Why Retailers in MENA Need To Embrace Social Media

All across the globe, we are witnessing a new breed of shopper and one thing seems abundantly clear: today’s consumer expects retailers and brands to know how to operate in the social and mobile environment. Thanks to digital advancements, consumers are more involved than ever before; the way they find goods, information and make purchases has fundamentally changed. This is why most have at least one form of presence on social media whether it is a Twitter handle, Pinterest board, Instagram or Facebook page. With consumers having many of the above on their smartphones, it enables them to be interactive with brands at all times.

There are several ways that retail is changing through a brand actively using social media. Using this medium is a powerful way for a brand to build a direct relationship with their consumer. It enables a brand to create an emotional connection with a shopper and therefore to differentiate itself from its competitors. The exposure created from an online presence is a great way to gain new customers while nurturing loyal customers, perhaps by only promoting sales to followers online. The wants, desires and concerns of a brands’ consumer can be heard and responded to easily and quickly through social media, thus enabling consumers to influence and feel connected to that particular brand. This all essentially creates more time for the customer to engage with the retailers products, before, during and after purchase.


Social communities are the perfect place for brands to connect with their audience as it taps into a human urge to talk and share with like-minded people. In the UK, a “social commerce study by JWT Intelligence highlighted the effect social is having on shopping. It found that over 40% of men and over a third of women are more likely to purchase something if a friend has recommended it on a social network” (Bruno Teuber, The Guardian). This can be seen clearly through Sephora’s interactive shopping social space ‘BeautyTalk’. By creating a community that revolved around Sephora the brand was able to facilitate discussion about products and share knowledge about how to become ‘more beautiful’ with Sephora. The benefits of this can be seen in sales, as a ‘BeautyTalk’ member spends over double the amount of an average customer. It therefore seems that by sharing data online, the consumers are participating in better experiences and this is being seen by increased sales.

Sephora ‘BeautyTalk’ Image (http://popsop.com)

Sephora Middle East Facebook Image www.innovationsdigital.com

Some retailers in UAE are following examples from the UK and USA and have begun using social media to drive business value. The popular daily deal website Groupon now has a similar counterpart in the region, Cobone as does Gumtree with Dubai Dubizzle. High fashion retailer Boutique1 and the popular souq.com are other local retailers which have triumphed since creating an online presence, illustrating how the consumers in the region do have a desire to shop online when they TRUST a brand. This fusion between e-commerce and social media will only increase as more and more consumers see the benefits of shopping online.

Despite these successful cases here in the region, the concept still seems to be in its infancy. As social media is an ever changing medium, the possibilities for retailers to exploit this means of selling in the Middle East are significant. As there are 72.5 million internet users in MENA, and “according to Google only 15% of Middle East businesses have an online presence”, (Nancy Messieh http://thenextweb.com) the future change of retail by the increased use of social media in this region has the potential to be phenomenal.

Furthermore, as most people now have smartphones, the possibility to be permanently involved with brands and products is limitless. The affect this will have on an actual store is likewise enormous. Carrie Bienkowski, head of buyer experience at eBay, said that “Mobile technology is a catalyst for retail growth and is changing the way we shop. Consumers now carry a global showroom in their pocket and are increasingly as inclined to seek recommendations online and shop mobile as visit the high street”.(internetretailing.ne) Essentially now consumers can float between social and real platforms on their path to purchase, even when in the actual store. Recent collaborative work between Microsoft and Ogilvy & Mather concluded that retail stores will become increasingly more like showrooms or ‘experience-lounges’ rather than points of sale.

However, simply because people are ‘liking’ or ‘retweeting’ it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are buying. Brands need a firm strategy in place to ensure that online activity equates to a rise in sales. In order to do this they must listen to consumers and modify their products in order to better meet customers’ desires and therefore sell more.

Another issue that may arise is that the many different voices of social media could fragment a brand’s message. It seems that some of the most successful campaigns still establish their campaign message with traditional media before extending the campaign through social media. A great example of this is H&M, who have a separate twitter feed for each of their local markets, but all have the same background and header image to ensure brand consistency and increase engagement and that sense of community. I passionately believe that the future of retail will heavily involve an integrated social and social shopper strategy and that those savvy marketers and operations directors at the heads of retailers here in the region will start to want to understand this area of expertise more deeply. What do you think?

Originally published at emalinakeruae.tumblr.com.



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Ema Linaker

Executive Director, Former @Google EMEA, @NuanceEnt and @AVGFree