UAE shoppers come around to online idea

About 42 per cent of those surveyed by MasterCard in the UAE say they are shopping on the internet, up from 29 per cent in 2009 - with video.

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More UAE shoppers are ringing up the virtual tills, data from the latest MasterCard online survey shows.

About 42 per cent of those surveyed in the UAE say they are shopping on the internet, up from 29 per cent in 2009, according to MasterCard's survey for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa.

Jawad Abbassi, the founder and general manager of the technology consultancy Arab Advisors, said this growth probably stemmed from the growing number of internet users in the UAE, new regional retail websites being launched, and the introduction of new online security measures such as pre-paid credit cards.

"Confidence has increased and the total number of internet users has increased, which will translate, of course, into higher e-commerce," Mr Abbassi said.

E-retail has been long accepted in North America and Europe but has been slower to catch on in the region.

Online shopping in the UAE represents only a small portion of the total retail market. In 2009, consumers spent about US$19.6 million (Dh71.9m) online compared with an estimated total of $10.9 billion of non-grocery retail spending, data from the research company Euromonitor International showed.

A major factor is regional consumers' security concerns and reluctance to use their credit cards on online websites, as many purchases from online sites continue to be paid for by cash on delivery.

In MasterCard's latest survey, 45 per cent of people in the UAE say they do not feel secure shopping online.

And for UAE consumers, a shopping trip to the mall is often more of a recreational activity than an errand.

Sevil Ermin, the research company Nielsen's UAE director of retailer services, said there was still a "shoppertainment culture" in the UAE. But discounts available online may bring in consumers, Ms Ermin said.

"With the climate conditions, large families still continue to go to the malls for shopping," she said. "However, wherever this practical convenient aspect comes in, together with the value that online shopping can provide, there is an opportunity."

The outlook for online retail looks positive, with 69 per cent of people in the UAE saying they are likely to make an online purchase in the next six months, compared with 62 per cent in 2009, MasterCard said.

That bodes well for at least eight online retail portals that were launched from the UAE last year, ranging from the retail giant Carrefour to local start-ups including

Sanjay Amarnani, the chief executive of the consumer electronics retailer, said sales had grown rapidly since the site launched in mid-2009.

"It is just a matter of time before it catches up," Mr Amarnani said. "Online is the way to go all over the world, whether in Europe or the US.

"In this part of the world, online retail was non-existent. Now it has grown and people are more aware."