Can retailers meet shopper expectations during the Ramadan shopping surge?

Can retailers meet shopper expectations during the Ramadan shopping surge?
Hozefa Saylawala, Middle East Sales Director of Zebra Technologies
Published: 2 May 2019 - 5:22 a.m.

During the Holy Month of Ramadan, the pace and the pattern of life changes for around a quarter of the world's population, as families gather together to share Ramadan.

This includes shopping habits - whether buying in-store or online for groceries, clothes, gifts or travel. Ramadan is an important trading period in the year for most Middle East retailers but also challenging due to the high concentration of shopping activity.

According to research by Criteo, online retail sales surged early, reaching a 106% increase during the second week of Ramadan in 2018. Online traffic for travel sites in the Middle East increased continuously during Ramadan, increasing to 51% in the weeks approaching Eid al-Fitr with an increase of 63% in bookings following the Holy Month.

All this heightened retail activity presents an opportunity for retailers to extensively promote an omnichannel approach to optimise sales and use multiple options for ease of payment (cash on delivery dominates in the UAE) including the all-important option to buy and pay using the ubiquitous smartphone.

This retail surge increases pressure to meet shoppers' rising expectations for more of a personalised shopping experience in-store and online, while the supply chain and front-line store associates must also manage these increases in demand. The on-demand economy is creating higher shopper expectations, consequently adding more strain on retailers during this time of year. The ‘always-connected' consumer has higher expectations than ever before. These include wanting the latest buying and shipping options, faster delivery and a seamless online experience.

Technology Can Help

The Zebra's Global Shoppers study shows that two-thirds (66 percent) of surveyed store associates believe that if they are equipped with tablets, they could provide better customer service and improve the shopping experience. With understaffing being a common occurrence and many feeling over-worked, store associates are frustrated with their inability to assist customers.

Most surveyed retail decision makers (83 percent) and store associates (74 percent) agreed that shoppers could have a better experience with technology-equipped sales associates. Shoppers agree; more than half of shoppers (51 percent) believe they are better connected with their smartphones than store associates. Meanwhile, retailers are investing more in edge technologies to close this gap, increasing spend on handheld mobile computers and rugged tablets over the next three years. 

With significant shopping activity set to take place online, retailers and logistics providers have been rapidly improving on their delivery offerings. Consumers are taking no chances on missing home deliveries so "click and collect" deliveries are expected to grow. Many traditional retailers are encouraging store-based click and collect via free or cheaper in-store collection to drive add-on sales

Retailers also focus on the new ‘ship from store' strategy, using their store locations to double as online fulfillment centers for shipments and ecommerce returns. Zebra's Future of Fulfillment Vision Study found 76 percent of retailers currently use store inventory to fill online orders. Six out of 10 expect that number to continue to grow and it's anticipated that 96 percent of retailers will have dedicated fulfillment centers for online orders by 2028. With rising customer expectations for same-day and even two-hour delivery, fulfilling digital orders from brick-and-mortar store locations is one strategy that retailers are beginning to use, and it will soon become a critical success requirement.

Managing Returns

In the EMEA region, Zebra's Global Shoppers study shows more than three-quarters (76%) of retail decision makers agree that accepting and/or managing returns of online orders is a significant challenge.

The growth of e-commerce has also led to an increase in global returns volume totaling US$400 billion to US$1.8 trillion in U.S. driving higher retailer costs. To adjust, nearly half of retailers (48%) already offer free return shipping and an additional 27% plan to offer this in 2019. Returns are an opportunity for improvement for retailers: less than one-quarter of decision makers (22%) said their organisations are highly experienced in managing returns.

There is no doubt that the increased consumer demands and complexity of omnichannel retailing has made the supply chain more challenging than ever. Combined with huge demand peaks such as Ramadan, retailers and logistics firms have never had so much to plan for.

Ramadan Kareem

Hozefa Saylawala is the Middle East Sales Director of Zebra Technologies

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