Big retailers miss out on £20bn Muslim consumer market

On Green Street in east London, a mile-long strip of jewellery shops, sari sellers and Asian snack stores, it is easy to imagine a world without mass market retailing and online shopping.

In the run-up to Eid al-Adha, the second of two annual Muslim holidays which begins in the UK on Friday, the many independent and family-owned stores on the Newham street are packed with customers. Unlike many high streets across Britain, there is not a boarded-up shop in sight.

“The two Eids are like Christmas,” says Bilal Karim, the manager of Doli, which sells clothes that Muslim women will wear to celebrate the festivities.

But he adds that his business is successful throughout the year, as he sells clothes and jewellery for weddings.

“Have I seen the multinational retailers getting into this? Actually no,” he says. “Sometimes you see a bit of Indian embroidery on a shirt in Next but no one is really going after our market.”

At Shingaar, another clothing, fabric and jewellery shop, Ayesha Amjad says her customers regularly spend between £100 to £500 on an outfit to celebrate Eid or attend a wedding.

Nirala dessert store on Green Street © Tolga Akmen/FT

The Muslim Council of Britain estimates that the Muslim market is worth £20.5bn a year to retailers, with the country’s population of Muslims nearly doubling between 2001 and 2011, at the time of the last census, to 2.7m.

“There is such a thing as the Muslim consumer,” says Shelina Janmohamed of Islamic branding consultancy Ogilvy Noor. “There is still a lack of realisation about this opportunity. When you are in a climate where the pictures and imagery you see in the media about the Muslim community is very particular, it may not occur to you, as a marketer, to do a big campaign. The conversations that are had in the press seep into how we think as marketers.”

So far, Britain’s largest retailers have not stepped into the market and Muslim commentators have observed that while Christmas, Easter, Halloween and Mothers’ Day have made it on to the retail calendar, there is less effort to market Eid.

Supermarket chains such as Asda and Tesco sell more Halal foods during the Ramadan and Eid periods in shops that serve Muslim communities, and signpost the ranges prominently.

“But In terms of gifts and clothing there is also a huge market here,” says Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, which promotes interfaith dialogue. “I do not see advertising around the festivals that says ‘Muslims, come through the door’.”

Muslim families shopping on Green Street ahead of Eid © Tolga Akmen/FT

The FT contacted 20 retailers who adjust their merchandise for Eid. Just four responded with any information — mostly confirming that they keep their promotions low key. “It is not like Halloween where we will have big campaigns,” says one retail marketer who asked not to be named.

Ahead of Eid, John Lewis stocks extra children’s’ party clothes from its Heirloom range at its store in Stratford, east London, as well as more designer handbags and fragrances, says Ruth Scharvona, the branch manager. Dune, the footwear company, offers “specific shoes” in branches close to Muslim populations, a spokesman said, as well as putting some information on its website and social media channels “at key times”.

But Mr Shafiq suggested that some retailers may fear a public backlash if they associate too closely with the Muslim community.

Marks and Spencer, which declined to comment, began selling the “burkinis” that some Muslim women wear to the beach in a flagship London store last year. It has not done so again this summer following negative comments online and criticism from public figures in France.

But the few retailers which overtly court the Muslim pound at this time of year talk positively about the results.

Hotel Chocolat in Regent Street stocks up for Eid © David Parry/FT

Hotel Chocolat, the London-listed upmarket confectionery chain, launched a range targeted at people celebrating Eid last year in 20 stores. This year it has doubled its offer to 40 stores. “We have really showcased it in the shops,” says chief executive Angus Thirlwell. Muslim customers, he says, have “loved how we are participating in this event”.

Shopping centre owner Hammerson stages Eid events such as henna hand painting at malls in cities with large Muslim populations. Like-for-like sales at its Highcross centre in Leicester were 20 per cent higher in the week of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, than in the previous week, Hammerson director Pete Cooper says.

Not many of the shops renting space in Hammerson’s Birmingham and Leicester malls “participate visibly or actively promote in the way we do, but they will bring on extra staff in anticipation [of Eid spending],” he says.

“What this signals to me is that if retailers are getting a sales uplift from Eid already, without doing so much in terms of marketing or promotions, then there is so much more for them to grab.”

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