There have been some great stats coming from the Middle East over the last month. Most notably from We Are Social’s slideshare presentation on Social, Digital & Mobile in MENAT 2014 and PayFort’s The State of Payments in the Arab World 2014.

Data from these sources sheds some light on the current part mobile commerce is playing in people’s lives in the Middle East; particularly Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Mobile penetration and subscriptions

According to We Are Social, mobile penetration in the Middle East is overall considerably higher than the global average. Kuwait boasts the highest penetration of the entire MENA region at 212% (around 6.5m mobile subscriptions).

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt also all have impressive mobile penetration at 188% (51.3m subs.), 168% (15.7m subs.)  and 115% (99.6m) respectively.

Smartphone use

The PayFort data drills down into how integral smartphones are in the Middle East mobile market. Across the Arab world, these devices reach 47% of people.

Amazingly, a smartphone owner in a GCC country (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) owns 2.9 of these devices on average.

Mobile purchases

PayFort’s stats also highlight the number of mobile users in the region who are buying via mobile. 41% of Arab smartphone users currently make purchases through their device, that’s around 25m people.

Popular mobile purchases include mobile-specific items such as apps. These are popular buys across Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Travel products, including airline tickets and hotel reservations (i.e. things which are in-demand on-the-move) are also seeing high purchase rates.

Mobile’s influence on offline commerce

There are a number of facets to the Middle East ecommerce industry which show how offline technology and habits are actually helping online shopping reach more people. Cash-on-delivery and bill presentment are two examples.

Mobile is also being seen to drive in-store purchases according to PayFort. 36% of Arab smartphone users are saving items in checkout and buying them later at bricks-and-mortar shops. 

Smartphones have quickly become a part of the general shopping journey for many users, rather than something which is done exclusively from other buying activities.

Mobile devices are clearly important for people in the Middle East, with many seeing smartphones as their first route to online activities such as ecommerce.

There is clear room for growth where mobile commerce is concerned, with around half of the population currently owning a smartphone (or 2+ smartphones!) and half that number again using them to shop.

I’m sure we can expect greater numbers turning to m-commerce over the next year as marketers and merchants continue to improve the allure of buying via mobile in the region.