Last month, as the early days of Ramadan were unfolding for Muslims worldwide, we published a two-part blog series on how companies can maximize e-commerce sales during the holy month.
Ramadan is the holiest month for the world's 1.7 billion Muslims. It's also when their online spending skyrockets. According to several reports, over half of all consumers in key predominantly-Muslim markets shop online during Ramadan, and make purchases during this month more than any other.
Predominantly-Muslim regions such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are rapidly embracing e-commerce. Indeed, reports suggest online shopping has increased in MENA by over 1,500% in the past ten years.
Brands can’t afford to ignore these emerging markets anymore, especially when holidays such as Ramadan provide such compelling evidence to engage their online consumers.
Ramadan—which is renowned for its celebrants’ fasting, prayer and charitable giving—concluded on July 5. Eager to recap several best practices and see how our MENA clients recently performed, we chatted with Omar El Ali, a Global Online Strategist for MotionPoint’s Global Growth team.
Pre-Ramadan Outreach is Important
As we mentioned during our June blog series, retailers that engage MENA consumers with Ramadan-themed marketing—particularly before the holiday—stand to generate far more lean-in and conversions than those that don’t.
This year, we observed a retail client engage Kuwaiti consumers about three weeks before Ramadan. The company used television commercials to remind celebrants they could prep for the upcoming holy month by shopping at its Kuwait brick-and-mortar store. The video was also promoted via regional social-media channels, too. The commercial, which was part of a multi-channel initiative to spark brand interest during Ramadan, received more than 1.1 million views. The company also published timely content on its Kuwait website (which we translate and operate in Arabic) to showcase its Ramadan-related cultural fluency.
The end result? The company’s Kuwait site generated 10% more traffic than average during Ramadan.
Indeed, as we projected in last month's series, we saw incredible lifts across multiple retail verticals during this year's Ramadan. As an example, one fashion retailer serving Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait with Arabic e-commerce sites saw these results:
- Revenue increased between 7% and 19%, compared to the previous month (depending on the market)
- Transactions increased between 17% and 23%
- Conversions increased between 14% and 18%
Interestingly, average order values dropped between 2% and 9% during the month.
“This might reflect the recent pinch consumers in some oil-dependent countries are currently experiencing, due to lower global fuel prices,” Omar explains.
Ramadan Is Social—Especially Online
In our recent two-part series, we illustrated how MENA consumers are embracing social networks more than ever. “Facebook and WhatsApp absolutely crush the competition in Arab countries,” we wrote, “with penetration rates of 87% and 84%, respectively.”
We also noted, however, that Instagram was gaining ground in the region.
This was especially apparent during Ramadan 2016, our research found. This year, the number of MotionPoint clients serving MENA consumers via Instagram hit an all-time high.
For instance, we examined social-network referral traffic for a furniture retail client's Arabic site serving the Saudi Arabian market. During Ramadan, Facebook referral traffic dropped by 64%. In contrast, referral traffic from Instagram surged by a jaw-dropping 59,000%.
Since this increase seemed unbelievable, we dug deeper. Indeed, the retailer savvily chose to use Ramadan as an opportunity to engage the region's Instagram users by inviting them to share photos (and hashtags) of their favorite Ramadan-related items and products. This themed content and calls-to-action made all the difference.
"Digital marketers know that Instagram's hashtags are especially effective in generating interest and referral traffic-and this appears even more so in MENA," Omar says. "Here, they're a particularly powerful tool. Companies looking to enter the market, or companies already in the market that haven't customized their social platform campaigns, should take note."
Mobile Sites are Critical
Mobile remains the preferred channel for accessing online content during the holy month, our data suggests. We examined the performance of retail clients who operate Arabic sites in some of MENA's leading e-commerce markets. More than 60% of Saudi Arabian users, for instance, preferred browsing the retailers' mobile sites. More than half of users in the United Arab Emirates preferred mobile sites, too.
We also reviewed traffic hailing to other clients' Arabic MENA sites, though these retailers had desktop sites exclusively. (They had not created mobile sites to serve these markets.) We noted that smartphone visits to these desktop sites increased between 4% and 13% during Ramadan.
“We believe this clearly indicates that providing a mobile experience is a must in general,” Omar says, “and especially so during the holy month, for optimum performance. “
Timing Is Important, Too
Fasting from sunrise to sunset is a key component of celebrating Ramadan. This means that meals shift to much earlier and later in the day, which alters the timing of when consumers go to bed and work, and more. It also changes the timing of when celebrants are online.
Marketers who neglect this meaningful shift won't engage these consumers at the right times. They must adjust the timing their email and social campaigns for maximum exposure.
This year, we examined the data for a few retail clients that operate Arabic desktop and mobile sites serving Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Our goal: to determine the preferred times users in these markets were consuming online content. We also wanted to see if the consumers' devices of choice (desktop vs. mobile) affected this timing.
In Saudi Arabia, Ramadan celebrants using smartphones and desktop PCs most frequently browsed the Internet at around 9 pm. This more or less corresponds with our findings from last year.
Consumption habits were a bit different in Egypt. Like Saudi Arabia, smartphone users traffic peaked at 9 pm. However, the peak for desktop browsing skewed much earlier: 7 am. Most marketers are accustomed to seeing much different peak online consumption times.
When should marketers not attempt to engage Ramadan celebrants? Our data reveals more conventional hours here. The lowest visit time for Saudi desktop users was 2 am; for mobile users, it was 3 am. In Egypt, 1 am was the lowest time for visits, for both mobile and desktop users.
Taking a week-based view, Saudi mobile users seemed to be online on Mondays more than any other weekday during Ramadan. Thursdays generated the most Saudi desktop traffic. (This makes sense, since weekends in Saudi Arabia are observed on Fridays and Saturdays.) Monday proved to be the most popular day for both mobile and desktop users in Egypt.
What does this tell us? "If a brand is doing paid search, for instance, it can use this data to capitalize on peak times and get a better ROI," Omar advises. "Depending on the business strategy, companies can either invest in low days, or opt to double-down on the high days. Either way, it'll increase visits and increase conversions."