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eCommerce in the UAE: 5 key considerations for brands and retailers

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Author: Annabel Thorburn, Director of Retail Services, eCommera

 

With online sales accounting for less than 2% of all retail sales in the UAE, it might not seem like the most obvious target market for your international eCommerce strategy.

However a young, increasingly well-connected population is driving rapid growth in the channel, and investors are waking up to the huge opportunities in the UAE and surrounding region. So what do brands and retailers need to know when considering launching a presence in the UAE?

 

1) The UAE’s mall culture represents an opportunity, rather than a threat, when it comes to eCommerce

The culture of shopping in the UAE, known for its malls full of ice rinks, cinemas and arcades, could be seen as a blocker to the growth of online sales. However, with the median age in the UAE standing at just 30, its mall-goers are generally tech-savvy and well connected, with almost half of web traffic coming from mobile devices. This hyper-connectivity is a great opportunity for brands and retailers, who should avoid thinking of eCommerce and the physical store in isolation, and instead consider how the customer experience can be optimised to allow shoppers to transact throughout the journey – not exclusively at the till and not exclusively through an online checkout.

2) Consumer expectations around delivery are growing fast

As it stands, the online shopper in the UAE is more patient than the typical UK consumer; however this is changing and expectations are increasing rapidly. Souq.com, an Amazon-style pure-play, offers 24-hour delivery options, and such offers are changing expectations and setting a new standard. As for delivery costs, UAE consumers do not expect to pay – another key consideration for brands and retailers looking at the market.

 

eCommerce in UAE

3) Alternative payment methods are emerging, but cash on delivery is still essential

With traditionally low credit card penetration in the UAE and other MENA countries, cash on delivery options are still a requirement for brands and retailers looking to launch in the region. However, alternative payment methods are coming to the fore, with Payfort, a PayPal equivalent, slowly gaining market share.

4) Cultural sensitivity is paramount

Avoid copying and pasting. Every touchpoint should be reconsidered, in order to provide a customer experience that is appropriate for the culture and region. This may require hiring local employees who understand the nuances of the region. However don’t forget that, in addition to a population largely comprised of expats, the UAE welcomes over 12 million tourists per year, many of whom visit just to shop. Consider whether your site should also serve this segment.

5) Tailor your UX to the local language and preferences

As with any international market, your website design should reflect the tastes and preferences of the local shopper. In the more developing MENA nations in particular, some consumers still prefer a ‘noisier’ website design. Also bear in mind that you may need up to 50% more design and development time in order to offer your website in the Arabic language.

 

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