Growing up, Thursdays for me were always reserved for visiting the movie theatre with friends. I still go to the movie theatre, but I favour online streaming video services such as Netflix, especially in my own theatre that I have set up at home. Netflix’s productions rival that of Hollywood blockbusters, and I now opt to watch their shows in-flight, on my own device, instead of the ones offered by the airlines. Other streaming services such as Apple TV and Disney Plus, too, are vying for a share in the over-the-top media services market – making movie theatres almost obsolete.
At the rate streaming services are dominating our lives today, many articles even debate whether movie theatres will cease to exist in the near future. This is why we see many theatres now offering unique experiences to draw visitors. The new Theatre by Rhodes at The Galleria, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi, offers guests a fine dining experience on the terrace overlooking Al Reem Island before or after their movie, or they can even enjoy fine food from the comfort of their plush theatre seats. Australia’s Mov’in Bed, the world’s biggest outdoor cinema, offers 150 queen-sized beds, bedside lamps, pillows and blankets for when it gets cold.
But disruption is not limited to video streaming services or movie theatres. Everywhere we go, businesses are venturing into the on-demand segment. Eyewa, the largest online eyewear and contact lenses online store in the GCC region, delivers contact lenses, and sunglasses wherever you are in the region. The likes of Talabat and Carriage provide us with our favourite dishes without the need to go out. Several abaya designers in the UAE offer home services, where a sales representative sets up abayas on hanging rails at your home for you to view, try, and purchase at home. The same with professional hairdressers and makeup artists, all of whom can have you party-ready at competitive rates. Some department stores in the UAE have also jumped on the wagon and now offer home delivery, and viewing options, without you necessarily having to buy a product if you don’t like it.
But what does it mean for businesses? Online services and on-demand online shopping are here to stay and grow. According to the World Bank's Global Findex data of 2017, 10 per cent of the population in our the MENA region made an online purchase in 2017. The figures vary by country, but in the UAE, the proportion of those who shopped online stood at 49.6 per cent. E-commerce activity is expected to grow in the next few years. A report by Bain & Company and Google, published last year, indicated that e-commerce in MENA has an annual average growth of 25 per cent, slightly ahead of the global average, with the GCC and Egypt accounting for 80 per cent of the e-commerce market. The UAE is also the most advanced e-commerce market in the region.
I believe that on-demand e-commerce is the future of retail in the region, with brick-and-mortar retail switching to offering unique in-store experiences to attract customers to visit their stores. In the US, for instance, 74 per cent of millennials are prioritising experiences over products according to a study by Expedia and The Center of Generational Kinetics, published in 2018.
If you haven’t already, it is wise to re-evaluate your business model and see if there’s something that you could offer for on demand online shoppers, and take advantage of this growing market. An online shopping platform would also provide you with access to customers in the wider region or from around the world. An abaya designer from Saudi Arabia told me once that most of her customers are from the UAE, who place their shopping orders through her Instagram page. An online presence means expansion at low start-up costs, increase in company’s responsiveness, and reduction in operational costs and enhanced customer service. It could also instantly elevate you to have a global presence instead of limiting your business geographically.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi