Middle East consumers set to spend more as mobile shopping surges amid Covid-19

Despite reduced household incomes for 62%, almost half expect to increase their expenditure in the coming months, PwC survey says

Person with credit card using a computer for internet shopping. istockphoto.com

Almost half of Middle East consumers expect to spend more money in the next few months despite 62 per cent experiencing a decrease in household income due to redundancy or reduced hours, a new study from PwC found.

Fifty-three per cent of Middle East respondents, polled by the global consultancy’s GCIS Covid-19 Pulse study, said they are shopping online more using their smartphone in response to the pandemic compared to 39 per cent who use a computer and 31 per cent who used a tablet.

“It is too soon to tell whether the changes in consumer behaviour precipitated by Covid-19 will gain permanent momentum. However, our latest Covid-19 Pulse results suggest that consumer-facing businesses should keep a close watch on the trends that have accelerated since the pandemic reached the region,” said Norma Taki, Middle East Consumer Markets Leader at PwC.

While Covid-19 has helped accelerate the switch to mobile shopping, it has also changed grocery shopping habits with about half of those polled now doing their food shopping online or by phone. While 18 per cent then pick up the goods in-store, 33 per cent have their groceries delivered to their homes.

Of those that do shop online, 92 per cent said they will continue purchasing digitally even after the pandemic is over.

This is a huge switch when compared to PwC's February GCIS 2020 report which found that only 27 per cent of Middle East consumers shop online for groceries.

Worldwide, stay-at-home directives and precautionary measures to contain the virus have resulted in a sharp rise  in online shopping. E-retailers such as Amazon have seen sales soar, while brick-and-mortar stores without an online presence have had to adapt quickly or face a significant decline in business.

Here in the UAE, consumers shifted their internet search and buying behaviours amid the movement restrictions to contain the coronavirus, a trend that may become the “new normal”, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry said in June.

A surge in searches for “groceries”, “online courses”, “telecommuting” and “Ikea” were seen in March and April, with a spike in “staycation” searches in May, Dubai Chamber said citing UAE Google Trends data over the past decade.

According to PwC, the outbreak has also influenced what consumers spend on, with 61 per cent spending more on groceries and 41 per cent splashing out more on entertainment and media. However, spending decreased on clothing and footwear and on restaurant food delivery and pick up.

The study, which polled 501 consumers in Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Dubai, Jeddah and Riyadh, also found that despite financial anxieties during the pandemic, the Middle East expectation to spend more in the next few months is ahead of other parts of the world such as China, France, Germany and the UK.

Shoppers in Cairo led the way, with 64 per cent expecting to spend “much more” or “slightly more”, compared to 39 per cent of consumers in Dubai planning to spend “much more” or “slightly more” in the coming months.