Although the initial surge in online shopping came in March 2020 as the onset of the virus prompted authorities to introduce stay-at-home measures, data indicates that the change in spending patterns could be here to stay.
The UAE e-tail market is expected to grow at a more than 20 per cent compound annual rate to about $19 billion by 2025, from $8.5bn in 2021, according to consultancy RedSeer.
The growth will be driven by improvement in consumer experience and sticky online buying behaviour, said Abhishek Rajput, associate consultant at RedSeer.
More consumers in the UAE made online purchases last year compared with 2020, according to a March report by EZDubai, an e-commerce zone in Dubai South, and Euromonitor International. About 75 per cent of those surveyed said they shopped online in 2021.
The expansion of e-commerce in the region is being driven by strong internet penetration rates, high possession of digital devices, rising incomes, improving logistics and the presence of global players in the market, the report said.
We asked experts to suggest tips for consumers to get the best deals while shopping online.
Use comparison sites for price tracking and discount coupons
Websites that compare prices will show you how much the item costs at various retailers, says Haneen Dabain, co-founder of UAE price comparison portal Pricena.com.
“To find out if you’re getting a good deal on your purchase, check the price history of the product, or set up a price drop alert so that you are informed when the price changes,” she says.
“Make a conscious effort to never purchase anything without a coupon code. There are multiple websites where you can get coupon codes for shops in the UAE. Before making any purchases, it is wise to check the latest codes added.”
For the travel industry, platforms such as Trivago aggregate data from many websites to deliver economical price options and availability for hotels and flights to users, says Ritesh Mohan, a retail industry expert in the UAE.
Google Shopping ads also provide price comparison across most sites, he says.
Some options such as Microsoft Edge (in-built algorithmic tools) and Google Shopping often provide comparative deals based on your search feeds, says Jyothsna Singh, assistant professor in marketing at Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
These could help you sign up for deals on products you may intend to buy online and provide you with several alternatives, she says.
Buy products off-season
Buying winter wear, especially during autumn and winter season, is expensive. But the prices of these products could be much more affordable with bundled giveaways during the off-season, Ms Singh says.
The reverse psychology of seasonal buying behaviour can produce an anomaly in your favour, she says.
Wait and shop on the right day
Most outlets announce discounts on weekdays. Resist the urge to do your shopping online at weekends and keep an eye on sales announcements during the week, Ms Dabain suggests.
“You also can achieve big savings during seasonal sales such as Black Friday and Dubai Summer Surprises,” she says.
“Mark them on your calendar and create a list of things you want to buy this year. Keep an eye on your products to get the best savings. Just remember to stick to your spending budget.”
Brands are increasingly trying to build their own online presence. So, some of the best deals are available online, according to Sandeep Ganediwalla, managing partner in the Middle East and North Africa for consultancy RedSeer.
Consumers can also find great deals on social media through influencers on TikTok and Instagram, so keep a tab on them, he says.
Consider buying from new and small shops
Instead of shopping exclusively from well-known and large internet retailers, search for smaller yet reliable stores. They probably price their products lower to compete with the larger companies, Ms Dabain says.
Also, whether you ask for a discount or make a warranty claim for a product, customer care support at a smaller outlet is probably more individualised, straightforward and prompt, she says.
“Smaller offline players use hyperlocal services such as Instashop and Careem to tap into online shoppers. These can provide deals on long-tail products,” Mr Ganediwalla says.
Sign up for loyalty programmes
Loyalty programmes often get exclusive deals, even on online platforms, according to Mr Ganediwalla.
Consumers should use several email addresses to sign up for promotions, Ms Dabain says.
“The best promo codes are typically only used once per customer. You can make several purchases using the discount code in this manner. Just use different accounts to place the orders,” she says.
Today, every e-tailer and retailer wants to build a community of loyal customers, which offers opportunities for the shoppers, according to Mr Mohan.
“The challenge today for e-commerce retailers is to break consumers’ perception that products online are often discounted,” he says.
“It is becoming harder to strike a balance between promotional items and full-price items as competition in the e-commerce space hots up. But as online retailers try to cope with this challenge, consumers are spoilt for choice.”
Walk away from your cart
Many online retailers dislike it when customers leave items in the shopping basket without making a purchase, Ms Dabain says.
“Make sure you are signed in to your account, add the items to your cart and then wait a few days,” she says.
“Many retailers keep track of cart abandonment and will try to retain you, by sending an email to remind you of the cart along with a discount code to complete the purchase.”
Also, abandoning your cart can stop you from making impulse purchases, Ms Dabain says.
Shop online locally on holiday
People who travel overseas can take advantage of foreign exchange rates, shop online locally and buy international brands available for a lower price in the country they are visiting, Ms Singh says.
“For example, if you live in the eastern hemisphere, many brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Bebe could be very expensive, but once you land in the home country, the US, the same brands could be bought for far less and their online deals are more alluring,” she says.
“Of course, there could be some discomfort in scheduling your deliveries or putting off shopping until your travels, but if you could, this could be worth the deal.”
Outsmart dynamic pricing
Dynamic pricing, sometimes referred to as surge pricing or demand pricing, is a technique that has advanced to the point that it allows online retailers to immediately alter an item’s price based on supply and demand, according to Ms Dabain.
These retailers are fully aware of your price point, search history, whether you’re buying on a mobile device or laptop, and countless other aspects that feed into their dynamic pricing model, she says.
“They might quote you a greater price than someone else who makes online purchases for less money.
“Delete your browser’s cookies or shop in a private window to avoid mark-ups [incognito mode]. Give this a try and see if you can save some money.”