The Holy Month of Ramadan is likely to begin on May 17th this year in most countries, meaning that Eid al-Fitr is expected to fall on Friday June 15th. Preparations are being made across the world for this special month, and retailers, particularly in the Middle East region, are adapting their operations, in readiness for major changes to shopper flow during the important religious observance.
What should Middle Eastern stores and malls expect of shopper behaviour during the month of Ramadan?
During the holy month, fasting from sunrise to sunset means that people typically stay up late to break their fast, and get up in the early morning hours so they can eat before daybreak.
This means that Ramadan has a definite impact on shopping trends in the Middle East region, with site visitor numbers dropping immediately during the first week, our analysis based on a sample of ME sites, reveals. (Sites are located in UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.)
Traffic peaks early in the run-up to Ramadan
Across these shopping sites, there is a clear uplift in traffic in the run-up to Ramadan. During the week before, Fridays and Saturdays experience large increases against the average for the year. Over the past four years, Fridays have seen an average +15.8% increase in traffic, Thursdays at +13% and Saturdays at +15.6% during that week prior to the start of Ramadan.
“The positive side of Ramadan for business people, is a higher demand for goods and services and higher consumption,” according to Samer Sunnuqrot, Economist, Amman, Jordan, speaking to the BBC. He says people tend to consume more, and purchase more in preparation, than they actually need, so fasting during the day does not lead to a fall in demand for food.
“That often means higher prices, which translates into higher profit margins for merchants, retail stores, restaurants and cafes – especially those which arrange amusement programmes for after iftar [the breaking of the fast at the end of the day],” he says.
Busiest days of the week during Ramadan
Looking at the first week of Ramadan, where site visitor numbers tend to be at their lowest, there is an average 25% drop in traffic when compared to the preceding week.
For Ramadan as a whole however, while the prime shopping days of Friday and Saturday, as well as Thursday always tend to be down on average, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Sundays have all been up for the past three years, according to ShopperTrak data.
This means retailers can focus on serving customers well, and meeting their very specific needs, on these key days.
When is the busiest time of day for shopping during Ramadan?
Ramadan also has a clear impact on the time of day people go shopping. Throughout the year on average, traffic starts to pick up at 7am, steadily increasing, peaking at 8pm and then steadily dropping off. During Ramadan however, a different pattern is observed.
There is a significant increase in site visitors at midnight, with traffic then dropping off again until 5am to 6am, when there is a small uplift in site visitor numbers. Traffic then follows normal patterns until 5pm to 7pm, at which point it drops off again so that Iftar can be observed.
Following the end of Ramadan and the start of Eid al-Fitr, traffic sees an immediate uplift, and here again is a great opportunity for retailers to be ready to serve and delight their customers.
What should retailers do to prepare for (and during) the Holy Month?
With traffic and retail sales picking up as early as two weeks before Ramadan, if you’re a retailer in the regions, you’ll want to ramp up your shopping campaigns several weeks beforehand. Use shopper traffic counting and analytics to gauge the success of product promotions, and any instore marketing or seasonal events being hosted. And by tracking exactly when the peaks and slowdowns come, it’s possible to improve future planning and execution of operations, particularly if you run stores across different Gulf and Southeast Asian countries.
What shopper behaviour trends have emerged in recent years?
Throughout the 30-day period, a lull during the day gives way to a distinct night-time buzz when people are able to eat and drink, giving retailers more opportunities for incremental sales increases at night. It’s imperative that store staff are on hand at these times to ensure customer service levels meet expectations, and sales opportunities are maximised.
In the Middle East, over a third (36%) of retail sales happened at night over the course of the season in 2016, a 33% increase compared to non-Ramadan times of year, reports Criterio.
Understanding the needs and behaviours of your customers is paramount to trading success during key seasonal events like Ramadan. Knowledge and preparation are everything, and sensitivity to religious fasts and celebrations will ensure retailers engage in the correct manner with their customers, building life-long loyalty.
If you want to be more insightful in the way you run your retail business, contact ShopperTrak.
When is Ramadan?
Ramadan lasts for one complete moon cycle, which is usually 29 or 30 days.
The moon sighting determines the duration. Today astronomical calculations have started taking precedence over the age-old tradition of moon sighting by the naked eye to determine the dates.
A moon-sighting committee in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, will make an official announcement.
A Saudi astronomer has predicted that in most countries Ramadan will begin on May 17.