This is Part 2 in a 2-part series. Read Part 1 here.
As we mentioned on Thursday, e-retailers and other globally-expanding businesses can’t afford to ignore the thriving online markets found in predominantly-Muslim regions such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Asia.
Internet and smartphone penetration is thriving in these markets, as is online shopping. Reports suggest that e-commerce has increased by more than 1,500% in MENA alone during the past decade. The e-commerce market here is now worth over $7 billion.
Interestingly, online shopping hits some of its highest levels in these regions during Ramadan, a sacred month-long Muslim celebration in which the faithful fast, pray and give to charity. (Ramadan began on the evening of Sunday, June 5.)
In recent years, clever retailers have crafted resonant Ramadan-centric promotions to engage these consumers. The strategy works: in some product categories, retailers have seen average order sizes increase by 70%.
How can your company woo these online-savvy consumers? To learn more, we continue our conversation with Omar El Ali, a Global Online Strategist for MotionPoint’s Global Growth team.
Social media is thriving in MENA (and other predominantly-Muslim global markets), with most countries currently seeing adoption rates far higher than the global average.
Facebook and WhatsApp absolutely crush the competition in Arab countries, with penetration rates of 87% and 84%, respectively. (Instagram is reportedly gaining ground.) These consumers frequently engage with friends throughout the day on social networks, more so than other channels such as mobile messaging apps, VoIP and text messages.
“If you want to reach most Ramadan-celebrating consumers and you’re not leveraging social media, you’re missing a big opportunity,” Omar warns.
Indeed, Facebook interactions can increase by 30% during Ramadan; Twitter interactions can grow by a third. Posts on these networks were overwhelmingly positive in tone, particularly after Ramadan concluded.
Omar is keen to point out that social media marketing does more than drive traffic to a brand’s social accounts. It also directs global consumers to the brand’s localized websites—which directly leads to more engagement and sales. We recently witnessed this first-hand when we helped a major Western retailer engage its MENA audience more effectively.
As we recently reported, this MotionPoint client savvily incorporated “share to Facebook” functionality into its Arabic site’s product pages. Unfortunately, when local customers tried to evangelize these products with Facebook friends, the content was shared in English.
This created a serious linguistic disconnect between the brand, its customers, and their friends. MotionPoint replaced this English-language Open Graph metadata with Arabic content. Afterward, Facebook referral traffic to the client’s MENA sites skyrocketed.
This was best illustrated during Ramadan. During the month, referral traffic grew by more than 1,410%!
Here’s another compelling reason to embrace social media channels in MENA: your competition is probably already there. Over 40% of Arab online retail brands currently use Facebook to promote their wares; nearly one-fourth of brands use Instagram.
MENA is more than a hotbed for social media adoption—it’s the second-largest region in the world for smartphone adoption, too. Smartphone usage in the Middle East and Africa is climbing so rapidly, analysts have had to adjust their projections to keep up. In three years, smartphone share here will reach nearly 25%, or 174 million residents.
The value of reaching these mobile consumers is clear. “As mobile usage increases globally, so does the need … to get closer to the point of purchase through e- and m-commerce,” an analyst said last year.
Creating localized mobile online experiences is particularly ideal when serving Ramadan celebrants, Omar notes.
“After breaking their fast at sundown, some practitioners spend their time praying. Others tend to go out and spend time in cafes, or at the homes of loved ones,” he explains. “Naturally, people want to remain connected to the Internet and search for what’s being discussed during these late night sessions. They’re doing that on their smartphones.”
Data from Google, and our own exclusive analytics, backs this up. According to the search giant, “during Ramadan, people watch more YouTube, perform more searches and access the Internet on their mobile devices more frequently.” Searches on mobile devices during Ramadan go stratospheric in MENA, accounting for more than 60% of total queries.
This is about 5% higher than the average mobile share in other months, Google says, representing millions of additional searches during the month.
We recently examined the 2015 device traffic for one of our fashion e-retail clients serving the Qatar, Kuwait and U.A.E. markets. Even though this company did not offer a mobile website to consumers, traffic from mobile devices still spiked during Ramadan. Mobile traffic grew about 10% (compared to the month prior), while desktop traffic plummeted about 15%.
We also examined analytics from another MotionPoint client serving MENA markets with Arabic sites—this one had a localized mobile experience. Total visits grew by nearly 10% during Ramadan. Thirty days after the month, mobile share dropped by 5%.
The lesson? “Be where your customers are,” Omar says, “and be a finger-tap away—especially during Ramadan. That’s when they’re using their smartphones more than ever.”
Timing is always important with online marketing, but it’s downright critical during Ramadan, Omar says.
“If your web and marketing teams use online visual merchandising software, inbound marketing software, or a social media management system, be mindful of when to activate your outreach for maximum engagement,” he says. “People celebrating Ramadan are generally going online at atypical times.”
This is mostly due to mealtimes shifting to pre-sunrise and post-sunset during the holy month. These shifts create month-long changes in bedtimes, work times, and more. In the Muslim-dominant market of Indonesia, for instance, business days tend to start at least an hour earlier than in other months. “Prime time has shifted to mornings as families are eating together and going out in the evening,” one report said.
“It’s tricky for some companies, because what you’d commonly assume are ‘peak times’ to promote your products and services suddenly aren’t,” Omar says. “Let’s take inbound marketing. If you schedule an e-mail blast targeting MENA-based professionals to send at 3 p.m., your intended audience may not see it until the next day—and by then, it might be pushed deeper into their inboxes, behind newer e-mails.”
The mileage is similar for social media, Omar says.
We examined Ramadan 2015 data from a few MotionPoint clients serving several Middle Eastern markets with Arabic sites. We recorded the highest numbers of sessions at midnight, when many Ramadan celebrants were having sohor (late dinner).
Other peak times included the end of the working day (around 2 p.m. in this region), and at 8 and 9 p.m., about an hour after the faithful break their daily fast. This high activity continues until around midnight.
The lowest number of sessions occurred around 6 to 8 a.m. (as consumers prepared for the work day), and at around 6 and 7 p.m., when users were breaking their fast.
“Simply put, users interact quite differently with websites during this month,” Omar says, “and companies must smartly prepare for that. Make sure to adjust your initiatives’ timing for maximum exposure.”
As Ramadan ends, so begins the momentous multi-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr—translated literally as “the festival of fast-breaking.” Here, friends and loved ones visit each other, socialize and swap gifts.
MotionPoint’s data reveals that traffic to e-commerce sites serving MENA markets begins to drop during the last four days of Ramadan—a time during which most practitioners begin preparations for Eid al-Fitr. In fact, the final four days of Ramadan often reflect a drop of 5% to 21%, depending on the country (compared to four days before the holy month).
“We recommend to conclude any month-long campaigns you’re running during the last five days of Ramadan, and replace it with a campaign that wishes users a happy Eid,” Omar says. “We’ve seen best results when this campaign is timed to complete on the third day of Eid.”
These warm wishes provide a resonant endcap to the month, and to the outreach your company began in the days leading up to Ramadan, Omar says.
In the weeks afterward, your company then can conduct some contemplative reflection of its own—on the sales, engagement and other data it accumulated during the month—and uncover ways to craft additional Ramadan-related best practices for use in the years ahead.
Chris Hutchins helps produce MotionPoint's marketing and sales materials.
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