Over these couple of weeks, while the days are long and the nights are short, Middle Eastern shoppers are staying in their homeland. This is to break their fasts earlier than those who reside in the UK, because the sun sets earlier in hotter countires. In the same period retailers from Ann Summers to Zara are clearing spring and summer stock, hurrying to filter in new season lines before the majestic Eid celebrations begin.
The period around Ramadan has become one of the most salient events on the UK international shopper calendar, with Premier Tax Visits predicting that footfall from key markets such as the Middle East will grow circa 29% in July. Some 35,000 visitors are expected next month for a Middle Eastern golden rush just before or after Eid. As the UK becomes an increasingly popular destination for shoppers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman), there becomes a greater opportunity for mass-market retailers to court these big spenders.
“There’s been growth in high street shopping over the last five years because of the higher levels of disposable income,” explains Kim Urbaniak, a spokesperson for Global Blue. “We call them ‘globe shoppers’, essentially travellers who have a huge hunger to spend. Globe shoppers are interested in a mix of high end and high street brands and they no longer stick to shopping in just the affluent Knightsbridge area.”
“Because of the decline in Russian spend [from January – May 2015 it fell 44%], there’s more of a spotlight on Middle Eastern shoppers” she adds.
In 2014, Eid-al-Fitr fell on 29 July (it is 10 days earlier each year) and in the month that followed, Global Blue recorded a spend increase from Qatari, Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian shoppers of over 100% YOY in Britain.
These consumers have a varied taste in brands, mixing both high street bargains from the likes of Marks & Spencer, with designer labels such as Pucci. Fashion and apparel is the overwhelming top purchase category for these shoppers, who spend an average of£931 per transaction. Men enjoy buying high end tailoring while women, although they dress conservatively in public, often like to adorn themselves in the latest high-end get up at women-only parties back home.
“[They] shop very little during Ramadan, but tend to come over to the UK just before Eid,” says Paul Thomas, a former Sales Director for Harrods. “During this time, Middle Eastern shoppers will be looking for gifts, including smaller pieces for their staff - this is where high street retailers come in. Gift giving was predominantly something that retailers focused on around Christmas and Chinese New Year but it’s becoming a trend that demands more attention.”
As the first Eid of the year (there’s two), Eid-al-Fitr is indeed a gift giving extravaganza for discerning Muslim consumers, and retailers can capitalise on the tradition with visual merchandising that incorporates gift suggestions, as well as in-store gift wrapping services.
The Middle Eastern customer is a savvy shopper, so much so that Massimiliani Pogliani, CEO of luxury mobile phone retailer Vertu, once joked that customers from the GCC were happy to spend thousands of pounds on a phone, but did not like pay roaming charges.
These consumers are interested in an intimate service, distinct quality and an exclusive experience, willing to pay a premium for products that are personal. Harvey Nichols for example, has collaborated with cosmetics label Eyeko to deliver the world’s first personalised mascara service, BESPOKE by Eyeko. Custom made, shoppers at the upmarket department store will be able to purchase bespoke, monogrammed mascara made specifically on the spot. The beauty of this travel-sized product is that it can easily be transported back home.
At Westfield, which offers high street brands in conjunction with premium retailers in its luxury quarter The Village, customers can expect a concierge team, valet parking, hands free shopping and personal styling.
To maximise spend potential, retailers would do well to consider multilingual staff who are instantly recognisable as being able to speak Arabic. It’s also worth providing all staff with cultural training on service preferences. How else are they to know that customers from the Middle East view a thumbs-up as an obscene gesture? Also, this culture does not like to be rushed; patience is vital and offering a seat or something to drink is a formality. Here comes a whole host of shoppers who are fond of giving and receiving chocolate arrangements and hampers, so a fruit bowl or a tray of ferrero rochers at the store’s main desk wouldn’t go amiss.
In 1910, Harry Gordon Selfridge revolutionised retail when he opted to open the world’s first ground floor beauty department. Selfridge’s idea was to lure female consumers in store with the wink of lipsticks and the allure of perfume. His idea was so brilliant that most major department stores followed suit.
But who needs a department store to bring footfall with fragrance? There is expense associated with Middle Eastern attars and retailers can take advantage of this to attract relevant customers.
“Scent is one of the key parameters for a holistic approach on customers, especially the middle-eastern ones with the culture of oud and Arabic fragrances,” comments Francois Schweitzer, Business Development GM, Chalhoub Group Retail.
“Nowadays, retailers have to take this into consideration as this is all part of the experience. When you enter the major malls in the region, the first thing you are hit by is the smell – scents are used to create a welcoming environment for the customer at the point where they embark on their shopping journey."
"In a world where visual and aural stimuli have been exploited to the max, businesses should be aware of how to capture the power of smell to influence customer behaviour and create an enhanced experience," adds Gareth Cowmeadow, Scenting Specialist at Ambius.
For GCC consumers, word-of-mouth travels fast so if retailers succeed in taking just a few Middle Eastern customers on a unique purchasing journey, the rest will follow. Create the right in-store environment because if you build it, they will come.