Pandemic caused ‘drastic’ shift in region’s e-commerce, say major retailers

The coronavirus pandemic led to “drastic” changes in the e-commerce sector in the Middle East region, experts say. (Shutterstock/Illustrative)
The coronavirus pandemic led to “drastic” changes in the e-commerce sector in the Middle East region, experts say. (Shutterstock/Illustrative)
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Updated 01 April 2021

Pandemic caused ‘drastic’ shift in region’s e-commerce, say major retailers

The coronavirus pandemic led to “drastic” changes in the e-commerce sector in the Middle East region, experts say. (Shutterstock/Illustrative)
  • Like many major retailers, Al-Sulaiman said IKEA witnessed huge growth in e-commerce last year

JEDDAH: The coronavirus pandemic led to “drastic” changes in the e-commerce sector, as users embraced digital payments, were forced to buy staple food items online and invested in products to make working from home easier, according to leading retailers in the Kingdom.

“About a year ago, cash on delivery was basically stopped by law and customers had to force themselves to adapt to digital payment methods. This was a very drastic baseline shift that we saw. In the last nine years or so, I’ve seen nothing change the cash on delivery component in our market and finally COVID-19 did,” Faraz Khalid, CEO of Noon, said in a session at the 7th Retail Leaders Circle digital seminar this week.

Noon is an online shopping platform backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Dubai businessman Mohamed Alabbar, which was launched in 2017 on the back of around $1 billion in funding.

Khalid also highlighted the fact that the pandemic forced workers to remain at home, due to restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, leading to a radical shift in the category mix of many e-commerce websites.

“We went from first adopted categories like fashion, beauty, and electronics to more staples, home goods, people buying things that they usually buy in an offline context. In that sense, I think it’s a healthy sign because you’ve got a more sustainable payment mix; customers are coming back more regularly across categories.”

The Noon session also discussed the fact that grocery items are often the most difficult online category for e-commerce retailers, due to the high frequency of purchases, meaning customers “are very demanding, hard to serve.”

Saud Ghassan Al-Sulaiman, CEO of IKEA Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, told delegates at the retail event that the pandemic forced consumers to rapidly alter their shopping behavior.

“The most dramatic changes that took place in that period were in our own furniture industry. Consumers who had been spending more time at home realized that they need to invest more in their home. We saw a few categories accelerating more than others; we saw home office and children’s range accelerating more than other parts of the range,” he said.

Like many major retailers, Al-Sulaiman said IKEA witnessed huge growth in e-commerce last year.

“During the pandemic, we saw e-commerce growing seven times,” he said, pointing out that the company launched its online store in 2020 after just two weeks in development.


US job growth far below expectations

US job growth far below expectations
The unemployment rate rose to 6.1% in April from 6% in March. (Reuters)
Updated 08 May 2021

US job growth far below expectations

US job growth far below expectations
  • Nonfarm payrolls increased by only 266,000 jobs last month after rising by 770,000 in March, says Labor Department

WASHINGTON: US employers hired far fewer workers than expected in April, likely frustrated by labor shortages, leaving them scrambling to met booming demand as the economy reopens amid rapidly improving public health and massive financial help from the government.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by only 266,000 jobs last month after rising by 770,000 in March, the Labor Department said in its closely watched employment report on Friday.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls advancing by 978,000 jobs.
The jobs report, the first since the White House’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic rescue package was approved in March, will probably do little to change expectations that the economy entered the second quarter with strong momentum and was on track for its best performance this year in almost four decades.
Twelve months ago, the economy purged a record 20.679 million jobs as it reeled from mandatory closures of nonessential businesses to slow the first wave of COVID-19 infections. New claims for unemployment benefits have dropped below 500,000 for the first-time since the pandemic started.
Americans over the age of 16 are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, leading states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to lift most of their coronavirus capacity restrictions on businesses.
But the resulting burst in demand, which contributed to the economy’s 6.4 percent annualized growth pace in the first quarter, the second-fastest since the third quarter of 2003, has triggered shortages of labor and raw materials.

SPEEDREAD

● The jobs report will probably do little to change expectations that the economy entered the second quarter with strong momentum and was on track for its best performance this year in almost four decades.

● Twelve months ago, the economy purged a record 20.679 million jobs as it reeled from mandatory closures of nonessential businesses to slow the first wave of COVID-19 infections.

● From manufacturing to restaurants, employers are scrambling for workers. A range of factors, including parents still at home caring for children, coronavirus-related retirements and generous unemployment checks, are blamed for the labor shortages.

From manufacturing to restaurants, employers are scrambling for workers. A range of factors, including parents still at home caring for children, coronavirus-related retirements and generous unemployment checks, are blamed for the labor shortages. The moderate pace of hiring could last at least until September when the enhanced unemployment benefits run out.
The labor market remains supported by very accommodative fiscal and monetary policy. President Joe Biden plans to spend another $4 trillion on education and childcare, middle- and low-income families, infrastructure and jobs. The Federal Reserve has signaled it intends to leave its benchmark interest rate near zero and continue to pump money into the economy through bond purchases for a while.
The unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent in April from 6.0 percent in March. The jobless rate has been understated by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.” Millions of Americans remain out of work and many have permanently lost jobs because of the pandemic.


