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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Bridging the virtual and real divide is the way forward

Digital screens in shopping malls can also be utilised to support start-up businesses in the UAE

A billboard of the Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the  American Football player, in New York. Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in protest at police brutality, garnering praise from many but criticism from many right-wingers. Some Americans burned their Nike clothing in protest at his fronting the brand. AFP
A billboard of the Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the  American Football player, in New York. Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in protest at police brutality, garnering praise from many but criticism from many right-wingers. Some Americans burned their Nike clothing in protest at his fronting the brand. AFP

I’ve been managing my consultancy for four years now and not once did a client require any print advertisement work.

Online and social media advertisements have always been their preference.

I don’t blame them. Except for a couple of publications, I myself rarely pick up any print magazines. As a millennial, I’m subscribed to news services and consume all my news via mobile phone and mostly through the comfort of my bed.

Although there has been much talk about print media ceasing to exist in just a few years, I don’t think that will be the case. I believe that print will go on, maybe in the form of special editions, or quarterly publications, especially the magazines and journals, but it won’t disappear entirely. Banners on the roads, gigantic print adverts on the sides of the buildings and those on mall escalators and in commercial venues will also continue to be there.

I personally still prefer to hold a publication in my hands, especially when reading special edition magazines and books.

It's a fact that consumption of material online, whether it’s news or shopping, is on the rise and it will keep on growing in leaps and bounds in our region. Shopping through Instagram is one example. Not only does it provide a convenient option for shoppers to purchase the latest designs, it also saves entrepreneurs huge set up fees. No longer do many of them need to have a physical store anymore.

But with the rise of online shopping and mobile consumption, how can retailers and print advertisers move forward?

One way is to combine brick and mortar with offline shopping. Japan and China have been pioneers in this field. It’s not strange to find small outlets in metro stations that are no more than a big screen, where a customer can view a virtual shelf stacked with products stamped with QR codes (a type of barcode).

All a customer needs to do is to take a photo of the products’ QR code and proceed to check out. This is ideal for convenience stores and magazine newsstands. All they have to do is take advantage of this technological advancement.

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Although we are yet to see these forms of virtual stores become the norm in the UAE and our broader region, it’s just a matter of time before it happens. CamPay, a UAE tech start-up, is the first in the country to provide such an option for advertisers. They provide solutions for those looking to set up virtual stores, as well as for advertisers and brands, who would like to make the most of their print advertisements.

CamPay works with retailers to embed QR codes of their products in the advertisements so that a customer can buy the product straight away, without having to visit the store.

The concept of CamPay and virtual stores is of great interest. I work a lot with retailers in the UAE who would love to attract Emirati start-ups, whether they are in fashion, beauty or food sectors, to rent spaces in their properties and hopefully attract the footfall those businesses bring. But I understand why start-ups wouldn’t want to take a physical store space. It’s expensive and a lot of their customers purchase their products online.

But what if retailers, whether malls or community spaces, utilise their walls, pillars and digital screens to create virtual pop-up stores that would appeal to such businesses? Virtual stores that could be leased for flexible periods, for instance, would bring new shopping options to the customers as well as provide the retailers with a way to attract customers if they lack space.

Malls and retailers could use companies like CamPay to provide solutions for unique businesses. For example, a big digital screen in front of a mall’s entrance could be leased to ticket sales companies where they could advertise concerts and special events. By scanning the QR code on the screen, customers would be able to purchase the tickets instantly.

These digital screens in shopping malls and at other retailers can also be utilised to support start-up businesses in the UAE by giving them leasing options for nominal fees so that local brands can gain a wider exposure.

For retailers and print advertisers to survive in the long run, they will have to bridge the gap between the offline and online world. Virtual stores, and QR embedded campaigns can be the start.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati entrepreneur, who manages her creative consultancy in Abu Dhabi.