E-Commerce in the Middle East: Have the Region’s Shopping Habits Changed Since the Outbreak?

Are digital payments becoming the new norm? In a region where economies are still mostly cash-based and people tend to distrust digital transactions, the rising reliance on e-commerce platforms is a noteworthy change. Ever since the coronavirus outbreak, cashless payments are being encouraged and the online shopping industry is seeing a major boom; e-commerce in the Middle East is finally becoming a reality.

A recent economic report from the MasterCard Economics Institute showed that over 72% of Egyptians have shopped online since February 2020. The institute estimated a steady increase in e-commerce spending at a rate of 20-30% of the total spending on retail trade as a result of the pandemic.

However, it’s important to remember that one of the main factors that helped in the growth of the e-commerce market is the rapid growth of the younger sector of the population in the Middle East. The MENA region is home to the largest number of young people in the world, the report noted, with more than half of the population under the age of 25. In Egypt, the percentage of youth is 52%.

According to Price Water House (PWC) surveys and findings, spending and purchasing habits have changed due to the pandemic as shopping from a smartphone increased by 53%, half (51%) of consumers are purchasing groceries online and of those, 92% are likely to continue to do so post-pandemic. The results highlight that while mobile shopping continues to be a growing trend here in the region, the impact of COVID-19 has forced change. Consumers who were previously resistant to using mobile payment channels discovered that purchasing goods and services on their smartphones was not only easy but convenient too. This is definitely not all of it, Middle East consumers have decreased their spending on clothing and footwear by 50%, on restaurant food delivery and pick up by 42%, and by 56% for managing their healthcare online.

The research also reveals the rising impact of social media on consumer spending habits, with 70% and 59% of respondents saying they had discovered new sellers through Facebook and Instagram respectively.

Our daily routines aren’t just based on online shopping though, right? There’s more meat in the so called digital life than shopping; many people have also taken part in things like online courses, language or dancing classes and more. Virtual experiences has also seen a rise, as according to the MasterCard press release, 76% of consumers in Egypt said they were using the downtime as a positive learning experience. More than half of the respondents said they had taken a virtual cooking class, 41% have been mastering a new language and 32% have been learning to dance online. 45% of respondents have been educating themselves in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects, and 44% said they are enrolling in an online university.

Now, we’ll leave you with a simple question: Will we continue embracing the digital life or will we still favor traditional brick-and-mortar business over online businesses in 2021?

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