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Islamic Lifestyle

Changed consumer behaviors in Saudi Arabia and UAE are accelerating digital engagement

COVID-19 achieved what no amount of brand advertising could — it changed consumer preferences.

For its Future Consumer Index, a monthly poll that tracks consumer sentiment and behavior, professional services firm EY surveyed 1,018 consumers from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the week of June 8. The findings released in August revealed buyers shifted behaviors towards ‘health first’ and ‘affordability first’ attitudes.

As shoppers re-evaluate their consumption approach and adopt new habits, organizations need to review their strategy.

Digital engagement and aligned portfolios secure the consumers of tomorrow, believes EY. 

“One of the many things that both organizations and individuals have learned from the shared experience of the pandemic is how resourceful and adaptable they can be,” said Ahmed Reda, EY’s MENA Consumer Industry Leader.


According to EY, for 29% of the consumers surveyed, the biggest priority was to protect their health.  

They prefer brands and products they trust to be safe and favor online shopping and contactless payment to address fears of contagion. Only 26% of the respondents said they were comfortable going to a mall.

The second-largest segment of consumers at 25%, put affordability first as part of their decision-making. They focus on living within their means, not caring much about the brands they buy.

With only 9% planning to “get back to normal” versus 40% globally, MENA consumers keep a frugal mindset.

“This will have a pivotal impact on consumption patterns and consumer identities over the next few years,” Rena said. “Companies need to ensure that their products meet expectations to maintain brand loyalty.”

“Over time, we expect concerns around health and household to diminish as people, communities, and economies recover – but they won’t go away entirely,” said Ravi Kapoor, MENA Consumer Industry Consulting Leader at EY.

“Organizations will be required to consider efficiency against the need to keep developing the capabilities that will lead to growth.”

This includes small and medium-sized enterprises.


UAE SMEs showed a high adoption rate to keep their ventures on track, uncovers VISA’s Back to Business study done in June.

For example, over two in five SMEs, or 44%, have allowed contactless payments for the first time since the start of the pandemic. This compares to only 20% globally.

Despite the companies’ willingness to pivot, digital doubts linger. The top concerns are data privacy and security.

The VISA study finds 92% of SMEs worry about shifting their business online or increasing online presence, in stark contrast to only 74% globally.

While some businesses continue mulling over doubts, others jump right in to seize opportunities.


"At a time like this – when price consciousness and delivery speed are transforming customer expectations – we must be able to provide a better e-commerce experience to the modern consumer,” said Arif Saiyad, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of mobile e-commerce ZON.

In March, the start-up raised $8 million in a seed round led by ASA Ventures. ZON is due to launch this year.

The company’s technology enables real-time demand-supply matching to offer the lowest price per item and faster order fulfillment.

ZON hopes smaller retailers will use its solution for their digital transformation. The start-up has already lined up over 32,000 sellers and 17 million SKUs in its network, it said in March.   

"I see tremendous potential for ZON’s technology to scale internationally and change the game in other parts of the globe, where retail business ownership is fragmented and smartphone penetration is on the increase," said Marwan Al Damrawi, one of ZON’s investors.

(Reporting by Petra Loho; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim [email protected])

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