Coronavirus (COVID-19): how retailers in the Middle East are dealing with the pandemic

Jon Wright
Head of Insight - RA EMEA

Date : 28 April 2020

We look at how retailers across the Middle East are dealing with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, implementing social distancing measures, launching contactless payment and more.

United Arab Emirates: ensuring social distancing in-store

To manage COVID-19, the UAE has implemented the following measures:

  • Closed all commercial centres and shopping malls along with fish, meat and vegetable markets for two weeks
  • Pharmacies and food retail outlets can stay open, while restaurants are limited to home deliveries
  • Shoppers are advised to maintain a minimum distance of 1.5m while in stores, with social distancing stickers added to checkout queues to ensure the rule is followed

Several retailers have established extra measures for social distancing and safety such as:

  • Union Coop has provided shoppers with gloves and hand sanitiser
  • Carrefour has added glass screens at checkouts and placed instructional signage to guide shoppers on social distancing practices
  • Al Maya has offered home delivery in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Emaar Malls launches digital store

Emaar Malls has partnered with to open The Dubai Mall virtual store, providing support to retailers and the community during the pandemic. Orders will be delivered by using its strong distribution and delivery network, and its fulfilment centres. The delivery service is free, safe, cashless and convenient, supporting social distancing initiatives.

Carrefour transforms into mini fulfilment centre

Meanwhile, Carrefour’s online orders have surged 300% during the virus. The increase in demand has caused the retailer to transform several outlets into mini fulfilment centres. This has enabled the retailer to cater to 2,000 additional orders.

According to the retailer, items that have shown increasing popularity include food, sanitary products, freezers, printers and routers, as shoppers prepare for working from home. There have been less shoppers in store, however a higher number of products in baskets and high online sales too.

Majid Al Futtaim initiatives

UAE-based retailer Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) has launched an online shopping service through Carrefour’s website:

  • The service, piloted for six months with third-party sellers, is available on the Carrefour mobile app and website
  • Various MAF tenants such as Borders, LUSH and Tavola have joined the platform
  • The marketplace lists more than 250,000 products, with sales reaching up to 1,300 orders daily
  • There will be commission-free transactions lasting from April until May, with 30-day free last-mile delivery

Furthermore, MAF has partnered with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MoCCAE) to increase the availability of local produce at Carrefour stores:

  • There will be new distribution channels for more than 6,000 small- and medium-sized local farmers for the supply of fresh produce
  • The initiative enables local farmers to sell produce at competitive prices through distribution and collection centres, while using Carrefour’s services

Mobile payment services

Separately, FinTech company, PayBy, has launched a mobile payment service, in partnership with financial institution FAV. PayBy has been a secure payment solution, preferable to cash and payment cards. Shoppers can use their phones to make payments in store and can pay for deliveries on arrival, order goods and service, transfer and receive instant money and share cash gifts.

The platform offers businesses point of sale (POS) solutions, helping businesses reach a wider consumer base. This is currently available in Lulu and baqala. Furthermore, ENOC has urged shoppers to use ENOCPay, a cashless and card-less payment method which is accepted in all its stores. Shoppers can follow social distancing guidelines by using the mobile app to pay for services, such as refuelling cars without leaving the vehicle.

Abu Dhabi adds free taxi delivery

The transport authority in Abu Dhabi is offering free taxi services to retailers and shoppers. Retailers have had an increased demand for goods during the pandemic, causing delays in their delivery services. The transport authority hopes the free service will reduce the added pressure on retailers for home deliveries.

Adding outlets for local produce

The Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ASAFSA) has opened three locations to promote the sale of fresh, local products such as produce, poultry and eggs:

  • The outlets are located in Al Shahama, Al Amra (Al Ain) and Zayed City (Al Dhafra)
  • The initiative is to promote the sale of local produce and to meet food supply needs during the pandemic
  • Farmers are also urged to join the ‘local products supply contract programme’, aimed at enabling Abu Dhabi farmers to easily supply produce at competitive prices

Spinneys Liquor launches home delivery

Spinneys Liquor, part of the MMI Group, will launch a home delivery service for wine, beer and spirits in Abu Dhabi:

