United Arab Emirates
Selling Factors and Techniques

Identifies common practices to be aware of when selling in this market, e.g., whether all sales material need to be in the local language.

Last published date: 2019-10-13
Even with increasing social media, direct marketing, and online shopping, the commercial tradition of the UAE is still that of the middleman or trader acting as a conduit for goods from large manufacturers to consumers largely in South Asia, the Gulf, and East Africa.  The UAE still serves those traditional markets along with those of North, South, West, and Central Africa, and the rest of the Middle East. 

Culturally, the UAE is relatively less conservative than some other Gulf States.  English is widely spoken but sensitivity to local traditions and Islamic beliefs remains essential.  The use of Arabic in packaging and advertising is both desirable and effective (and sometimes mandatory) in marketing consumer goods. 

The UAE business style emphasizes personal relationships and integrity, though there continues to be growing emphasis on quality, after-sales service, maintenance requirements and cost.  Because the personal relationships emblematic of the UAE business environment take time to nurture, U.S. firms are advised to invest time in the market with a local presence or, at the very least, frequent contacts and visits.  Given that the UAE is increasingly becoming a supplier-frequented market, such activities are not ones that can be done from long-distance; rather, participating in local trade events and face-to-face contact is essential.

U.S. manufactured products and services have an excellent reputation for advanced technology, quality and durability.  However, American companies face tough and continuing competition from European and Asian companies in the UAE that generally have a larger presence in the region and/or offer comparable products and services at lower prices. For many products, providing after-sales maintenance services is essential, and in such cases U.S. companies should consider establishing a presence in the UAE and/or appointing a suitably trained service agent.  U.S. firms should seek a local sponsor, agent, or partner with sufficient access and influence in relevant business circles. 

For U.S. firms selling to traders, the dominant business model in the UAE, there is no substitute for being price competitive, and even more so since the crude oil crisis hit the market in 2014.  Government procurement also places heavy emphasis on selection of the low bidder, as long as the lowest price bidder is compliant with all technical and vending specifications. 

As mentioned in previous sections, companies are reporting an increasing number of business disputes.  Those include but are not limited to, unclear tenders, use of ambiguous letters of award and letters of intent, as well as slow or non-payment issues.  While the payment process has never been streamlined with the UAE government, there has been a reported overall lack of responsiveness to queries surrounding performance.