DUBAI: When countries implemented lockdowns to control the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers all over the world took to the internet to satisfy their shopping needs – accelerating the growth of e-commerce.
The region was no exception, and the trend is likely to continue post-pandemic.
Based on a new report by global payments company Checkout.com, 83 percent of 13,000 surveyed consumers said they will “maintain or even increase their current level of e-commerce spending into the next year.”
The shift in consumer behavior was remarkable in Saudi Arabia, the report noted, with 53 percent of Saudi respondents saying they shop online at least once a month – above the regional average of 45 percent.
It’s even highlighted during peak shopping seasons, such as in Ramadan, where 76 percent of consumers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE say they were likely to buy products and services online more frequently during the holy month.
The report estimated that 209 million more customers in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Pakistan, — a region known as MENAP — have begun shopping online since the pandemic broke out in March 2020.
The growth in e-commerce owes to a “greater sophistication” in the region’s digital payments ecosystem.
“A flourishing digital payments and e-commerce ecosystem is leading consumers to feel more empowered, with star-ups thriving in the fintech arena, and commercial markets opening up,” said Mo Ali Yusuf, regional manager for MENAP at Checkout.com.
The report said 60 percent of consumers in the region now prefer to use a digital payment method when purchasing online – up by 20 percent since the company’s 2020 report.
Not only is cash being used less, but consumers are also using newer ways of paying, including digital wallets and “buy now, pay later” apps.
Yusuf said MENAP has begun “to outperform European markets in the adoption of emerging payment methods.”
Around 24 percent of surveyed consumers have used a “buy now, pay later” option this year – higher than the 23 percent across the UK and Europe.
“This presents a phenomenal opportunity for global and domestic merchants to expand their businesses across MENA,” he added.
An official at the World Bank earlier highlighted the role of digital payments in economic growth, entrepreneurship, job creation, public service delivery and financial inclusion in the region.
The use of financial technology (fintech) applications in the region has been promising – with 76 percent reporting to use some form of it in the past year, only 4 percent short of the consumers in the Asia Pacific region.
This presents an opportunity to address financial inclusion in the region, the Checkout.com regional manager said, particularly empowering the unbanked and underbanked population.
Government backing and a modernized regulatory regime
The unprecedented growth in both e-commerce and digital payments are also reflective of a developing regulatory regime, with many countries including Saudi Arabia showing keenness in adapting to trends in banking and finance.
Core policies in several Gulf countries are built around promoting a “digital economy,” even accelerated by the impact of COVID-19.
“As countries recover from this crisis, robust inclusive digital financial systems will be vital to creating a foundation for critical gains for sectors,” a statement from the Arab Monetary Fund said.