Three companies are queuing up to buy one of the UAE's most popular e-commerce websites, further signalling the rapid growth of online retail in the Middle East.
EmiratesAvenue.com, an electronics website based in Dubai, is in talks with three potential buyers, the negotiations coming just months after the US company LivingSocial snapped up GoNabit.com, a daily deals website.
"We are not only on the lookout for proposals, we have a few proposals so we are discussing the best offer," said Julien Pascual, the chief executive of EmiratesAvenue.com. "We are not looking at the offer in terms of cash only, but who will develop the website in the best way and make it bigger."
He said two of the interested parties were based in the UAE, including a local retailer looking to increase its online presence, and an international company. The e-commerce market in the UAE is forecast to become a hotbed of activity this year as consumers spend increasingly more time buying online and private investors and retailers look to take advantage of the trend.
Shoppers in the UAE spent US$226.8 million (Dh833.08m) online last year - a figure expected to grow to $270.9m this year, according to Euromonitor, a research and information consultancy.
"If there's one area in retail that will have the biggest growth in the next 24 months, it is going to be Web-based retail," said David Macadam, the head of retail in the Middle East and North Africa at the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. "It's a good way for [retailers] to capture a lot more market."
Alshop.com, a competitor to EmiratesAvenue.com, also said it had been approached by possible buyers and companies looking for joint venture partnerships.
"It's still in discussions phase and if something materialises, we will make an announcement," said Sheriff Rizwan, the chief executive and founder of Alshop.com.
EmiratesAvenue.com, which was set up in 2009, sells mainly electronic gadgets. It delivers to customers' doors within 24 hours and accepts payment as cash on delivery.
This year, it is adding payment with credit cards on delivery, as well as payment online. The website made Dh3m in sales last year on margins of 5 to 8 per cent, Mr Pascual said.
"I want to be doing 20 times the sales we are doing right now," he said. "People want to launch in the UAE and it is much easier if you acquire a website that's already established."
Online shopping the Gulf is expected to grow from $1 billion last year to more than $2bn by 2016, according to Euromonitor.
Having recently delayed launches, both Lulu Hypermarket and Ikea are still expected to open online retail websites this year.
A flood of daily deals websites in the UAE raised the profile of e-commerce last year, particularly after LivingSocial, one of the major players in the US, bought GoNabit.com for an undisclosed sum last June.