How Saudi Arabians will shop the sales this Black Friday

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Updated 22 November 2018
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How Saudi Arabians will shop the sales this Black Friday

DUBAI: As consumers across the region become more cost-conscious and less brand-loyal, purchasing behaviors are changing, with online shopping taking center-stage.
And with Black Friday sales growing 1,250 percent compared to a regular Friday in countries such as Saudi Arabia, according to recent research, this year’s occasion is expected to bring a surge in online buyers.
“It’s very clear that today’s shoppers have become accustomed to doing their own research to get the maximum value out of every penny they spend,” said Sarah Jones, founder of Sprii, an online shopping destination for mothers based in the region. “They are using online channels to compare prices and products and to shop the widest range of products from one particular vertical or brand. Physical stores provide a viewing platform to touch, see and experience the product, however online destinations are more and more becoming the place where shoppers are transacting.” 

 

As logistics companies develop, payment gateways become more trusted and online interfaces become more advanced, the shift to online is expected to continue. “The crash in oil prices has had a trickle-down impact on the Gulf’s retail markets, leading to a fall in consumer confidence,” Jones said. “This, alongside the introduction of VAT and rising interest rates, have all had an impact. Approximately 55 percent of consumers are now actively looking for savings across markets and are tightening their belts, and retailers are feeling the impact.”
Research by Black-Friday.Global, which surveyed 12,000 people from 55 countries, found that 45 percent of Saudis will participate in Black Friday this year, spending on average 899 riyals, with the most popular items reported as being clothes, electronics and shoes. 

“Today, consumer habits are definitely being reformed by the convenience and prevalence of online shopping options, which offer an enormous wealth of brands from all over the world,” said Mohammed Baker, deputy chairman and CEO of Gulf Marketing Group. “To avoid losing ground to other innovative retail capitals, Gulf retailers – especially those with physical storefronts – need to go above and beyond the expectations of customers by concentrating on exceptional service, personalization and shopping spaces.”
He said stocking the latest, most fashionable must-have items was a priority for the region’s physical retailers over the past decade. However, as a result of economic globalization and the rise of online shopping, a course change is under way as retailers refocus on the customer experience. 
“That experience is the real determinant of business success – whether you’re an online brand, a brick and mortar shop, or both,” Baker explained. “Whether it is online or offline, service plays an undeniable role in creating memorable customer experiences. Going the extra mile and training your employees to deliver to the highest service standards will help retailers secure loyalty and maintain a competitive edge.”

Gulf retailers need to go beyond customer expectations to offer exceptional service and personalization


He gave the example of a new generation of customer relationship management solutions that are paving the way for more personalized retail journeys. With real-time insight into customers’ preferences, purchasing habits, interest in promotions and others, retailers are able to create a single, consistent brand experience across physical and digital touch points. “One edge that local brick and mortar retailers have over e-commerce is that they can deliver a physical experience not yet possible through digital channels,” he added. 
“The physical environment has an enormous impact on the way that your customer feels and interacts with your merchandise. We’re going to see a lot more emphasis in the future on how lighting, sounds, textures and scents can bring people from a busy shopping mall, for example, into your own unique retail experience.”
The emergence of the online market in recent years, accompanying the rise of the Internet as a trend, has led to a complete shift in buying habits, methods and routines of customers that can be attributed to a variety of reasons. 
“Naturally, more and more consumers love the idea of going shopping without actually having to go anywhere,” said Lucas Jiang, general manager of TP-Link MEA FZE, which provides cloud solutions. “The convenience of it all, be it the cashless payments, easy returns, reverse pick-ups or just the ability to shop from your couch, is driving consumer shopping online and rapidly so, creating more disruption in the retail industry.”

 

