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The Middle East and North Africa edition of our Internet Statistics Compendium has seen some interesting updates over the past few months, with some fascinating insights into ecommerce across the region.

This post gives a general overview of the online retail numbers and brands which are proving significant in the Middle East. For further details of the many specific trends and developments within respective MENA markets, check out the latest edition of our ISC

Overall e-commerce popularity in the region

Recent research from Ipsos looks at e-commerce in the UAE, Kuwait, KSA, Lebanon and Egypt. 

While the actual purchase of items is seemingly low in markets where penetration is highest, making bookings online (for things like airline tickets) are proving popular in the UAE and Kuwait, and the popularity of e-banking throughout these countries signals increasing trust with money-handling online and ample opportunity for growth.

Currently, clothing is the most popular product bought online in the UAE (24%), Kuwait (63%), KSA (14%), Lebanon (38%) and Egypt (69%).

Marketplace-style sites, including Amazon and Alibaba are popular with consumers on the look-out for the latest bargains in fashion and other popular products.

Popularity of domestic commerce sites

While global names such as Ebay (35% of Egyptian online shoppers use auction sites and it is also the fourth most popular ecommerce site in Jordan!) are certainly visible in the ME region, domestic sites such as Souq.com, Cobone.com and Jumia are often winning out against names we are so used to seeing in the UK and US.

20% of UAE online shoppers go to Souq.com. 10% of Egyptian and 13% of KSA e-consumers also visit the site respectively.

Focusing on Souq.com

Data recently published by Gemius also sees Souq.com holding its own among overall internet giants including Google, Facebook and Wikipedia. In March 2013, more than 800,000 UAE shoppers visited the site.

So what is Souq.com doing so well? Unsurprisingly, the site follows an online marketplace format offering clothing, technology, entertainment products and more. 

There are also sub-sites for key shoppers including Souq Fashion, Deal of the Day and the high-end boutique marketplace Sukar. The site also looks like it succeeds in separating out the retail wants and desires specific to selected markets – with a locally-optimised Souq.com available each for the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan.

Payment options are also significant within the MENA region, and Souq.com does well to ensure it covers all the bases. Alongside credit card, debit card and PayPal options, customers can also pay cash on delivery (giving them the opportunity to ensure the product is what they wanted before paying).

Additionally, they can also use CashU – an Arabic focused pre-pay/mobile payment service.

With a wider variety of payment options from sites such as Souq.com and the online banking sector’s success at getting many consumers to trust dealing with their money online, we are likely to see some significant ecommerce growth across the MENA region in 2013.

Domestic sites with an inherent knowledge of the subtleties and differences between shoppers from different markets look well to capitalise on this, but it will be interesting to see if the favour for US/global internet brands may also be able to help keep Ebay and Amazon in the minds of online shoppers spending their money online for the first time.

Luke Richards

Published 16 May, 2013 by Luke Richards

Luke Richards is a freelance writer and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his blog

58 more posts from this author

Comments (6)

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Asif Afzal

Its interesting to see that the local companies are still most popular as the International brands still have to better localise their services from good translation to local e-commerce options.

over 3 years ago

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Harvey

Interesting that there's nothing about the licensing cost for merchants to use an online payment gateway. That is the single largest barrier to innovation in ecommerce in mena.

Souq though large actually do a rudimentary job at digital in comparison to another local player called namshi. Far more advanced in terms of technology and experience. Huge levels of growth from this guy's in last 12 months.

Amazon and other international players fall over because of the difficulties with shipping and logistics. The lack of postal system plays havoc with traditional postal methods and inherently incurs huge costs to players like Amazon. Souq also face similar issues when they import from outside the country. I personally waited 25 days for an item only to be told it wouldn't arrive, I was still charged and still wait for a refund...

E-commerce in mena has a long way to go but players like namshi, landmark group and government backed Tejuri have the ability to drive real change

over 3 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at Lost My Name

As Harvey has said, if they can resolve logistics in the UAE and surrounding areas, e-commerce would rocket... it's an often taken-for-granted aspect from the Western world where an e-tailer doesn't bat much of an eyelid on logistics beyond the costs (i.e. there are multiple carriers covering most areas of the UK for example)

over 3 years ago

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Chaz Nahas

I believe the quickest way for the big US/UK online brands to penetrate this region would be through the acquisition/purchase of the popular localized sites like souq.com.

While the Middle East is still playing catch up in the world of eCommerce and it's rapidly improving technologies, it'll eventually be a no-brainer as traffic to these sites will continue to increase.

Now is a good time to get involved.

over 3 years ago

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Jun Ma, CEO at YOUSHANG

As a Chinese, I have saw how the local companies beat the international ones by understanding the local culture and local difficuity.

I am sure MENA guys will do the same. because MENA is so different from others.

over 3 years ago

Arabic Translation Services

Arabic Translation Services, Professional Language Translation Services at Kwintessential Arabia

I agree with you Asif

about 3 years ago

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