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E-commerce has grown from strength to strength. Image Credit: Shutterstock

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In conversation with Girish Nanda, Country Manager, UAE and Oman, Mastercard talks about how the global payments company is helping small businesses go online

What are the biggest trends in e-commerce right now in the UAE?

To understand the current trends, let me dial back a bit to a decade ago. The MENA e-commerce ecosystem then saw a massive transformation with platforms like Souq offering a wide variety of goods.

Fast forward five years, the e-commerce sector changed drastically with the Souq acquisition by Amazon.ae, and noon.com being launched around the same time with an initial capital investment of US$1 billion. These two major players forever changed the e-commerce landscape in the region.

Mastercard has been a trusted partner that enables issuers and merchants to leverage technologies such as our patented tokenization to ensure safety of e-commerce transactions and protect consumers and merchants against fraud.

- Girish Nanda, Country Manager, UAE and Oman, Mastercard

E-commerce has grown from strength to strength. In recent months it has accelerated due to changing consumer behaviors and in the coming years, the potential is huge. As a result of Covid-19, UAE consumers are shopping more online. Our latest Mastercard e-commerce study on consumer sentiment and spending revealed that 73% of UAE consumers have been spending more money online since the start of the pandemic. This is significant for retailers – three in four people are spending more, and they’re spending on a variety of things, so the opportunities are vast and varied. Respondents have been shopping online for groceries (73%), clothing (66%) and medicine (60%) to name some of the main items. The choices are many and people can choose not only from the local and regional e-commerce players but also from smaller e-commerce traders internationally who deliver to the country.

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Image Credit: Mastercard

It’s not just physical items either. As people spend more time at home, the demand for online entertainment has also surged with 78% of respondents having invested in entertainment subscriptions and 56% in online gaming. We’ve seen a 54% surge in people spending money on virtual experiences.

However, price (82%) still remains integral to the decision-making process and speed (76%) can often mean the difference between checking out or not. Security and consumer experience are important elements too - 60% said promotions and loyalty programs are important. And the personalization counts too: 61% of shoppers say a good shopping experience consists of easy return policies.

And finally, as e-commerce increasingly becomes a part of everyday life, consumers are moving other aspects of their financial management to digital. Seven in ten respondents having started banking online, reiterating the sentiment that it’s just not shopping, but all aspects of life that are moving online.

How will the shift towards online impact local businesses?

The pandemic has forever changed the way we look at shopping generally, and specifically, the way we shop. Our study provides significant insights into how shoppers are rapidly moving away from cash and opting for contact-free and digital payment experiences. This in turn, is helping local businesses to leverage the shift towards online shopping and to deliver fast, convenient and secure transactions, and even diversify product experiences.

Retailers and service providers including shopping malls are going online, and local businesses must consider how they want to approach having a competitive online presence. For example, consumers who want to shop from The Dubai Mall will be able to visit the virtual store hosted on noon.com and make their purchases online.

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Image Credit: Mastercard

What does this mean for local businesses? It means that the stage is firmly set for e-commerce to grow over the coming months and years. The small and medium enterprise (SME) segment needs to look at the shift online as a way to ‘keep their digital doors open’ and an opportunity to generate sustainable revenue.

At Mastercard we are actively supporting local businesses through various initiatives, for example ‘SME-in-a-Box’, which is a new low-cost online payments acceptance solution that can run on smartphones with Mastercard technology.

Local businesses may also consider experiential products to diversify revenues and grow a more loyal customer base. For example, most respondents have considered this a positive learning opportunity. More than half of the respondents (51%) said they had taken a virtual cooking class, 34% have been mastering a new language and 26% have been learning to dance online.

Furthermore, the research shows that online shopping outlets are identified through online channels – especially social media. Of the respondents in our study, 72% found new sellers through Facebook, and 56% said Instagram is where they discovered shopping opportunities. This further exemplifies that in parallel to digital, the need to connect at a social, more personal level is more important than ever before.

With cybersecurity increasingly becoming one of the biggest issues for consumers, how is Mastercard supporting safe online shopping?

With rising cybersecurity risks in a post-pandemic landscape, the focus for businesses is on delivering that safe and secure digital experience for consumers. Consumers are also becoming increasingly aware of the associated risks and over half of consumers (57%) surveyed said that a secure checkout was fundamental for a good shopping experience.

This is a key priority for us – a hassle free experience supported with excellent security for both consumers and merchants. We continue to work hard to reduce online fraud and protect retailers from data breaches, while ensuring that consumers still enjoy a convenient buying journey. Mastercard has been a trusted partner that enables issuers and merchants to leverage technologies such as our patented tokenization to ensure safety of e-commerce transactions and protect consumers and merchants against fraud.

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Image Credit: Mastercard

Tokenization, for example, encrypts consumer data by replacing card numbers with digital tokens. It means that a card numbers is not stored anywhere, which prevents improper usage and minimizes online fraud allowing physical shoppers and e-shoppers to be at ease at the payment checkout points or gateways without the worry of fraud.

What can consumers expect to be the gold standard of tomorrow’s shopping experience?

Fast and frictionless, safe and super-secure – I think that is the gold standard of tomorrow’s shopping experience.

As consumers become more at ease with online shopping, Mastercard continues to work round-the-clock to make every step of the journey more intuitive, more secure, more convenient.

We are witnessing consumer behaviors changing from cash to electronic payments, especially as online shopping experiences become more sophisticated as platform for showcasing and providing value and also solving pain points through the ease of access via mobile devices which is convenient, safe, and seamless.

By innovatively using new technology to advance a seamless and increasingly intuitive secure payment experience, that gold standard I mentioned earlier is well within reach.