  • The delivery caters to anyone over the age of 21 with a valid Emirates ID, UAE driver’s license or passport
  • Spinneys guarantees the authenticity and quality of the liquor. Strict safety measures will be followed such as sanitising, wearing masks and social distancing
  • The service will accommodate all areas of Abu Dhabi, except for Al Ain and Ruwais
  • It will operate from 10:00 to 19:00, seven days a week. Delivery is guaranteed in two days, with a minimum order of AED200 (US$54), with comes with a AED50 (US$13.60) delivery fee

Dubai: major retailers offer suppliers free promotional space

Retailers such as Union Coop, Emirates Coop, Carrefour and Lulu will provide suppliers with free space to promote basic necessities:

  • The scheme will last for a two-month period, beginning April 9
  • It will save suppliers AED47m (US$12.8m) and help to maintain price stability, which will benefit consumers
  • The initiative aids the Dubai Government’s efforts to support economic sectors and reduce the impact of the economic situation, also ensuring food supplies remain stable

Partnering for the delivery of essentials

Dubai’s Department of Economic Development has helped establish a partnership between the Dubai Taxi Corporation (DTC), Aramex and Carrefour, to provide delivery of essential items:

  • The service works with shoppers placing orders via Carrefour’s online grocery service, then DTC or Aramex will collect the orders for delivery
  • Aramex has provided a fleet of courier vehicles, while DTC has offered a number of taxis to ensure timely and efficient delivery

Bin Dawood highlights growth of online

Ahmad Bin Dawood, CEO of Danube and Bin Dawood, has said the retailer is in good shape for the growth of online as a result of the pandemic. Bin Dawood launched a separate online platform three years ago. Due to the virus, online sales for March have increased 200%, while the average order size is over 50% greater.

Careem launches grocery service

  • Ride-sharing company, Careem, has included a new feature, ‘Careem Now’, offering an on-demand grocery delivery service to Dubai residents
  • Shoppers can order essential items from stores including, but not limited to, groceries, pharmacies and pet stores from Lulu, 800-Pharmacy and The Pet Corner
  • Consumers can expect their deliveries in an hour

Daily by Talabat offers fast delivery

  • The concept, ‘Daily by Talabat, is a free 24-hour delivery service available in less than an hour
  • It covers more than half of Dubai, but is rapidly expanding to serve more people during the pandemic
  • The service is using a dark store to fulfil its orders

Saudi Arabian central bank helps the economy

The Saudi central bank will assist the economy with:

  • A SAR50 bn (US$13.33 bn) package to help banks and small and medium enterprises cope with the economic impact
  • SAR70 bn (US$18.67 bn) has been set aside to help businesses with measures such as exemptions and postponements of government fees and taxes
  • Business owners will be allowed to postpone value-added tax (VAT), excise tax and income tax payments for three months
  • Expat fees will be cancelled for three months

Qatar: online delivery struggles

Due to the increase in demand for online shopping and delivery, retailers in Qatar are increasing their efforts to meet demand. Lulu has prioritised expanding its staff and facility capacity by 25%, declining to use third-party delivery services.

In addition to Lulu, retailers such as Carrefour, New Indian Supermarket and Retail Mart are offering online services. Qatar has previously launched the mobile app, Fingertips, which connects consumers to grocery stores offering online delivery. This service is available for home delivery of food and grocery in 75 minutes, with a minimum order of QAR35 (US$9.50).

Lulu hygiene incentives

Lulu has increased its hygienic measures in-stores by:

  • Installing glass shields to protect shoppers and employees
  • Adding social distancing tape on the floor and hand sanitiser stations
  • Creating exclusive checkouts for health workers, vulnerable people and the elderly
  • Suspending the use of reusable bags to maintain hygiene
  • Advising shoppers to limit one person per household to do shopping
  • Implementing the initiative "your health is in your hands"

Furthermore, Lulu has opened temporary supermarkets in the industrial area:

  • It is in cooperation with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs
  • The supermarkets will provide essential and affordable groceries, fresh and instant food, baked food and other daily necessities

Pakistan: increase in online orders

The amount of online orders for Carrefour, operated in Pakistan by Majid Al Futtaim, have increased by 70% through its mobile app in Lahore and Karachi. The retailer had recently introduced the mobile app to serve its shoppers in the two cities. The delivery team follows multiple safety precautions including wearing face masks, gloves and disinfecting their clothes and vehicles after every order. However, the service had to be suspended in Karachi due to the implementation of the curfew, as a result of the virus.

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