MARKETING | Understanding the Arab Consumer

Vijay Mahajan

In the post-9/11 world, companies have been jittery about investing in the 22 countries that constitute the Arab League. Political turmoil and misconceptions of a closed society where people are taught to hate Western products and culture have led many to conclude that the region is unstable, chaotic, and closed for business. But Arab consumers have the same demands as people everywhere, and the region’s markets are growing, globally interlinked, and intensely competitive.

To do business in the Arab world, companies must understand the inseparability of Islam and Arab society and business. Consumers yearn for progress, modernity, and inclusion, but they don’t wish to abandon their deeply held religious traditions, as expressed in the five pillars of Islam. Companies that conflict with any of the pillars by, for instance, insulting the prophet Muhammad or interfering with daily prayers will damage their reputations and fortunes. But several of the pillars present opportunities for foreign businesses and organizations: The hajj, or pilgrimage, draws more than 1.5 million visitors to Saudi Arabia annually; most retailers in the Arab world sell as much during the month of Ramadan as they do the rest of the year; and the annual philanthropic donation required of all Muslims, zakat, creates possibilities for the global social sector.


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