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New PwC survey reveals that Middle East consumers are increasingly shopping online and staying connected during the COVID-19 pandemic

July 20, 2020

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  • Middle East consumers are cautiously optimistic, even though 62% have experienced a decrease in household income. 
  • Government response to the pandemic was strong – 81% said their city was managing the pandemic effectively.
  • Spending and purchasing habits have changed due to COVID-19: shopping using a smartphone increased (53%), half (51%) of consumers are purchasing groceries online and of those 92% are likely to continue to do so post-pandemic.
  • 71% of regional respondents increased their usage of messaging apps and 54% were using more video chat apps. 
  • Middle East consumers are now more focused on taking care of themselves, especially their mental health & wellbeing (83%) and physical health & fitness (85%).


Dubai – 20 July 2020 –  Today, PwC released the results of their GCIS COVID-19 Pulse – a snapshot survey that analyses how consumer behaviour and habits have changed due to the lockdown and social distancing measures. The survey takes an in-depth look at consumers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Riyadh, Jeddah and Cairo and highlights how the region is adapting to the new normal compared to other key countries across the world.

While 62% of the Middle East survey respondents said they had experienced a decrease in household income due to redundancy or reduction in hours – the highest proportion of any territory surveyed – almost half (49%) expect to spend more over the next few months. In comparison, just 33% of consumers in other territories surveyed are looking to spend more than before COVID-19 - other territories that took part in the survey are China, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. In the region, consumers in Cairo seem most optimistic with 64% planning to spend more in the next few months, compared to 39% of consumers in Dubai.

The region had a strong immediate response to COVID-19 - 76% of Middle East consumers agreed that their city had been well prepared to deal with the impact of COVID-19 – far more than the 46% for all territories. Furthermore, 81% of Middle Eastern respondents agreed that their city has been managing the pandemic effectively, compared with 56% across all territories.

Consumers embrace digital commerce amid the pandemic

53% of Middle East respondents said they are shopping more online using their smartphone (computer 39%, and tablet 31%) in response to the pandemic, compared with 34% for all territories in the survey. The results highlight that while mobile shopping continues to be a growing trend here in the region, the impact of COVID-19 has forced change. Consumers who were previously resistant to using mobile payment channels discovered that purchasing goods and services on their smartphone was not only easy but convenient too.

Consumers have adapted how they purchase and spend

The pandemic has predictably strengthened the online grocery shopping habits of consumers in the Middle East: around half (51%) of the respondents said they were shopping for groceries online or by phone, either to pick up in-store (18%) or, more commonly, to be delivered to their homes (33%). Of those, 92% said they are likely to continue purchasing online after the pandemic is over. In comparison, only 27% of Middle East consumers in the GCIS 2020 report published in February 2020 said they were shopping for groceries “exclusively” or “mainly” online.

The outbreak has also influenced what consumers spend on – 61% indicated that their spending on groceries has increased and 41% are spending more on entertainment and media. On the flip side, Middle East consumers have decreased their spending on clothing and footwear (50%) and on restaurant food delivery and pick up (42%).

The importance of staying connected is clear

Social media platforms and messaging apps served a vital role during the pandemic – they brought people together, connecting them to their family and friends. 71% of Middle East respondents reported that their usage of messaging apps had increased since the outbreak of the pandemic, while 54% said they were using video chat apps like FaceTime, Zoom and House Party more often. More importantly, 95% of Middle East consumers who said that their social media use has increased indicated they were likely to continue using social media to the same extent post COVID-19.

Norma Taki, Middle East Consumer Markets Leader at PwC comments: “It is too soon to tell whether the changes in consumer behaviour precipitated by COVID-19 will gain permanent momentum. However, our latest COVID-19 Pulse results suggest that consumer-facing businesses should keep a close watch on the trends that have accelerated since the pandemic reached the region.”

Norma added: “The lockdown has prompted more urban consumers who were previously resistant to change to try out online retail channels, with most willing to continue to use them once the pandemic is over. In this increasingly digital market landscape, retailers will need to leverage insights gained from data analytics to target consumers and meet their expectations as closely as possible.”

For a full copy of the report please visit: http://www.pwc.com/me/gcis-pulse

About PwC

At PwC, our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. We’re a network of firms in 157 countries with over 276,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, advisory and tax services. Find out more and tell us what matters to you by visiting us at www.pwc.com.

Established in the Middle East for 40 years, PwC has 22 offices across 12 countries in the region with around 5600 people. (www.pwc.com/me).

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