'Retail sector must look for innovative ways to attract customers'

Oman Sunday 24/January/2021 20:29 PM
By: Times News Service
'Retail sector must look for innovative ways to attract customers'

Muscat: Retailers have been asked to look for creative ways to attract customers to help them generate business and stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With many shops in the country closing during the pandemic, some did make the transition to online shopping, while those companies that already had e-commerce operations paid more attention to them, said Maimunah Al Shebani, a board member of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres.  

“The long-term impacts of COVID-19 and the economic slowdown on the retail market remain to be seen,” she said.

“No one really knows what the world will be like after that coronavirus pandemic. The only surety is that things are bound to be different. To survive in these tough times, retailers must increasingly look to evolve their business models, and enhance their multichannel retailing capabilities. Due to the coronavirus, retailers must find new ways to reach customers, as the new channels will likely stay in place after the pandemic is over,” she added.

Al Shebani, who is also the founder of The Retail Agency, recently put out a report on how the pandemic had impacted the country’s retail sector. With shops required to shutter for long periods due to the coronavirus, business owners are among those who have been most affected by the disease.

“Due to safety concerns, increased trust in, and the convenience of online shopping, this trend will continue to grow. Retailers with no existing online or delivery channel will struggle to survive during this challenging time. As the experience of past crises shows, retail as a segment is usually the first to show a dramatic decline, but it also rebounds quickly,” explained Al Shebani.

Al Shebani, added that the retail sector in Oman had been facing problems before the pandemic as well, owing to unfavourable economic conditions, low purchasing power and oversupply of retail space. COVID-19, however, had a very strong impact on this sector. “For some, it has been just about survival, but for others, it may have presented opportunities,” she explained.

“There is no doubt that this year has brought unprecedented uncertainty, complexity and change to the industry. While these changes continue to reshape the retail landscape, COVID-19 has given the sector time to reflect, restructure and improve.”

Al Shebani added, “Interestingly, COVID-19 has accelerated key fundamental trends that were already influencing the retail sector in Oman. Rather than stop these trends in their tracks, the recent shifts in retail fundamentals has made these trends more acute and urgent. Uncertainty is the name of the game when it comes to how the next 12 months will play out. However, it is clear that the retail sector is evolving and will never be the same.”

Other economists in the country seemed to agree with her analysis.

“People are extremely cautious about spending, and are concerned about their financial situation,” said Dr CK Anchan, a trade analyst in the country. “People want to save money instead of spending more, even if it means choosing to buy cheaper alternatives, or holding off on non-essential purchases.”

Ramanuj Venkatesh, another analyst, said, “The current challenges in the retail sector will actually give those working within a wealth of experience, because situations like these will enable them to learn the ropes faster. This is where effective communication – word of mouth is still the strongest form of sharing ideas – across all available platforms helps appeal to a larger audience.”