In March and April, the novel coronavirus has spread in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), causing sudden disruption to daily life. To get a sense of how it is impacting people in both countries, InMobi ran a mobile survey using InMobi Pulse, InMobi’s mobile market research solution.
The surveys ran from April 13-24 and reached close to 1,000 adults through their mobile devices across the two countries. Respondents were split across gender and age ranges.
Here’s what the data revealed.
COVID-19's Impact on Media and Digital Behavior
Among survey respondents in Saudi Arabia, 24% of them (and 30% of men polled) said they have been watching more news. In UAE, 41% of consumers polled (and 46% of survey respondents over the age of 34) said they have been watching more news.
Beyond staying on top of the latest happenings, people in the region have been turning to apps to stay in touch with others and for entertainment. In Saudi Arabia, 50% of users polled said they have spent more time on social media apps since the outbreak began, while 34% said they are using entertainment apps like Netflix more and 21% said they are spending more time playing mobile games.
People in the UAE are using apps similarly as well. Among people polled in that country, 51% said they are using social media apps more frequently and 40% are using communication apps like WhatsApp more often.
COVID-19's Impact on Work
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the global economy, and its economic impact has been felt in the Middle East as well. Among all survey respondents, one in four said they have already dealt with salary cuts and/or a loss in business. In Saudi Arabia, 19% of users said they had seen salary cuts or a loss in business, while 15% said they were laid off or had to shut down their business.
The impact has been even more severe in the UAE. While 13% there said they had been laid off or had to shut down their business, 28% of people polled in the country have already dealt with salary cuts or a loss in business.
COVID-19's Impact on Consumer Behavior
With stores and shops largely shut down, consumer behavior in both nations has shifted. Overall, one in five said they have started buying more online, while 35% said they have been buying less in stores since the outbreak took hold.
Among consumers in Saudi Arabia, 35% said they were buying less in store and 18% said they were buying more online. Similarly, among UAE survey respondents, 36% said they were buying less in store and 23% said they have been buying more online.
Among those that are still buying, mobile plays a critical role in helping them purchase products. In fact, 85% of those in the UAE and 80% of those in Saudi Arabia said they get the most information about the products they purchase from mobile devices.
What are people buying now? In terms of personal care items, in Saudi Arabia, 58% of respondents said they are prioritizing the purchase of hand wash and soaps, while 61% of respondents in the UAE said the same thing. But, among people in the UAE specifically, 15% said they have spent more money on household care items, while 9% said they have spent more on beauty and personal care items.
COVID-19's Impact on Food Buying Behavior
Both Saudi Arabia and UAE are currently under lockdown, and that has impacted grocery and food buying behavior in both countries. In Saudi Arabia, 45% of consumers said they have bought enough groceries for a few days, while 11% said they started ordering groceries online for pickup or delivery.
Similarly, among UAE survey respondents, 53% said they have bought enough groceries for a few days, while 11% said they had bought enough groceries for a month. Further, 10% said they started ordering groceries online for pickup or delivery.
When people are going to the grocery store, they are spending more money than before. Close to half (45%) said they are spending more on groceries. In comparison, just 9% of all people surveyed said they were spending more on entertainment.
Among survey respondents in Saudi Arabia, 38% said they are spending more on groceries now, and 19% said they are spending more on groceries online. And, in the UAE, 51% said they are spending more on groceries and 31% said they are spending more on online grocery.
Groceries and pantry staples are key now, as people begin cooking from home more frequently. Among people in Saudi Arabia, 39% said they have started cooking from home since the lockdown began, while only 5% said they have increased food delivery.
Similar behavior was observed in the UAE. Among consumers in that country, 36% said they had started cooking from home since the pandemic began while only 7% said they have increased food delivery.
It’s possible that this reticence to avoid delivery and takeout could be due to cleanliness and contamination concerns. Among people in Saudi Arabia, 35% said hygiene of the kitchen was the most important factor they kept in mind when buying food from outside the home. Among UAE 32% said the same thing.
COVID-19's Impact on Financial Activity
Even with the region under lockdown, people in both countries are still conducting financial activities. Over half (52%) of all users polled report using financial/banking apps, while 79% say they’re using digital banking/financial tools overall. More specifically, 27% of all survey respondents said they are currently using mobile banking apps even during the lockdown.
In Saudi Arabia, 46% said they are making online purchases through digital channels, while 29% made local money transfers and payments. Among UAE users polled, 35% said they are conducting local money transfers and payments through digital channels, while 31% said they are presently transferring money overseas this way.
For all of this financial activity, mobile is key. A quarter of people in Saudi Arabia said they are currently using mobile banking apps, while 17% said they were using money transfer apps. In the UAE, 29% said they are currently using mobile banking apps, while 16% said they were using money transfer apps
COVID-19's Impact on Advertising
What can brands do to stay top of mind with consumers during the pandemic? According to close to two-thirds of people we surveyed, the answer is advertising. Overall, 62% in Saudi Arabia and 68% in UAE said mobile advertising helps them discover new products and services at this moment.
Further, compared to other ad formats, 43% of survey respondents in Saudi Arabia said they notice and view video ads the most frequently. However, in the UAE, the top choice was picture/image-based ads. Across all consumers polled, 38% said they preferred video ads while 27% selected picture/image-based ads.
Outlook On COVID-19 And the Future
How optimistic are consumers feeling about the future? In Saudi Arabia, 24% said they expect COVID-19 to impact their behaviors for the next two to three months. Close to a third (31% to be exact) of consumers in the UAE feel similarly. Across both geographies, one in five survey respondents thought it would last six months or longer.