due to have a big impact on the region.”

“With the online retail landscape changing on a daily basis, retailers and investors need to truly understand the dynamics behind these changes. We are seeing an increase from 23 per cent (2013) to 29 per cent (2016) in consumers shopping online on a monthly basis,” she added.

According to PwC, there are several reasons why consumers prefer to shop online, survey respondents indicated it was mainly because of lower prices (40 per cent regionally vs. 36 per cent globally), product selection (31 per cent regionally vs. 21 per cent globally), and convenience (17 per cent regionally vs. 36 per cent globally). Retailers are learning to navigate what is one of the most competitive landscapes in decades, with preferences shifting to online shopping.

The report outlines key investment areas, which PwC says will be top of mind for Middle Eastern retailers making investment decisions in the near future:


The use of mobile as a shopping and purchasing device continues to surge in popularity. Since 2016, there has been a 17 per cent increase in the rise of shoppers paying for items via their mobile, with 56 per cent of shoppers using their mobile device as their main tool to purchase items. Nearly 43 per cent like to use it to compare prices with competitors, while 33 per cent checked reviews about products and retailers, which was up 11 per cent from 2016.

Those seeking to grow their online retail presence need to optimise their mobile offerings by focusing on designing mobile sites that can be easily navigated to make online mobile shopping an effortless and enjoyable experience.

Social customer engagement

For years, large multi-national retailers have been using a variety of technologies to gather data on customer movement in-store. And yet, social media is vastly becoming the most attractive tool for online engagement. Social media is in fact driving customer behaviour with 48 per cent engaging in online promotions and 52 per cent using social media channels to check product reviews.

Secure platforms

The risk of cyber breaches and data hacks are affecting all industries across the globe. Online safety continues to be a concern, with 62 per cent of consumers worried about having their personal information hacked via their mobile device and 60 per cent only shopping online, with companies they feel they can trust. Providing secure platforms for any touch point with customers is a must for retailers. Investing in technology, enhancing security systems, providing maintenance and updates is a crucial element for successful online retail.


Customer loyalty is a key priority for any retailer, but it is not without its challenges. The evolution of the retail sector means that customers have a vast array of choices when it comes to purchasing products online. Nearly 32 per cent of online shoppers remain loyal to their favourite retailers because they trust the brand, whilst 48 per cent cite good prices for their repeat purchases.

Showroom experience

The region is seeing the rise in online shopping as an attractive and easy alternative to shopping in-store. For luxury goods, 42 per cent of consumers want to see and touch products preferring to buy high priced items in-store, valuing experienced sales associates with deep knowledge of in-store product ranges.

“The disruption of online retail is revolutionising the way we shop in the region and therefore must feature heavily at the top of local retailers’ boardroom agendas. The investment areas identified are critical for any retailers looking at their long-term retail strategy and they must quickly learn to develop omni-channels to ensure that both their online and offline strategies are not only aligned, but monetised. In doing so, retailers will be able to create real synergies with their customers exceeding their expectations no matter how and where they shop,” Taki further added.

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