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E-commerce or bust: in-depth analysis on Gulf online shopping

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Carrefour supermarket delivery in the UAE

The coronavirus pandemic encouraged many people to embrace online shopping for the first time, leading to a huge spike in global e-commerce. 

But what does the sector look like now across the Middle East and North Africa? 

Its three largest e-commerce markets are the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and together they account for more than 70 percent of total e-commerce in the region.

According to a joint report published by EZDubai and Euromonitor Consulting, the MENA e-commerce market was worth $31.7 billion in 2021, having expanded by 15 percent since 2020. 

The sector has seen a compound annual growth rate of 33 percent since 2017, when it was valued at just $10bn.

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Report report published by EZDubai and Euromonitor Consulting

Largely shopping on their smartphones, the region’s online consumers mostly buy electronics, which represented 31 percent of total e-commerce sales last year. Clothing and footwear (23 percent) are the next most purchased goods.

Although growth in e-commerce penetration in the MENA region was the strongest globally last year, as a proportion of overall retail, it is still lower than the global average at just 6 percent. 

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The sector is primed for further expansion. The EZDubai/Euromonitor Consulting report forecasts that e-commerce in the MENA region will be worth $49.9 billion by 2025. It predicts the fastest growing segments will be food and drink and consumer health.

Looking specifically at the UAE, its e-commerce market doubled in size in two years, to $5 billion in 2021, and is expected to reach $8 billion by 2025. Again, consumer electronics, clothing and footwear are the largest segments for online purchases.

UAE residents also enjoy ordering food online, with the highest use of smartphones for online food orders across the MENA region. They are also big spenders, with an average transaction size of $122 in 2019-20, compared with just $22 in emerging markets, and $76 in mature e-commerce markets.

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Across the MENA region, per capita e-commerce spending in 2021 was highest in Israel ($1,344), followed by the UAE ($553) and Kuwait ($257). These countries are noted for their high income levels and internet access.

The growth in e-commerce is being supported by continued investments in the region’s telecoms infrastructure, delivering faster internet speeds and better connectivity, and improvements to regulatory frameworks governing online payments.

The total number of internet users in the MENA region has leapt in the past decade, from 75.6 million in 2010 to 239 million in 2021. Some 80 percent of households now own a smartphone. 

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