Middle East shoppers value interaction – so give them the human touch

There’s no doubting the enduring appeal of the Middle East in terms of its retail potential. You only have to look at The Dubai Mall – 5.9 million square feet of shopping paradise, home to more than 1,200 shops – to understand why millions of shoppers flock to it each year!

And with the significant growth in air passenger traffic currently taking place across the Middle East predicted to continue, travel retail in the region is becoming increasingly important to brands. Passenger numbers are predicted to almost double to 520 million by 2036, according to research from M1nd-set.

Dubai is an increasingly significant location for aviation not only as a hub for the Middle East, but as a destination of choice in its own right. Airports in the region have made no secret about the incredible growth in traveller numbers and the amount of investment in new terminals, retail areas and other facilities to enhance the passenger experience.

While most major brands have a travel retail strategy, it’s vital that it be tailored to the specific demands of the Middle Eastern shopper to maximise sales and create a personal shopper experience. M1nd-set research shows that word of mouth is much more significant in influencing buying decisions in the Middle East compared to other regions, with the shopping experience shown to be a major factor in driving positive sentiment. It is, therefore, no surprise that a key influencer in the region is sales staff, with 64% of shoppers saying they made a purchase as a result of this kind of interaction.

Middle East airport retailers are already very sophisticated in how they reach the diverse audiences that travel through (after all, the region is a strategically important location as a stop-off for travellers to and from China, Russia, India and Sub-Saharan Africa). But it’s still worth looking at some of the latest developments from elsewhere around the world for new ideas as to how to promote both the retail experience and the brands themselves.

Although brands are continuing to grow their online and digital marketing spend, they also recognise the importance of face to face interaction with customers. This was revealed in the latest Bellwether statistics that show digital and experiential disciplines attract the biggest growth in terms of advertising investment. So despite – or because of – the increasingly virtual world in which we live, the human touch has arguably never been more important, particularly in the Middle East. And those brands that deliver the best personal shopper experience will prosper.

This means it’s time to up the ante in terms of sales and promotional travel retail staff; whether manning the till or presenting a pop-up brand experience, each person should behave like a true brand ambassador. It’s vital they are not only well trained in terms of brand and product knowledge, but also reflect the brand in terms of having an affinity with its core target audience and their personal profiles.    

Face-to-face interactions by properly trained brand ambassadors grab shoppers’ attention, start conversations and drive sales. In store, no matter how amazing an activation may look, it is the brand ambassadors who will lead the activity, engaging with customers from the start and ultimately sealing the deal.

Once passengers walk into the airport retail environment, well-trained, multi-lingual brand ambassadors can be a game-changer; by recognising and even celebrating the cultural backgrounds, unique qualities and interests of passengers, in ways that digital technology can’t. And if technology is being used to enhance the experience or collect key customer data, brand ambassadors provide the human link to introduce and guide shoppers to getting the most from it.

When customers do venture in-store, they will be looking to enhance their experience in a way that simply can’t be delivered online. Creating a personal shopping experience that sparks emotion will, in turn, have a positive viral effect. Media can attract people and begin conversations, but it’s person-to-person contact that turns a conversation in to a relationship.

By Meggan Reid, Head of Blackjack MENA powered by Dulsco

A shorter version of this article recently appeared in Retail People Magazine | May – July 2019 issue