Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-

Ahram Weekly

Cautiously optimistic

Dahlia Hammouda speaks to Melissa Baker about changing consumer patterns and the outlook for the future in Egypt

Melissa Baker
Melissa Baker
Al-Ahram Weekly

Melissa Baker is regional director for social research for the Middle East and Africa at TNS Global, a subsidiary of Kantar, one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups. She was recently on a visit to Egypt

What is the nature of the research you are doing in Egypt?
At the moment we’re doing a lot of market research in terms of consumer confidence index, and then some work in opinion polling and also some work for donors as well and NGOs who are running projects here. One of the things we’ve noticed is that the government in Egypt is not doing so much research at the moment, which will probably grow in the future, compared with other countries — for example across the Middle East where governments are doing quite a bit of research, especially since the Arab Spring — to track opinions and attitudes and understand what is going on.

There are conflicting reports about consumer confidence in Egypt. Some say it fell during the transitional period and now it’s up again. How do you see it?
We only started measuring from April. It declined in June during the actual elections, but since then it has been growing. I think during the elections, people were very uncertain. They did not know how the elections were going to go, and whether they were going to conclude in a peaceful fashion, even if not in the best fashion for everyone. Now they have realised that it is over and confidence is growing in the country. The index is relative and is based on how people evaluate the current employment situation, how they evaluate the situation in the next six months, and whether or not they think it is a good time to buy certain consumer items. Their positivity on the current situation is starting to grow, but people are still dubious about what’s going to happen in the future.

Has the pattern of consumption changed?
What normally happens is that when confidence goes down, purchasing also goes down, which is why companies are interested in tracking it. This is especially true for purchasing larger-scale items. As consumer confidence grows, people are more likely to take out a loan, especially if confidence in the future grows, which has not happened yet. People will then start to save less and borrow more and small businesses will flourish.

What is your forecast for coming trends?
Over time, as we track confidence, we start to look at other indicators in the country, such as gross domestic product (GDP). We start to look at correlations between the index and other indicators that start to allow us to predict what will happen. We have not done that yet for Egypt as it has only been six months. From other countries’ experience, as we see the index growing, we would expect the economy to start growing. The index has been rising in Egypt, but there is normally a lag time of between 10 months to a year. So as confidence picks up, it does not immediately impact the economy because people have to start taking loans, investing in their businesses, and so forth.

Are more companies in Egypt using market research services?
Over the last 20 years, there has been a huge growth in commercial companies in Egypt interested in the market situation and becoming more marketing-oriented. They’re starting to say, ‘Let’s not just produce and send out our goods, let’s actually find out what consumers want and design our goods and services around their needs.’ They need research to get a competitive advantage. Many clients are interested in the consumer confidence index to help them to decide whether to spend more or less.

How do you compare working in Egypt with working in the rest of Africa and the Middle East?
I think people in Egypt are quite different. Compared with some parts of Africa, people here are very individualistic and quite entrepreneurial — really looking for opportunities. It appears like people here seem to be quite knowledgeable and educated about certain things. In terms of research clients, we work with marketing directors and there is a lot of similarity between Egypt and the rest of the world. There is a similar calibre of people, the same kinds of strategies and the same kind of understanding of how to do marketing.

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