Dubai: In an increasingly digital age, more and more consumers are buying their groceries from the comfort of their homes. But despite the rise in e-commerce, the grocery aisles in Dubai are still thronged with busy shoppers, especially on weekends.

The reason behind the trend is that shopping in store is deeply ingrained in the culture of most people in the UAE, and many consider it an enjoyable activity.

A new report released by Nielsen on Wednesday reveals that 17 per cent of UAE consumers are now buying their food and daily essentials from virtual shops, but 69 per cent still prefer to walk into the grocery store to replenish their stocks because they consider it an “enjoyable and engaging experience.”

About the same number of consumers (65 per cent) said that the weekly trip to the supermarket is more than just a chore, but a “fun” activity for the whole family.

“For many UAE consumers, grocery shopping is a fun activity that generates positive feelings,” Arslan Ashraf, managing director of Nielsen Arabian Peninsula, told Gulf News.

But 63 per cent of those surveyed by Nielsen did say that, down the road, they will eventually shop online. What this means is that hypermarkets, grocery shops and corner stores in the UAE are here to stay. Retailers only need to reinvent their offering by not just maintaining a physical store, but by combining bricks-and-mortar and online services, to keep their sales going.

“E-commerce is definitely on the rise in our region. However, the physical shopping is still an important part of our culture in the Middle East. This is an experience which online shopping can’t provide,” said Ashraf.

Ashraf said retailers and manufacturers should take a “blended approach of online and offline” in order to attract and retain customers.

“It is important that retailers and manufacturers leverage physical and digital assets to optimize the in-store experience in the future. A challenging but exciting evolution to a new retail environment,” Ashraf said.

Nielsen’s report is based on a survey that polled 30,000 consumers in 60 countries throughout the Asia Pacific. The report tackles how consumers are using technology and offers insights into how merchants and manufacturers can use flexible retailing options to improve the shopping experience and increase sales.

A few businesses have already been set up in the UAE to offer mainly the grocery delivery service. Other traditional merchants are also introducing e-commerce models to give consumers a variety of virtual shopping options, although the majority of store operators, including big-box retailers, are still stuck in the bricks-and-mortar age.

Through the “click and collect” service, consumers are allowed to place orders online and pick up the items later at the store or drive-thru. There’s an online automatic subscription service, as well, in which orders are routinely restocked at a specified frequency.

Some shops also accept orders on the phone or through their website and offer to deliver the items straight to the front door.

The majority of consumers in the UAE (61 per cent) said they are interested in using an automatic subscription service when shopping online. Currently, only around 12 per cent of the consumers in the UAE subscribe to this kind of service.

A smaller number of consumers use “click and collect” service, with 11 per cent saying they place their orders online and pick up the items using a drive-thru, while 10 per cent order online and pick up the groceries in-store or curb-side pick-up.

The majority of the respondents said they are willing to use the “click and collect” options in the future (62 per cent for drive-thru, 62 per cent for in-store and 59 per cent for curb-side pickup).