Shopping online became the new normal during the coronavirus-induced movement restrictions, with many residents quickly adapting to browsing for items on their phones and laptops.
As malls reopen, some consumers are choosing to stick with the digital option, partly to reduce their exposure to other shoppers, but also to cut the cost of a basket of items by using savings and discount coupons.
Although coupon websites are ubiquitous in the UAE, shoppers often need to scour the internet to manually search for and verify discount codes that offer the best savings.
Helwa, a free app that finds the best coupon codes and cashback offers on the internet and automatically applies them to your online shopping cart, hopes to remove this hassle for online shoppers. The brainchild of founders Hitesh Uchil and Abbas Jaffar Ali, who have backgrounds in technology and gaming media, the app went live at the end of last month. It currently works with 35 websites, says Mr Uchil, and hopes to up that to 60 by the end of the month across all categories such as fashion, food and children's accessories.
"In the first couple of days after its launch, Helwa has seen over 200 downloads," he adds. "On the first day, we helped users with $1,200 [Dh4,407] worth of savings. We are looking to add cashbacks in the next two weeks."
Helwa works with online shopping websites such as Namshi, GAP, H&M, Mamas and Papas, Bath & Body Works, Fresh to Home, Pottery Barn and others. Savings on these stores range from 5 per cent to 30 per cent. The Helwa browser extension helps the user by finding the coupon with the biggest discount on their purchase.
While the free web browser app currently works exclusively with Google Chrome on a user's desktop, mobile shoppers on both Android and iPhone can copy any coupons validated on Helwa and paste them separately on partner shopping apps for their online purchases, explains Mr Ali.
With so much uncertainty around the coronavirus outbreak and many UAE residents keen to cut costs, here's a comprehensive guide on how to save while shopping online.
Compare, compare, compare
Your first step should be to compare prices of the particular item you want across different sites.
Haneen Dabain, co-founder of Pricena.com, a price comparison website in the UAE, advises users to check whether the price advertised is the best in the market.
“Find out if the discount is a real discount. A lot of stores promote a higher discount so users feel it is an attractive deal while in reality the product might always have been at this price," she says.
Ms Dabain says users can save up to Dh600 by purchasing a mobile phone online through a platform like Pricena.com, which refers shoppers to third party online retailers. For high-priced appliances such as fridges and TVs, users can save up to Dh2,000 on the comparison website. However, she adds that offline stores can also offer good prices if there is a sale.
“During the pandemic, we noticed a 50 per cent increase in visits to our website as well as leads to online shops. Conversion rates have also increased. The shopping cart value has also gone up. People are buying more items in a single transaction than before,” Ms Dabain says.
While prices have increased for in-demand products such as masks, gloves and cleaning products on the price comparison website, they have lowered in categories like electronics and fashion.
Buy discount coupons
A number of coupon websites in the UAE help users save on costs. However, users checking deals on stand-alone coupon websites, such as Groupon and Cobone, must read the terms and conditions and be aware of exclusions before making the purchase.
“From blackout dates and short validities in terms of expiry dates, to no guarantee of availability, buyers must read the fine print before buying a coupon/voucher," says Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive, Souqalmal.com.
"Further, vouchers that offer a percentage discount may have a minimum spend limit attached to them, so that’s worth checking beforehand too."
Check the shipping rate
Online shoppers should look out for free delivery options because delivery charges can significantly increase an online shopping bill. Express delivery often comes at a premium too. Some sites, for example, offer free delivery if the value of your purchase crosses a certain amount. Therefore, there is value in making bulk purchases.
"If users are not in a hurry to buy the product, they can wait for a few days and not pay extra for express delivery," says Ms Dabain.
For instance, Amazon Prime subscribers get free next-day delivery across the UAE with no minimum purchase on thousands of products.
Keep tabs on bank offers
Your credit card or debit card provider will have a list of discounts or cashback offers, as retailers and service providers tie up with banks on exclusive deals to bank customers.
Emirates NBD card holders, for example, are entitled to special offers and discounts on electronics, travel, shopping, spa and restaurant deals.
Sign up for online newsletters
One of the easiest ways to stay on top of sales, promotions, seasonal offers and stock clearance discounts is to sign up for your favourite shopping website’s online newsletters, says Ms Musa.
"You could also receive discount codes through these newsletters," she adds.
For instance, you can sign up for newsletters from The Dubai Mall to be informed of all the latest promotions and discounts offered by all its retailers.
Stay ahead of dynamic pricing
Online shoppers should also consider their browsing history when they shop online, says Ms Musa.
“Have you ever seen the price of a flight ticket or hotel go up a little bit, every time you visit the site and check? That’s dynamic pricing in action, where merchants manipulate prices based on your browsing pattern, spending behaviour and overall demand for the item/service in question," she adds. "Try clearing your browser history and deleting cookies, or even switching to incognito browsing mode to beat this sneaky tactic."
Cut down on eating out
For many UAE residents, the movement restrictions saw their spend on restaurant dine-ins hit the zero mark while their expenditure on food delivery increased. However, as these measures eased, many residents continued to be cautious about dining out.
Last month, more than 200 restaurant owners in the UAE clubbed together to launch a food delivery app and website called GoFood to eliminate delivery fees for consumers. Available to download on iOS and Android, the app rewards consumers with Dh200 worth of loyalty points when they download it. For every Dh10 spent on the platform, customers earn Dh1 and they have six months to redeem the accrued points.
Meanwhile, The Entertainer, a money-saving app, reported a 100 per cent increase in food delivery orders during the pandemic in the UAE.
“A lot of people have taken a reduction in salaries or lost jobs. They are trying to save money and we want to enable it. We have added a lot of quick service restaurants and mid-range restaurants to the app,” says Mike Rich, international marketing director, The Entertainer.
During the pandemic, the app was offered free to give people access to 25 per cent discounts on deliveries. The Entertainer also offered 25 per cent off food deliveries to clients of its partners such as Visa and MasterCard. These offers were valid from March until the end of June. However, Entertainer members are still entitled to both buy-one-get-one-free offers and the 25 per cent discount on deliveries.
Members of The Entertainer app spent Dh70 to Dh80 on average on food delivery in the UAE during the pandemic, Mr Rich says, with the health and beauty sectors now seeing a big resurgence in activity on the app as people start moving around more normally.
For the uninitiated, when users download The Entertainer app for free they receive one free trial. They also gain access to thousands of buy-one-get-one-free discounts as well as percentage discounts in categories across food and drinks, attractions, such as water parks, as well as retail, travel and everyday services such as eye tests.
The company says it is now looking at making its product more affordable. “In 2021, we are looking at a repricing structure. We are adding more products and offers for our members to use and save as much money as possible,” Mr Rich adds.