In the future, Jiang expects technology to bridge the gap between online and offline shopping in the region, to eventually merge into a unique eco-system where retailers will have an extensive online presence, and e-commerce portals will get on the ground to give physicality to their brands. “Robotics and the Internet of Things will play a crucial role in shaping the way the retail world changes,” he said. “Consumer behavior is continuously evolving, and the way consumers interact with retailers is rapidly changing. Technology needs to be leveraged to design consumer experiences that integrate the offerings of a retail store as well as an e-commerce portal.”
Narendra Menon, managing director of Nikon ME, said the trend of shopping has changed drastically in the last five years, with consumers becoming increasingly aware and prudent about their purchases. “People are also conscious about their income, thus more measured decisions have started to take place,” he said. “They have become smarter and like to make well-informed purchase decisions. Things that drove consumers earlier, like advertisements and in-store sales talk, don’t work anymore – they like doing their own homework and research, mostly online, and they really seem to enjoy this new, extended purchase journey.” 
This type of shopping gives consumers more control over their decisions, along with convenience. Heavy discount sales, such as the ones witnessed on Black Friday, have also become a trend, giving brands the opportunity to launch new items at a time when they can reach the most consumers. “With the changing fundamentals of brick and mortar and phenomenal growth of e-commerce, the trend of sales has changed,” Menon said. “Though e-commerce is still growing, it is yet to settle in the Gulf region. It is imperative to understand that the countries in the Gulf are mostly cash-driven and the consumers have yet not entirely been able to place their trust in the e-commerce system.” 
There are many obstacles still to face, Menon pointed out. “The last-mile delivery is still an issue in this region as the addresses are not unified yet, and the preference of cash-on-delivery as a payment method instead of online payment has its own challenges as well.” 
While e-commerce will continue to grow, Menon said a physical address will always have value in the region.

“Malls are a part of the lifestyle in Gulf countries. Even in Saudi Arabia, the number of new malls is increasing and opening a path for ground retailers to tap into every consumer.”
He spoke of retailers trying to enhance the experience they offer customers with the use of the latest technology, such as virtual screens that help consumers pick their outfit color. “More such innovations through artificial intelligence are about to happen,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how the whole dynamics pan out.”
With consumer choice on the rise, the experiential part of retail is said to have seen the largest improvement, whether online or in a store. “That is the only way to get a share of the customer’s wallet,” said Ashish Panjabi, chief operating officer for Jacky’s Retail LLC. “Retail overall has undergone several changes, some of it caused by online shopping but also by the way retail dynamics in the region operate. With a lot of brands, retail formats and retail real estate, retailers have had to do overall a lot more to win over a consumer.” 
He said consumers are always going to expect more, and “it is our job as retailers to deliver more. For a retailer, the investment cycle will continue to accelerate and for most consumers, they will reach a stage where the better experience at the right price eventually wins their business.”

Decoder

Black Friday

Black Friday is known as the day which follows Thanksgiving Day in the United States, the fourth Thursday of November, which has been seen as the start of the country’s Christmas shopping season since 1952. Although not an official holiday, Black Friday has become one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

FASTFACTS

Black Friday in the Middle East

For the Middle East, the UAE’s version of Black Friday started as a White Friday campaign back in 2014 by souq.com, with massive discounts for four days in November. This year, the e-commerce site announced its largest event yet, with more than two million deals, offers and discounts of up to 70 percent customized for the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, while the newer noon.com is offering discounts of up to 80 percent on what it’s calling Yellow Friday.


Saudi women footballers set their sights on green goals

Updated 4 min ago
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Saudi women footballers set their sights on green goals

  • Eight female players have formed the Greens team to promote environmental causes across the Kingdom
  • The group is led by Rawh Alarfaj, who played football for 12 years

DUBAI: In the natural scheme of things, sports and environment are not easy to combine. But a group of eight Saudi women are attempting just that through their football team, the Greens.

The team’s members want to use their passion for sport to raise environmental awareness and bring about a mindset change across the Kingdom.

The Greens were established by the Saudi Sports for All Federation two months ago — specifically to promote environmental causes. The federation focuses on sports as a social, rather than professional, activity for women, men, adults, children, the elderly and people with special needs.

Leading the Greens is Rawh Alarfaj, 34, who played football for 12 years before deciding to become a coach.

“I am very passionate about sports overall, but my speciality is football and I feel I am good at it,” Alarfaj, who lives in Riyadh, told Arab News. “One of the things that keeps me going is that I am one of the founders of the Challenge Sports Club, which I manage right now.

FASTFACT

 

• The Global Goals World Cup is an alternative sports tournament that creates a community and inspires and engages women from all over the world.

• A one-day football celebration was created for 30 teams in Copenhagen.

• All teams qualify by choosing and creating an action plan on how to work with one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“We were focused at first only on football. But from the beginning of 2017, we have also had a basketball team for women in Riyadh.”

“We run programs for everyone in society because our goal is to increase the level of public participation in sports in Saudi Arabia from 13 percent in 2015 to 40 percent by 2030, based on a study we did at the federation,” said Alarfaj.

