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Half of the Middle East’s population is under the age of 25 and they are educated, tech-savvy and highly connected. This makes them a key target for beauty brands looking to penetrate the region.
More exposed than ever to Western brands and influences from both online sources and international travel – some 160,000 Saudis return home each year after graduating from Western universities, for example – the youth of the Middle East are driving beauty trends and increased consumption of cosmetics.
With a high take-up of smart phone usage, Arab youth spend an average of 15 hours a week on social media, according to a report by Northwestern University in Qatar, often using multiple platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber, YouTube and Twitter. This makes internet and social marketing increasingly important for brands and retailers. Use of Instagram, a particularly popular tool for make-up brands, has risen sharply in recent years, while Facebook and Twitter use has declined marginally. As with other developing markets, increased smart phone payment options make mobile interaction key for reaching potential customers.
Using online tutorials and influencers to interact with customers is a powerful tool for brands. Multinational beauty players have been keen to launch country-specific websites and local social-media initiatives. For example, earlier this month, L’Oréal-owned luxury brand Lancôme launched an online beauty magazine for the Middle East market, featuring a ‘Beautiful Moments’ series partnering with five influential young women from the region, including 24-year-old entrepreneur Mthayel Al Ali and 19-year-old student and social-media personality Shahnaz Al Jumaily.
In a region marked by major disparities in spending power from country to country, targeting social media content to local specificities is essential. Iranian women, for example, have long been keen consumers of make-up, starting in their teens, but the impact of economic sanctions has limited purchasing options to mass and locally produced brands. Observers are watching closely for new opportunities as relations with the West thaw. Meanwhile, other markets like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are seeing increased demand for prestige products, according to research from Euromonitor International. In these markets, young men are becoming more exposed to fashionable new products, are taking more of an interest in beauty products and to some extent are throwing off old taboos about masculinity. This is giving a boost to the men’s grooming category, which is seeing healthy growth.
Malls too are key to reach young consumers. Much of young consumers’ leisure time in the region is spent in malls, where they go to shop, eat, or to be with friends. In terms of beauty retail in malls, the younger generation is attracted by foreign self-service players like LVMH-owned Sephora. This store is liked for the range of services offered, the product assortment, focused on trendy brands, and the samples given. Other retailers are looking to attract young consumers through more services. Earlier this month, for example, British luxury retailer Harvey Nichols, operated by Al Tayer Group, added its Beauty Bar concept, which offers nail, brow and make-up services, to its flagship store in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates.