Amid the challenges of the past two years, consumers in the Middle East have increasingly turned to digital channels to purchase goods and services, but for 63% of them the digital experience has not yet matched the satisfaction of shopping in person, according to a new report from Sitecore®, a global leader in end-to-end digital experience software.
The regional survey was commissioned as part of Sitecore’s global research to assess what an authentic transparent brand looks like today; to investigate what factors influence customer loyalty; and to identify the best and worst digital practices, among other factors.
“Brand loyalty has been put to the test since the onset of the pandemic, but compared to many other countries, consumers in the Middle East have tended to remain loyal to brands and also to their shopping habits,” says Sitecore’s Mohammed Alkhotani, Area Vice President – Middle East and North Africa. “While we have seen an increase in online shopping, it is notable that the majority of people in this region, regardless of age, prefer the experience of in-person shopping. This highlights the challenge for brands to elevate the online experience across all of the customer touch points to replicate the excitement and satisfaction of the instore experience.”
Reviewing purchase habits in 2022, the survey found 50% of consumers had used a mobile device to buy goods, and that three in five ranked improvements to mobile shopping as the most important way a brand could enhance the shopping experience. In this regard, the functionality of websites and apps on mobile devices was viewed as more important than effective personalization or exclusive shopping experiences.
Responding to questions on how online shopping in general had changed after the pandemic, consumers reported that payment processing, page speed, and simplification of the purchasing process had seen the most improvement. At the lower end of the scale, fewer people reported improvements in managing the supply of stock, accurate delivery estimates, and the quality of online chat. Interestingly, 7% of respondents believed the quality of online chat had actually decreased over the past two years
Turning to brand loyalty, the survey found three out of four Middle East consumers were loyal to their favorite brand, with consumer goods, consumer technology, and health and wellness engendering the most brand loyalty. Furthermore, over half of consumers (53%) have returned to a brand after a poor service experience drove them away, with the most common reasons for returning being good service (59%), lower price (46%), the brand taking steps to rectify the issue (35%), and convenience (33%).
With inflation escalating globally, regional businesses will also be heartened to learn that 61% of consumers rate quality and 48% rate transparency and believability as more important than price. However, cost is still an essential consideration as consumers claim that discounts and clear communication are highly valued when brands must change prices. A hefty 93% said it was important for brands to be able to explain or be transparent about price increases. Interestingly, 62% are willing to pay more if that meant that staff are being well paid.
Middle Eastern consumers also have strong opinions about how brands can improve loyalty dynamics. Nine in 10 say brands need to prove that they treat their customers and their employees fairly. The same proportion of people agree that brands should make a conscious effort to ensure their customers feel represented in their marketing and communications. In addition, 85% agree that it is important for brands they do business with to show how they are supporting causes they care about, and not just to say they care.
TRENDS EMERGING FROM THE SURVEY
Consumers want brands to ‘meet the moment’ throughout the buying experience
Over half of the respondents want brands to demonstrate empathy through actions. Initial interactions are deemed ‘very important’ to 66% of customers and this is where brands can demonstrate immediately that they can get important moments ‘right’. Similarly, customer service and support interactions are deemed ‘very important’ for 68% of respondents. In this regard, 86% say they will be more loyal to a brand with customer service agents who have autonomy to solve their problem rather than just following a script.
One-size-fits-all customer experiences set brands up for failure
When it comes to digital experience in particular, the report found that online interactions play a powerful role in driving personal connections, with 78% of respondents wanting brands to connect with them on a personal level. To continue improving the ecommerce experience, brands must keep in mind the variety of preferences from all consumers and create a customized experience that can work for each customer.
Commenting on this aspect, Alkhotani points out that Sitecore offers retailers a cloud-based, composable digital experience platform that enables them to make deep digital connections with their customers. Owing to the composability, retailers can enhance their existing digital platforms or build entirely new ones at their own pace. The Sitecore solutions aim to make the integration of customer experience into every digital brand touch point simple and seamless. Examples include personalization tools to offer a service tailored to individual customers based on their needs and wants, and an integrated commerce system built to simplify the payment process.
They survey also found shopping channel preferences remain fairly split as 30% claim to be digital-only shoppers, and 63% say they live for the experience of in-store shopping. This means that brands must enhance the customer experience across every channel to support every type of shopper.
In assessing brand loyalty, a different approach could be seen among age groups. Those aged under 44 value innovativeness, while those aged 45 and above value reliability more, although both agree on high quality being the most important attribute.
People living in the Middle East are looking for brands that represent their values
It is important for brands to use imagery and language to represent the audience, with 90% of respondents agreeing that brands should make a conscious effort to ensure their customers feel represented in their marketing and communications. Almost half of the consumers say they have chosen to shop at brands with ‘real life’ versus ‘perfect life’ experiences, while 4 in 10 say they chose to shop for brands with values that align with their own. However, fewer customers have taken the time to research this information – relying instead on information they receive passively or from the brand itself.