UAE consumers shifted their internet search and buying behaviours amid the lockdown to contain the coronavirus, a trend that may become the “new normal”, according to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
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, a new Dubai Chamber report citing UAE Google Trends data over the past decade found.
“With more businesses joining the race to capture these emerging trends, the need for digitalisation has become more crucial than ever to gain efficiency and flexibility,” the Dubai Chamber report said.
Businesses that successfully integrate technological solutions into existing operations and supply chain management systems could potentially gain “a major competitive advantage in the new Covid-19-shaped competitive landscape”, said Dubai Chamber, a non-profit public organisation that supports and protects the interests of the business community in the emirate.
Worldwide, stay-at-home directives and precautionary measures to contain the virus have led to increased 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.
Dubai Chamber has encouraged local businesses to migrate online amid the pandemic with workshops and webinars, such as “Make the digital switch: reshape your business” and “Taking your business online with Amazon”.
The Google Trends search spikes in the UAE correspond to the closures of schools and offices, a strict three-week lockdown in April, and a month-long shutdown of shopping malls between March 25 and April 25.
In the case of staycations, the rise matches up with the opening of Dubai’s hotel beaches and the Eid holiday in May.
Online grocery shopping became the norm for many UAE consumers in March, reaching a peak of 100 during the lockdown in April, according to the Google Trends data. Google Trends charts assign a search interest value of between zero and 100, with 100 representing the peak popularity for the term.
The pattern mirrors data from MasterCard, which showed that online card payments for groceries in the UAE saw 99 per cent year-on-year growth in February, 252 per cent year-on-year growth in March and 316 per cent growth in April, the Dubai Chamber report said.
While the "groceries" searches subsided during May, interest remains well above the historical figures since 2010.
As residents spent more time at home, they sought to boost their skills and knowledge online, with searches for “online courses” also peaking in April.
With a significant number of employees working remotely, searches related to “telecommuting” such as “how to work from home” peaked as well.
Online furniture shopping grew in popularity with terms such as “Ikea”, “Ikea desk” and “Ikea delivery” registering the highest increase in search frequency.
Restrictions on international travel gave a big boost to staycations in the UAE, a concept that “seems to have emerged in the UAE in late 2016 and has been gaining popularity ever since”, Dubai Chamber said.
The data charts “provide a glimpse of what might become the ‘new normal’ for consumers” and businesses should adapt accordingly, the report concluded.