How to shop in Dubai?

The Business Factory digital agency has five branches around the world, and most of its employees have come from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. How do online users behave differently than the general population of their home country? Lukáš Krejča, Head of MENA operations at Business Factory, has decided to bring you closer to the differences in online shopping behavior in Dubai and in the developed Arab countries in general.

Before we go into the actual comparison, it is good to realize the fundamental difference between the two audiences: roughly 85 % of Dubai’s population are expats (source: originating in a country other than the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Marketers need to be able to communicate properly with people from all over the world and cultures, whether it is British, Indian, Filipino or Syrian. Each of them might be used to slightly different levels of service, merchant behavior, accessibility, or communication. That’s a marketing challenge! However open Dubai is to other cultures, it retains its traditional Arabic roots.

And so it may well be that you are surprised on the weekend by the news that the CEO of one of the biggest e-shops in fashion in the region is shocked that his FB advertisements shows models dressed in underwear only. It is not easy to explain that this is a dynamic remarketing format that shows users only the products they visit on the web or in a merchant’s app. And speaking of the weekend, the one in the Arab countries means Friday and Saturday; Sunday is a normal working day.

Marketers in the Czech Republic have one big advantage: their customers usually understand Czech and the main communication is in Czech. In the UAE, both English and Arabic are used at all levels. While at least half of Dubai’s population does not speak Arabic at all, the spoken Arabic message often makes it much better for native speakers. Therefore, most projects communicate in two languages. This implies not only the need for translation of all materials, but also, for example, a larger planning of campaign structures.

Mobile application

The main trend in the MENA (Middle East and North-Africa) region is clearly mobile applications. For the fifth year in the Czech Republic, we are talking about how this year, mobiles will be trending. For our e-shop clients in Dubai, 50% of their sales are now mobile sales.

According to research Digital, in 2018, around 36% of the US population buys through cell phones, and 23% in Germany. The UAE has ranked third place in the statistics (45%) and ranks behind South Korea and Thailand.
(source:, slide 127) 
It is not surprising that with regard to the time spent using mobile Internet, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are among the top 5 countries around the world.

The key to the success of e-shops is mobile applications, as mobile sites do not usually provide the best user experience. The e-shop has full control over applications and, in addition, it can collect a huge amount of data about its users. One of our clients,, has recently gone through a major transformation from desktop to mobile. After their FB advertising budget moved completely to promoting mobile apps, their ROI increased more than threefold. This trend has been repeated in other clients, and they now have a primary focus on mobile apps, where they first introduce new features, changes in appearance or deployment. Then they come up with a number of mobile site and desktop variations.

Selling cheap goods via FB / WhatsApp

In the UAE, nearly 99% of the population is connected to the Internet (source:, making the Emirates one of the most online countries in the world. And what is even more important for marketers is that almost all of these Internet users are active on social networks (e.g. 99% of them, as in Qatar). While in the Czech Republic Facebook is used more, with the Arab people in the UAE especially, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter are more popular. For e-shops, social networks are a key channel, but it’s a little different for everyone.

Compared to the Czech Republic, we can see a lot of different kinds of communication towards individual income groups. The gap between the poorest and the very poor (I’m counting those who have up to one Lamborghini – probably don’t need to talk about the richer ones) is very wide in Dubai. In the UAE, for example, we can find e-shops targeting purely low-income groups that sell their goods (mostly cheap products from Asia or imitation of Western brands) directly on social networks. Sellers simply put a picture of the product at a convenient price on Facebook, and users will automatically order via comments. They will give their phone number and the e-shop will contact them (usually with WhatsApp) to confirm the order and delivery address. WhatsApp is an integral part of customer support and online business in the MENA region. Apart from the fact that it is possible to order anything, it is a frequent communication channel for a large number of companies. Through WhatsApp you can buy a car, rent an apartment, set up a bank account, or send information to an accounting firm. After all, the CEO mentioned above sent screenshots of our ads back on WhatsApp.

Service level

There is one big difference between the two markets, namely the level of delivery services. For example, in Prague, it is usually necessary to order a purchase at least a day in advance. On the day of delivery, an SMS message about its delay is often received.  In Dubai, products can be ordered through the application and from a local supermarket, and the purchase will take me within 15-30 minutes. If the store does not use one of the expanded Instashop or Elgrocer applications, in 99% of cases, they can be contacted by phone or via WhatsApp. Similarly, there is also a restaurant where everybody is able to deliver meals. They use either their own motorcycle couriers, Uber Eats or Deliveroo services, which provide these restaurants with both ordering and logistics platforms.

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