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    Deloitte | A Middle East Point of View | Winter 2013 | 7


    The Middle East region haswitnessed strong growth of e-commerce despite weak links in the value chainOn many counts, the past two years have beenextraordinary for e-commerce in the Middle East. Thetotal value of online transactions in the region grewthree- or even four-fold in some countries. A number of regional start-ups bucked the e-commerce trend with many overpassing the symbolic USD 1m mark in revenues after less than two years of operations.Some of these success stories include JadoPado,EmiratesAvenue and Alshop. Simultaneously, group-buying companies such as Cobone also drove thegrowth of e-transactions in 2011 though the trend hasreceded in 2012 with the exit of Livingsocial from themarket. One of the first homegrown movers in thisspace,, has consolidated its leadership in themarket through acquisitions (including, theonline private shopping club) and grew its business froman “à-la-eBay” auction platform to a full-fledged fixedprice online marketplace. E-commerce companies have

    also attracted a significant amount of foreigninvestment with, Namshi and MarkaVIPsecuring USD 75m overall last year from foreigninvestors including the likes of JP Morgan and Naspers.

    However, the spectacular growth of e-commerce hidessome important gaps in the market and some missinglinks in the e-commerce system that need to beaddressed in the next few years to allow for thesustainable growth of online business in the region.

    Consumers’ adoption of e-commerce still immature On the demand side, and despite the growthexperienced over the past two years, e-commerceadoption remains relatively low compared tointernational benchmarks and varies greatly by country.In a recent survey conducted by Deloitte and Ipsos on

  • Online buyers in the UAE (%)

    Not buying online84%

    Buying online16%

    Type of items purchased online in the UAE (%)

    Note: UAE - % of total (sample = 430) Note: UAE - % of online transactions - multiple responses were allowed (sample = 71)

    2% Electronics

    3% Coupons

    4% Fashion accessories

    4% Cars

    6% Music downloads

    7% VOD

    13% Books/CDs/


    25% Flight tickets

    36% Entertainment


    Figure 1 - e-commerce behavior in the UAE

    8 | Deloitte | A Middle East Point of View | Winter 2013

    media and online behaviors in the Arab world, it averredthat 16 percent of the population in the United ArabEmirates (UAE) shops online. In other markets such asMorocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, e-commercepenetration appeared to be significantly lower at 2-3percent of the population. A second indicator revealsthat e-commerce in the region remains in its earlyadoption phase as online shoppers in the Middle-Easttend to buy limited physical goods such as electronics orfashion items and buy primarily tickets, usually perceivedas less risky to be purchased online. Indeed, in the samesurvey, ticketing (including entertainment and flights)still makes up for more than 60 percent of onlinepurchases.

    Small and medium businesses in the region have yet to embrace the e-commerce trendOn the supply side, with a few regional exceptions, the market remains dominated by internationalheavyweights – Carrefour’s online retailer for instance is believed to account for around 20 percent of total e-commerce transactions in the UAE. More importantly,while the region – and specifically Jordan and the UAE –has seen the advent of a number of e-commerce start-ups, the vast majority are online marketplaces such asMarkaVIP or and there is limited adoption ofe-commerce as an alternative retail channel amongst theSmall and Medium Business (SMB) segment. The growthof e-commerce worldwide has been fueled by a numberof high-profile success stories of small businesses online– from selling cupcakes to oversized shoes. In theMiddle-East, the SMB segment has yet to embrace e-commerce. In a recent survey done by Deloitte andTNS in Qatar, it averred that only six percent of SMBsinterviewed sell goods and services online acrossindustry sectors, with the key barriers to adoption beingsecurity concerns, lack of funds and lack of IT skills.

    Three core enablers are essential toensure a vibrant e-commerce market:good logistics, fit-for-purpose regulationand effective payment gateways

    Source: Arab Media Outlook 2011-15. Published in April 2012.

  • Deloitte | A Middle East Point of View | Winter 2013 | 9

    Weak links in the regional e-commerce value chainA deeper dive into these adoption gaps from a demandand supply side uncover some critical missing links in the regional e-commerce economic system. Three coreenablers are essential to ensure a vibrant e-commercemarket: good logistics, fit-for-purpose regulation andeffective payment gateways.

    While there are strong differences from country tocountry in the region, it is fair to say that the MiddleEast has yet to develop a more robust position on allthese three enablers. Logistics and delivery services oftenhinder the growth of e-commerce due to the difficultyto coordinate home delivery with the existing postalsystem and, in many markets, the uncompetitive natureof domestic delivery. It is not surprising that thecountries with the highest penetration of e-commercealso enjoy the availability of alternative delivery providerssuch as Aramex. Regarding regulation, “e-laws” in theregion have undeniably progressed over the past fewyears with a number of markets implementing thenecessary digital policies including e-commerce anddata privacy laws. Again, for regional e-commerceplayers, the challenges lie in the diverse legal structuresfrom country to country and the relatively recentadoption of these laws (e.g. Qatar passed the e-commerce law in 2010) resulting in lack of awarenessand enforcement mechanisms. The last enabler,payment gateways, is proving to be an issue primarilyfrom an affordability standpoint. Merchant ServiceCommissions and cost per transaction in the region tendto be on the high side when compared to internationalstandards and the set-up and annual fees for the serviceare usually prohibitive for small and medium businesses.

    The good news for e-commerce in the region is that thelocal market has been creative in finding solutions to theshortcomings of the traditional e-commerce value chain.Aramex has worked very closely with e-commerceproviders such as and, more recently, Namshito optimize the inventory and delivery logistics. On the

    payment front, Cash-on-delivery has proven to be agood (if not sustainable) interim solution to the lack ofcredit card adoption and trust in online transactions.Still, today close to 70 percent of all orders in the MiddleEast are done on a Cash-on-delivery basis. In the samevein, pre-paid card payments of online orders have beena potent alternative to credit cards to the extent that aregional, homegrown company, CashU, developed asuccessful business model out of it.

    The better news for the region is that a new generationof entrepreneurs is leading the transformation of theregional economy into the digital age. The surveyconducted in Qatar by Deloitte and TNS, showed thatlocal SMBs in their growth phase (2 to 10 years ofexistence) are twice more prone than average to theadoption of e-commerce activity. These youngcompanies share some common traits – a strong beliefin the benefits of technology adoption, a willingness todevelop beyond borders and just enough cash to startinvesting in future growth. Should the region overcomethe current limitations of its e-commerce environment,there is no reason to doubt that the Middle East willcontinue to experience high double digit growth in e-commerce in the coming years.

    by Emmanuel Durou, Telecommunications, Media and Technology (TMT) director, Deloitte Middle East

    The better news for the region is that a new generation of entrepreneurs isleading the transformation of theregional economy into the digital age