UAE retailers look to online business

To cater to the increase in online orders, several retailers have had to come up with solutions to improve their efficiency

Woman receiving and signing for package at the door. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Woman receiving and signing for package at the door. Image used for illustrative purpose.


Retailers across the UAE have increased their focus on their digital strategies, as residents avoid malls to protect themselves against the Covid-19 and instead take the majority of their shopping online.

Experts spoke to Khaleej Times about how the social distancing measures are impacting business and how residents have changed their purchasing habits.

"I have certainly noticed a decline in the number of people in shopping malls and other crowded areas. A lot of events are now being cancelled and those that are still being held are seeing significantly reduced numbers. It is likely that we will see more people avoiding crowded areas if the situation worsens. Consumers are changing their purchasing habits and online shopping is likely to become more popular," said Jessica Ashford, deputy CEO, PRO Partner Group.

Luca Bozzano, GM for WatchBox Middle East, which has temporarily closed its boutique as part of the preventive measures, says that the company has witnessed an increase in traffic to their website and consumers interacting with their digital marketing campaigns recently.

"Clearly, people are spending more time browsing online and are still making purchases," he said. "Here at WatchBox Middle East, we're still able to deliver the service to our customers via WhatsApp calls as well as our social media platforms and we'll continue to share our expertise and knowledge in advising on the best pieces to purchase. These are certainly exceptional times we're operating in, and our aim is to continue to do all that we can to ensure WatchBox Middle East provides a platform for insightful, educational, and fun content that we hope will capture the imagination of anyone interested in horology or simply looking for something different."

Karim Benkirane, managing director at Virgin Mobile UAE, noted that the government has taken several measures to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus, including the closure of malls and non-essential stores.

"While that has been challenging, as a truly digital brand, we have always had the option to purchase a SIM online," he said. "An order placed on our website or app for a new SIM will be delivered to the customer's doorstep within the hour. Our home delivery heroes then assist customers with the activation, so that you can start using the SIM immediately. Our customers can connect to any contact care champion 24/7 via social media pages as well as the innovative in-app chat feature on the Virgin Mobile app."

Benkirane revealed that activations through home delivery have increased, week on week, as people have begun practicing social distancing. "On March 23, our home delivery team recorded 74 per cent more deliveries than average. In times like this, your mobile is more than just a device, it is your lifeline to the world around you."

He added: "We're working hard to enable our customers to do just that and we are fully equipped to ensure we can keep people connected in this ever-evolving situation. Earlier this week, we have extended our home delivery hours from 7AM to 11PM, with delivery until midnight, plus get access to double data on all plans. In times like these, we know that staying connected to the people and things you love matters most."

To cater to the increase in online orders, several retailers have had to come up with solutions to improve their efficiency. Majid Al Futtaim has activated an employee redeployment programme across the region, which sees more than one thousand leisure, entertainment and cinema employees being reskilled to join the company's Carrefour business on a temporary basis to assist with online order fulfilment, food packing, stock replenishment and more.

In the first three weeks of March, Carrefour has seen an increase in customer demand across the region with daily online sales increasing by 50 per cent compared to the same period in February. The employees have been assigned to positions across the Carrefour business, including supermarkets, hypermarkets, darkstores, fulfilment centres, and distribution centres.

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