There are close to 500,000 Muslims in Australia, making up 2.2% of the population, according to the 2011 census.
This morning, a significant number of them have not eaten or drunk anything since dawn, and they won’t do so until dusk this evening, a pattern that will repeat for 28 to 30 days during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Getting business done during Ramadan is a challenge as well as an opportunity for small businesses. As Australia’s Muslim population grows (it was the second fastest-growing religious grouping since 2001 in the recent census), Ramadan increasingly affects your business in a few ways you may not know about.
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1. Opening hours
The most obvious way Ramadan affects many businesses is by radically changing the times some of your customers are awake.
Muslims fasting during Ramadan are awake far earlier than normal to get some breakfast before the sun rises, and will stay awake until shortly after the sun sets to eat and drink.
Those in hospitality would do well to heed this, as Ramadan could open up an entirely new customer base to you, one that rises earlier and is starving come dusk.
2. Marketing and social media
Even if you’re not in hospitality, the different waking times and sleeping times of Muslims during Ramadan means you can add new ways of using social media during the month.
Studies have found the use of social media in the predominantly Muslim Middle East experiences its annual peak during the month of Ramadan (up 30% on the monthly average), as users log on to wish each other Ramadan Kareem (Happy Ramadan).
So schedule a few tweets and the like at dusk. There’ll be a whole lot more Australians awake then than usual.
3. Tired, hungry people make impulse purchases
Our self-control decreases as we get tired and hungry. This means during the month of Ramadan, Muslim customers could be some of your most lucrative.
Samer Sunnuqrot, an economist based in the Jordanian capital Amman, explained to the BBC how Ramadan typically coincides with an increase in economic activity. Its effects, he said, are not dissimilar to that of Christmas in predominantly Christian countries.
“The positive side of Ramadan for business people is a higher demand for goods and services and higher consumption,” he said.
“That often means higher prices, which translates into higher profit margins for merchants, retail stores, restaurants and cafes – especially those which arrange amusement programmes for after iftar [the breaking of the fast at the end of the day].”
4. Staff lunches are off the menu
Of course, Ramadan can also affect your workers. It might be a good idea to defer any staff lunches you can, so anyone fasting while working for you doesn’t have to turn down too many invitations. Maybe some of those lunches could be converted to dinners or early breakfasts to allow the greatest attendance.
5. Decision-making during Ramadan
In predominantly Muslim countries, companies avoid making big decisions during Ramadan for fear that their decision-making could be compromised by the unusual daily schedule.
However, this has become more and more of a challenge as many businesses operate in an increasingly global environment.
If you have a Muslim member of your executive team who is fasting, it might be worth discussing with them how they’d like to handle the month. Some will want to work through the month per usual, while some might like to make some changes to help them make the best decisions given the circumstances.