From ring to bling

Product customisation is becoming an increasingly important tool for vendors looking to consolidate their position in the Middle East’s booming consumer electronics market.

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By  Administrator Published  September 7, 2007

The development of new and innovative products specifically designed for Middle Eastern consumers by some of the industry's biggest players is an indication of the growing importance of the region in terms of the global consumer electronics market.

It also demonstrates the intensely competitive nature of the regional consumer market, with manufacturers working to distinguish their products from their competitors' and build brand awareness with Arab, Persian and Islamic consumers. The process is taking place on a number of levels targeting language, culture and religion, with the applications developed either to cater for a desired aesthetic or functionality.

Raed Nasser, the managing director of market research firm, GfK, says the combination of rapid economic growth and rising household incomes across the region is forcing many vendors to redress their strategies in the Middle East.

"The influx of new brands and the creation of new product categories has also led to intense competition between consumer electronics vendors, transforming the retail sector in the region from a seller to a buyer's market," he explains.

Nasser says that whereas in the past vendors were content to bring generic products to the region with little regard for local requirements, times are changing fast. As an increasing number of consumer electronics vendors look to target the region's affluent consumers they are coming up with new ways to distinguish their product ranges and develop brand association in a bid to expand their share of the market.

Middle East retailers are also stressing the importance of customisation to the growth of their businesses. GITEX Shopper retailer Jumbo Electronics recently revealed that customisation was fundamental to its retail growth strategy and its efforts to improve its ability to meet individual consumer demands. The obvious place to start in this process is language, perhaps the most essential and developed aspect of consumer electronics goods in the region.

Motorola Middle East sales manager Harout Bedrossian, says: "Arabic language capabilities are a must for any mobile handset sold in this region. If we shipped a phone with only English language capabilities we could expect to generate practically zero sales in many Middle Eastern countries.

"We include Arabic, Urdu and Farsi language menus in every handset we ship in the Middle East in order to cater to local populations and the large transient workforce arriving from the sub-continent."

Super-wealthy consumers who seek exclusivity in design and boast considerable purchasing power are another important target market for vendors producing customised products.

In terms of brand association and marketing, customised products targeting these consumers can have knock-on effects for a vendor's entire product range.

Dubai-based consumer electronics vendor Nikai has built a successful business specialising in entry-level consumer electronics products and household appliances.

"We offer a high level of customisation across our product range throughout the Middle East in our consumer electronics, appliances and white goods categories," says Harsh Gupta, Nikai's regional manager for Iran and the GCC. "In Iran, for example, we sell more than 450 unique products and customisation is essential to our strategy there. We guarantee that all TVs sold in the country include Farsi-language menus and are compatible with local teletext services."

The flagship of the company's plasma TV range is a 22-carat gold-plated model, which Gupta says sells strongly in the Middle East.

GITEX Technology Week exhibitor Samsung Electronics is another vendor working to corner the market for customised products in the Middle East. The company's sales and marketing manager for home appliances, Robin Kadyan, says that air conditioning units are one example of the company's research and development in this area.

"Air conditioners are very strategic in terms of our business growth in the region," he says.

"High temperatures in the Middle East, combined with high humidity levels on account of the coastal proximity of most areas in the region, means that air conditioners need to be specially customised with very sturdy compressors. Samsung's UTR air conditioning technology was exclusively developed for this purpose in the Middle East. One of the largest contributions to our sales comes through the commercial air conditioner business. With a boom in the construction industry we expect to gain a sizeable business and market presence in this segment over the coming years."

Fellow GITEX exhibitor Panasonic also places product customisation at the forefront of its Middle East growth strategy. The company markets a host of unique products boasting features that emphasise size and capacity to cater for larger Middle East families.

The NA-W1350T is the world's largest twin tub washing machine and was specifically designed for the Middle East market. It has a 13kg capacity and features Panasonic's ‘triple pulsator' technology with a reinforced plastic body.

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