As Middle Eastern tourists hit the high street, which retailers are they buying from and how can businesses ensure their offer is relevant?

The advent of Ramadan this month has UK retailers anticipating a boost to May sales figures. Our historic data shows tax-free spend figures for June in both 2014 and 2015 – the month prior to Ramadan – experienced double-digit growth of up to 66% (Kuwait, June 2014, year-on-year growth) for Middle Eastern nations.

Middle Eastern nations also remain top of the list for average spend in the UK: Qatar (£1,538); the United Arab Emirates (£1,330); and Saudi Arabia (£1,256) are the top three spending nationalities, the latter enjoying growth of 11% year on year for January to April.

“The Middle East’s many customs and traditions can be challenging to interpret by western retailers, which can impact personal interaction”

Gordon Clark, Global Blue

In April alone, Arabic shoppers accounted for 42% of total UK sales, boasting 7% year-on-year growth demonstrating that the Middle Eastern shopper is a critical group for UK retailers not only during Ramadan, but outside the religious observation too.

The question for brands is: who is this shopper and how do you plan for and capture this market in what is dubbed, the ‘pre-Ramadan shopping rush’?

We understand 82% of Middle Eastern travellers are 25-to-54 years old; 66% are male and 34% are female. Of this group, 59% of visitors are visiting friends or relatives, 27% are on holiday and 20% are on business.

In all, 53% of all those travelling to the UK from the Middle East are of British nationality and only 14% are Emirati – the majority of these travellers speak English.

Time to shop

Shopping is the number one activity for Middle Eastern visitors to the UK. Our behavioural insight and year-to-date (YTD) data for Middle Eastern shoppers shows they favour British and European luxury brands.

Iconic British luxury brand Asprey celebrated sales growth of 517.21% from Middle Eastern shoppers for the year January to May 2016 and an average sales amount of £21,585 – up on last year’s average sales amount of £8,241 for the same period.

Swedish luxury fashion house Acne Studios had YTD growth of 446.53%, while high-end UK department store Williams & Griffin also increased YTD sales by 325.34%.

Customs and traditions

The Middle East’s many customs and traditions can be challenging to interpret by western retailers, which can impact personal interaction.

For example, we know Middle Eastern shoppers expect service from luxury goods stores and value personal follow ups, such as a phone call, small gifts or Ramadan cards.

“These insights can be applied to future, tailored marketing campaigns to ensure brands’ offering to Middle Eastern shoppers is appropriate and well-received”

Gordon Clark, Global Blue

Understanding the appropriate etiquette towards Middle Eastern shoppers during Ramadan can be critical to brands’ performance. Our in-depth territory knowledge reveals people tend to pray more frequently throughout the day given the sanctity and holiness of the month.

Retailers can cater to these practices by providing a space, or privacy as required making the shopping experience more accommodating.

Though these are just the basics, these insights can be applied to future, tailored marketing campaigns to ensure brands’ offering to Middle Eastern shoppers is appropriate and well-received – ultimately converting footfall into sales.

The willingness to broaden one’s understanding of the Middle Eastern culture, and tailor their offering to suit, will pay off in the long run.

In the current, turbulent retail market, investment in your customers – especially the most significant – is critical to brand popularity and profitability.

  • Gordon Clark is Global Blue’s UK and Ireland managing director