Five best practices to aid hybrid retail strategies in the Middle East
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Five best practices to aid hybrid retail strategies in the Middle East

Five best practices to aid hybrid retail strategies in the Middle East

Just as employers are having to contend with the inevitability of hybrid work, retailers must also prepare themselves for a hybrid-shopping future


Keeping customers happy can, and should, be a spectator sport. The examples of others can inspire regional businesses to deliver great experiences to today’s shoppers, who have little patience for anything less.

The ecommerce market in the Arab Gulf region has grown steadily, from a respectable $5bn in 2015 to more than $20bn in 2020. According to analyst firm Kearney, among those GCC brands that already have mobile apps in play, download surges of up to 70 per cent have been seen.

While in-person shopping is unlikely to be entirely a thing of the past in a region that prides itself on the concept of the destination mall, there is every indication that consumers are starting to embrace the digital experience. A recent survey by PwC showed 56 per cent of Middle East consumers still favour physical stores, but around two thirds (67 per cent) said they had ‘become more digital’ during the pandemic.

Just as employers are having to contend with the inevitability of hybrid work, retailers, fast-food outlets, grocers and other B2C businesses must also prepare themselves for a hybrid-shopping future. Some global brands are ahead of this curve and have found ways to use their apps to drive physical footfall. And of course, there’s plenty that regional retailers can learn from these remarkable successes.

Burger King: Geofences
In 2018, Burger King created virtual perimeters called ‘geofences’ around 14,000 McDonald’s branches. Having established the ability to detect that its app users were within 600 feet of one of its rival’s outlets, Burger King offered a digital coupon for a 1-cent burger to those who opened its app while inside a geofence.

The campaign garnered around 1.5 million downloads, but Burger King’s use of digital assets to boost in-person engagement has broader applications. By offering deals that consumers can see in an app but that need to be redeemed in person within a certain time window, GCC brands can use location services to drive their own hybrid experiences.

The Gap: Real-time stock checks
By allowing consumers, via an app, to review real-time stock levels on a store-by-store basis, The Gap made an aggressive move to eliminate the bugbear of being told an item is unavailable. The same system also offered an employee-facing app to remind the clothier’s staff to reorder a product that is selling quickly.

With the increasing popularity of BOPIS (buy online, pick up instore) during the pandemic, more and more retailers began to offer it, and so now consumers expect it. There is no technical reason why the practice should not extend to mobile apps.

L’Oréal: Virtual cosmetics trial
Cosmetics giant L’Oréal took a leap into the future with an instore feature for its mobile app that lets visitors ‘try out’ makeup and hair colours before selecting them for purchase. The value of such an experience is obvious to anyone who has experienced a cosmetic ‘fail’. Using augmented-reality technology, the app allows the user to choose a colour for evaluation and overlays it onto a real-time image on their smartphone.

Products that pass the AR test can be instantly added to a virtual cart for purchase, either there and then or at a future date. AR is an ideal technology to gamify store visits, boost customer satisfaction and reduce the volume of returns, which the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently estimated was 15 per cent to 40 per cent of online sales and 5 per cent to 10 per cent of instore purchases.

Nordstrom: The concierge dressing room
US department-store chain Nordstrom also sought ways of reducing costly return rates. The company developed an app where shoppers reserved clothes and visited the store to try them on. While not a virtual offering, the concierge-style experience of having garments already laid out in a dedicated dressing room, with texts informing customers when they are ready to try on, was a game-changer. Some 80 per cent of those who tried it were eager to repeat the experience.

This model is applicable to multiple apps, where users schedule appointments to expose them to products. Throw in discounts for those that follow up demo sessions with purchases, and such hybrid experiences can quickly drive revenues.

Ben’s Original: product multimedia
In an age when ESG (environment, social and governance) issues are front of mind for consumers, they are also becoming so for investors and shareholders. Ben’s Original (formerly ‘Uncle Ben’s’) allowed French shoppers to use its app to scan a pack of basmati rice and learn about its farm-to-store story, through video, images, and text.

Such an approach has a range of applications for the region’s start-ups, as they try to establish their ESG credentials early and drive subsequent funding rounds.

Make your mark
There are other examples, some of which are already in evidence in the GCC. For example, a version of Walmart’s ‘Scan & Go’ experience can be seen in Carrefour branches. And Home Depot’s product map, which allows customers to find the instore location of items, can be seen to some extent in Ikea stores in the UAE.

As hybrid experiences become the norm, regional brands should look to local and global success stories for inspiration in how to delight shoppers. Perfectly timed offers, gamification of blended experiences, richer information, and shorter lines — all this and more can be delivered to today’s consumer. Their loyalty will quickly follow.

Samer Saad is the regional manager – Middle East at AppsFlyer

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