British Airways owner IAG expects travel recovery from July

British Airways owner IAG expects travel recovery from July
IAG’s first quarter operating loss before exceptional items of €1.14 billion was slightly better than the €1.17 billion loss forecast by analysts. (AFP/File)
Updated 08 May 2021

British Airways owner IAG expects travel recovery from July

British Airways owner IAG expects travel recovery from July
  • IAG’s first quarter operating loss before exceptional items of €1.14 billion was slightly better than the €1.17 billion loss forecast by analysts

LONDON: British Airways owner IAG is confident travel will recover from July onwards after forecasting only a minimal increase in its capacity to 25 percent for the April to June quarter.
IAG, which also owns Iberia and Vueling in Spain and Aer Lingus in Ireland, declined to forecast how much it would fly from July but said the recovery would be properly underway by then after more than a year of pandemic restrictions.
“We consider in the second half that we are going to be flying and we are prepared for that,” IAG Chief Executive Luis Gallego told reporters on Friday after the company posted a loss of €1.14 billion ($1.4 billion) in the first quarter.
Before July, however, Gallego said government action was needed on some issues, such as opening travel corridors between countries with high vaccination rates, including the United Kingdom and the US.
The rise to 25 percent of pre-pandemic capacity puts IAG’s plans behind those of rival airlines, and is only a marginal increase from the 19.6 percent it flew in the first three months of 2021.
Britain, which along with Spain is one of IAG’s main markets, is set to publish later on Friday its “green list” of low risk places where people can travel without needing to quarantine on their return.
Gallego said IAG was expecting only a small list of countries initially with more being added from June onwards.

FASTFACTS

● IAG, British Airways’ owner declined to forecast how much it would fly from July but said the recovery would be properly underway by then after more than a year of pandemic restrictions.

● The rise to 25 percent of pre-pandemic capacity puts IAG’s plans behind those of rival airlines, and is only a marginal increase from the 19.6 percent it flew in the first three months of 2021.

“Part of the reason we’re not giving guidance (for third quarter capacity) is simply because we don’t know what’s on the green list yet,” Chief Financial Officer Steve Gunning said.
Air France-KLM expects to operate 50 percent of its pre-pandemic flight capacity in the second quarter, picking up to 55 percent to 65 percent in July-September. Lufthansa expects to fly at about 40 percent of its pre-pandemic capacity for 2021 as a whole.
IAG’s first quarter operating loss before exceptional items of €1.14 billion was slightly better than the €1.17 billion loss forecast by analysts.
Shares in the company, which have risen 30 percent since the beginning of the year, traded up 0.7 percent.
“The company delivered a solid set of results and is pointing to the start of the recovery into the summer,” Goodbody analyst Mark Simpson said.
Given the ongoing uncertainty over COVID-19, IAG said it could not provide a profit outlook for 2021.


China propels BMW to strong profits, Germany lags

China propels BMW to strong profits, Germany lags
A BMW Vision Next car is seen during the 19th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition in Shanghai. (AFP)
Updated 08 May 2021

China propels BMW to strong profits, Germany lags

China propels BMW to strong profits, Germany lags
  • BMW net profit rose to €2.83 billion ($3.42 billion) from €574 million in the year-earlier period

FRANKFURT: Booming sales in China helped propel German luxury carmaker BMW to stronger profits in the first three months of the year even as its home market Germany trailed the ongoing recovery in global car markets from the worst of the pandemic shutdowns.
BMW said that its sales in China nearly doubled in the quarter to 230,120 vehicles, partly reflecting the shutdowns in early 2020 as China was hit first by the pandemic. Sales in the overall Asia region however exceeded even pre-pandemic levels.
Sales were up by double-digit percentages in most of Europe and in the US. An exception was the company’s home market in Germany, where sales dropped 5 percent. The earnings underscored the German auto industry’s strong connections with China; competitor Volkswagen said Wednesday that it recorded a 61 percent increase in first-quarter unit sales there, helping it sharply increase profits.
The company said higher sales volume across key global markets as they rebound from the pandemic recession was accompanied by improved prices. Earnings were also supported by better used car prices in the US, which increases revenues from the sales of cars that have been leased to customers.

NUMBER

BMW revenues rose 15 percent to €26.78 billion.

BMW CEO Oliver Zipse said that the quarter showed “our business model is a successful one, even in times of crisis.” He said the company’s focus is on developing digitally connected, electric cars. The company more than doubled its sales of battery and electric vehicles in the quarter over the year earlier, to 70,200.
Zipse said that the fall in sales in Germany was less than that for the total market, meaning market share had increased, and said that sales in April, the first month of the new quarter, had been “significantly better.”
BMW net profit rose to €2.83 billion ($3.42 billion) from €574 million in the year-earlier period. Revenues rose 15 percent to €26.78 billion. Per-vehicle profitability, defined as operating result on sales, reached 9.8 percent, a big increase from 1.3 percent in the year-earlier quarter and within the company’s long-term target range.
Chief Financial Officer Nicolas Peter said that the company had not lost any production due to the shortage of semiconductors — the silicon chips that enable many of the electronic functions in today’s vehicles — that has affected the auto industry worldwide.