“Today, we’re at 18 percent. The programs focus on all kinds of sports. Just days ago, in the Danish capital Copenhagen, we took part in the Global Goals World Cup, which promotes causes such as environmental ones.”

The tournament, better known as GGWC, frames the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a sport, with 30 teams worldwide competing to create the kind of world they would like to see. Each team creates an action plan with a particular global goal and strives to achieve it in their own country.

For the Greens, the focus was SDG 15: “Life on Land.” “We thought it would be a good global goal to choose right now because the issue has many sides,” Alarfaj said. “Awareness of the state of the environment is a very important topic now. So we organized a number of campaigns across the Kingdom.”

During a male professional football league game in Riyadh, Greens players distributed reusable bags as they educated the crowds about the benefits of using them instead of plastic bags.

After the event, the team — with the help of a number of young Saudis — cleaned up the stadium. They collected plastic bottles for use in building a “plastic art work” — due for completion in June — which highlights the harm they do to the planet.

The Greens promoted their cause at a football match. (Supplied photo)

The environmental protection campaign was not confined to Riyadh alone. A clean-up drive was undertaken by the Greens at a public park in Alkhobar, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, while awareness talks were held in Jeddah about how plastic harms marine life.

“These campaigns are really important,” Alarfaj said. “A lot of young people volunteered to help us and it’s something that needs to be a part of the culture.”

Such campaigns gain the team points toward their final tournament score. “Global Goals isn’t just about football,” she said. “It’s about the SDGs and how to achieve them through sports, specifically female football. It’s very good to take part in sports for a cause and to have this culture in Saudi Arabia.”

Having taken part in the GGWC this year, the Greens hope to host the tournament in the Kingdom in a couple of years. “To win, you can’t just go out and play,” Alarfaj said. “You have to organize these campaigns and engage society in the goal you choose.

“Sports is the most peaceful activity which people can use to espouse a cause,” she said. “So I recommend that people get more engaged with sport and use it as a tool to spread awareness about different causes.”

Lujain Kashgari, 28, discovered she loved football when she was only 8 years old. She used to play the sport with her relatives as children. 

As she grew older, so did her passion for the beautiful game. “It’s my favorite hobby and biggest passion today,” said Kashgari, who was originally from Jeddah but lives in Alkhobar at present.

“My mission was to come up with an initiative that engaged the people of Eastern Province and also made a big impact on Life on Land through plastic recycling.”

A lot of young people volunteered to help – it’s something that needs to be a part of the culture.

Greens coach Rawh Alarfaj

To this end, Kashgari asked residents and communities to donate 10,000 plastic bottles to a recycling center. She also targeted children by organizing a fun learning day in the Altamimi public park, while teaching others in schools about the importance of recycling through playing a game.

“What I really liked about the GGWC is that it combines sports with humanities and a good cause,” Kashgari told Arab News. “I have learnt a lot about sustainability and simplicity, while enjoying every moment of the football tournament and scoring three goals. It was an amazing opportunity and an unforgettable experience.”

She said many Saudis lack awareness of ways to implement the specific goal of Life on Land.

“When I read about the Life on Land global goal, especially the concept of the three Rs (recycle, reuse and reduce), and looked around, even at myself, I realized that we might have known about it, but we needed a reminder,” Kashgari said.

their clean-up campaigns have attracted the interest of young Saudi volunteers. (Supplied photo)

“Even when we reached out to recycling centers, we found that they don’t really take plastic bottles unless it’s a massive amount. They don’t support communities or individuals, so I realized it’s very important that we do something about it and give it more attention.”

As a football club, the Greens were able to collect plastic bottles over a period of two weeks to recycle them. It also collaborated with five schools and two sports clubs in Alkhobar to collect 100 tons of plastic bottles, utensils and plates — the minimum required for recycling at the center.

According to Alyah Aboalola, a Greens player from Jeddah, more needs to be done for environmental protection in the Kingdom.

“I was focused more on raising awareness about the sea because local residents in Jeddah are into scuba diving as part of their interest in life under water,” Aboalola, 24, said. “There’s a lot of plastic being thrown into the sea, which affects the quality of marine life and coral life.”

Currently involved full time with a sports academy, Aboalola said she was thrilled as a Greens player to have reached the semifinals in Copenhagen.

“I’d like to do this professionally later on,” she said. “When you take part in sports, you build a community and, through it, we can do more for society. I’d like to always keep sports and environmental
causes connected.”