JEDDAH: A majority of Saudis have turned their backs on in-store shopping following a shift to online buying during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a survey has revealed.
The study found that just 44 percent of those questioned would still prefer to head to the malls to get essential items.
The consumer behavior poll by global consultancy firm Kearney also showed that 57 percent of shoppers in the Kingdom believed that the knock-on effects of the pandemic on buying habits would continue for at least another six months.
As a result of restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, 73 percent of Saudis quizzed said they had been forced to change their shopping routines over the last year.
And Debashish Mukherjee, partner and head of consumer industries and retail practice at Kearney Middle East, told Arab News that most of them were unlikely to return to their old ways.
He said: “Almost 40 percent of buyers have bought something online, and it’s things like food, apparel, accessories, footwear, things we never thought people would purchase through e-commerce.
“If shopping locations can’t provide something better than deals, such as experience or certain assortments not available online, then these habits (purchasing online) might stay, especially since now people are more educated on e-commerce, it seems that rushing to the malls isn’t their first instinct.”
Asked why they had switched to online shopping, 39 percent of Saudi respondents said it was to avoid contracting COVID-19, while 36 percent put it down to convenience.
Despite the economic impact of the pandemic and the rising price of essential goods as a result of value-added tax (VAT) increasing from 5 to 15 percent in June last year, 45 percent of online shoppers said they had upped their spending on better quality essential food items, with 61 percent opting for more expensive meat and dairy items, and 59 percent seeing increased spending on fresh fruit and vegetables.
Many of the Kingdom’s large retailers saw triple-digit rises in online sales last year. Majid Al Futtaim, operator of the Carrefour brand, reported a 285 percent increase, while the Saudi retail conglomerate said digital sales were up 408 percent year-on-year in 2020. However, Mukherjee pointed out that the big names had done well at the expense of small and medium-sized retailers.
“They were badly hit by this, as the big companies have become bigger, the smaller ones are getting hurt. So, if a small enterprise does not have the skill or capabilities to do well on omnichannel online, then it is getting hustled by the bigger companies in the market,” he added.
On getting back to in-store visits, 46 percent of those surveyed suggested that hybrid models such as click and collect or curb-side pickup options would entice them round to physical shopping, while 27 percent said contactless self-service checkouts may prompt them to return to stores.