 


Europe’s consumers face rising prices but the ECB is unfazed

Europe’s consumers face rising prices but the ECB is unfazed
Lockdowns have deprived well-off consumers in Europe and elsewhere of the opportunities to spend their cash. (AFP/File)
Updated 08 May 2021

Europe’s consumers face rising prices but the ECB is unfazed

Europe’s consumers face rising prices but the ECB is unfazed
  • Many firms eye scope to raise prices; European consumers in buoyant mood
  • Even after stripping out energy, eurozone producer prices in March recorded a year-on-year increase of 2.3 percent, nearly double the gains seen in February

LONDON: Europe’s consumers will feel the hit from price rises this year as companies seek to recoup revenues and cover pandemic-related costs. But for now, this is inflation the European Central Bank believes it can live with.

Over the past year, the fallout from COVID-19 has contorted both the demand and supply sides of the global economy, creating bottlenecks in supply chains, havoc in freight markets and a rally in raw materials from corn to copper.
Lockdowns, meanwhile, have deprived well-off consumers in Europe and elsewhere of the opportunities to spend their cash, creating record levels of savings and a window of opportunity for companies to push through price increases.
While US inflation fears mount in the wake of President Joe Biden’s massive stimulus plans — prompting Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to clarify this week that she sees no problem brewing — things look different in a European economy still weighed down by coronavirus restrictions.
On the surface, there is a perfect storm for price pressures to keep building as the region finally enters a recovery.
Even after stripping out energy, eurozone producer prices in March recorded a year-on-year increase of 2.3 percent, nearly double the gains seen in February. Typically, price rises at factory gates end up being passed onto consumers.
Moreover, those same consumers look more than ready to spend. Eurozone retail sales were up 2.7 percent month-on-month in March, a 12 percent surge from a year ago.
This could be music to the ears of companies whose revenue or profit has been hit by the pandemic fallout in the shape of travel restrictions, supply chain bottlenecks or global shortages of components such as semiconductors.
Germany’s Lufthansa signaled that despite competition from low-cost rivals, it and other airlines would no longer offer the kind of discounts that were common before the pandemic ravaged the industry.
“Early bookers may get good deals. But in the medium term there will be very disciplined prices because airlines can ill-afford high rebates and low fares as before,” CEO Carsten Spohr said in a call about first quarter results.
Germany’s BASF, the world’s largest chemicals and plastics maker by sales, said raw materials prices were higher than expected but it lifted its profit outlook because it was confidently passing those costs on to customers.
Other companies in Europe’s manufacturing powerhouse have been equally clear about the scope for price rises.
In the premium auto sector, the argument runs that the chip shortage has hit car production and canceled out excess supply, which might have led to offers to shift stock in the past.
Elsewhere, price rises are planned to pay for investment in the post-pandemic world. Dutch telecoms firm KPN said it was raising retail internet rates by 2.9 percent, a good percentage point above inflation, to pay for network upgrades.
This could be seen as the kind of reflation story told to justify a scaling down of ECB support for the euro economy. But that’s a narrative the bank wants to avoid for now.
Year-on-year inflation stood at 1.6 percent in April, comfortably below its near-2 percent target and it was only in that region because of a 10.3 percent surge in energy prices. Strip that out and core inflation was just 0.8 percent year-on-year, down from 1.0 percent in March.
While the ECB acknowledges that the time could be ripe for manufacturers to pass on higher costs, it believes the impact on consumers will be a one-off and limited.
In a blog last month, its chief economist Philip Lane cited staff estimates that the 38 percent increase in global basic metal prices between June 2020 and January 2021 would only add about 1.5 percent to economy-wide output prices.
A massive 355 percent increase in freight costs from China to the euro area over the same period would in itself lead to just a 0.3 percent rise euro area output prices, he said.


New DIFC law aims to attract global firms to Dubai

New DIFC law aims to attract global firms to Dubai
Updated 07 May 2021

New DIFC law aims to attract global firms to Dubai

New DIFC law aims to attract global firms to Dubai
  • DIFC to inventivize companies to move HQ to Dubai
  • Dubai wants financial services to contribute more to economy

RIYADH: Dubai’s Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum issued a new law to expand the strategic objectives of Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), WAM reported.

The new law expands the strategic objectives for DIFC which aims to further boost Dubai’s position as a global hub for financial services and promote the values of efficiency, transparency and integrity.

These objectives now also include advancing sustainable economic growth for Dubai, developing and diversifying its economy and increasing the GDP contribution of the financial services sector, to promote investment into Dubai and to attract regional and international entities to establish themselves in DIFC as their principal place of business.

This follows a similar move by Saudi Arabia earlier this year to encourage global firms to set up their regional headquarters in the Kingdom.