Consumer brands are hitting on the perfect idea to get themselves high visibility in the UAE retail space — launch exclusively on local eCommerce portals. The trend started with second-string smartphone brands trying to get a feel of consumer sentiments here and simultaneously build up some sort of brand awareness for themselves in an intensely competitive category.

This way, they didn’t have to burn through their marketing dollars on a high-profile launch cutting across multiple channels. By keeping it online and on a single eCommerce portal, they were keeping it simple.

But now, the marketing strategy has taken wings and not just confined to gadget-makers. Established skincare brands (such as Himalaya Herbals) are getting a feel of what online portals can offer them and even some of the biggest names in consumer durables (such as Gillette) have done so for specific products. Clearly, something is trending in the UAE’s e-tailing landscape.

“Moving from big-ticket purchases to daily variety orders is part of the process in the development of online shopping in all countries,” said Ulugbek Yuldashev of Awok.com. “The UAE has already reached the point of ordering food online and even groceries ... and the rest of the Middle East is expected to offer the same within a period of two to three years. 

“Skincare as a category might not be as static as the electronics field, where only two brands are dominating the mobile market, for example. Regularly, we see skincare brands appearing on the market and they find it easier — and less costly — to sell.”

On the cost side of things, eCommerce portals come with built-in advantages for product launches. In one stroke, they remove any need to spend on physical real estate by way of kiosks at high-traffic malls or such locations elsewhere. They do not have to absorb the cost of getting their product placed distinctively at a retailer’s shelf or window display. For a new or untested product to make it onto a high visibility supermarket shelf can be quite an expense for the brand owner.

“E-commerce has the ability to move the entire department and shelves each time a visitor clicks on a product,” said Yuldashev. “The platforms allows all brands to be equal and will merchandise the products in a distinctive way regarding the needs of the customer. This could be through display categories such as recently viewed products or recommended products automatically selected in accordance with a customer’s browsing history.”

For brands that have already built up a fair degree of exposure in the physical retail space, going online with specific launches allows them to spread their bets.

This is precisely what Himalaya Herbals tried to attain through its tie-up with Souq.com for its men’s facewash. “Consumers [are already] buying fashion and electronics categories, and it’s a matter of time for the trend to start off in classical FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods] categories,” said Abhish Chandhok, General Manager for Marketing of Himalaya Herbals — Russia, Middle East and Africa. “We are experimenting with newer avenues to connect with our target consumers.

“We need to go where our consumers are and engage with them. Considering the online habits of our core consumer for men’s facewash, it was a perfect fit to partner with e-commerce players.

“We launched the product exclusively online for two weeks before bringing it to our offline partners. The overall launch had a mix of online/traditional media touchpoints like radio and in-store activities.

“While this was our first attempt, we would say this has been a good start. The overall response has been quite satisfactory. We would consider Souq.com as a priority partner for the online launch of our upcoming new products as well.” (At some point, Himalaya Herbals would consider getting its products onto multiple online platforms, the official added.)

For brands, the online option is one that will play well at a time when marketing budgets are getting slashed across the board. Rather than risk everything on a brick-and-mortar launch that might not go anywhere, going virtual allows them to make tweaks to strategy in real-time. And even if a particular game plan does not work out, it will not prove such a burden on the cost front.

In the new normal engulfing the local retail space, those little details count.