MENA’s digital economy is evolving faster than ever: Report

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Data shows that 91 percent of consumers across MENA bought products online in the past year, with fashion and clothing making up 46 percent of all online purchases in the region. One in five consumers across MENA purchase retail products online more frequently than last year, with 33 percent shopping more frequently for fashion and clothing online.

The above figures are part of the second phase of its Digital Transformation in MENA 2022 report by Checkout.com released recently. Following the launch of part one last month – which included insights from 15,000 consumers in the region – the current report interviews businesses and their leaders at the forefront of the rapidly growing digital economy.

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Checkout.com is a global payments solution provider that helps businesses and their communities thrive in the digital economy.

Remo Giovanni Abbondandolo, VP of Commercial, MENA at Checkout.com said, “If our nearly 10 years in the region have taught us one thing, it is that it’s impossible to underestimate the potential, drive and dynamism which exists in this diverse and rapidly changing region. It will be increasingly important on the global stage.”

Retail sector rides the digital wave

One in five consumers across MENA purchase retail products online more frequently than last year, with 33 percent shopping more frequently for fashion and clothing online.

Remo Giovanni Abbondandolo, VP of Commercial, MENA at Checkout.com. (Supplied)
Remo Giovanni Abbondandolo, VP of Commercial, MENA at Checkout.com. (Supplied)

This points to a rapidly developing digital ecosystem that allows government agencies, established companies and start-ups to flourish, observed Paul Carey, Executive Vice President of Cards & Payments, Al-Futtaim Group. “This is particularly evident in payments, where governments have set up regulatory sandbox infrastructure and made it easier for businesses in the region with more flexible visa options and commercial licensing,” he added.

F&B overcomes resistance to digital

While the pandemic forced consumers to stay away from their favorite eateries, it opened MENA’s appetite for home delivery services. Checkout.com’s data shows that in 2022, local consumers are ordering meals online more frequently than ever. Over half (53 percent) of MENA consumers purchased food online in the past year, with 42 percent of MENA consumers saying they are buying food online more frequently this year than in 2021.

The online food ordering sector has numerous moving parts that need to come together in each transaction, from the restaurants to drivers and aggregators to payment providers. Close collaboration is therefore vital for the many stakeholders, noted Ramzi Alqrainy, Chief Technology Officer at The Chefz, a leading Saudi-based food delivery app.

“Collaboration allows us to innovate effectively and to reach and serve society in its most inclusive sense. These days, one provider doesn’t need to manage all aspects of a consumer experience from A to Z. We all need to work together. This is the death of ownership,” said Alqrainy.

Travel, entertainment regaining momentum

While a drop in travel and live entertainment sales was inevitable in 2020, the survey shows that the sector is regaining its momentum and is making its presence in the digital economy felt as it continues to grow.

According to Checkout.com’s findings, 20 percent of consumers in MENA purchased entertainment services online in the past year, with 14 percent reporting purchasing them more frequently now than in 2021.

Moreover, 32 percent shopped for travel services online in the past year, with 21 percent of consumers reporting buying them more often now than in 2021.

Alexandre Morin, Director of Payments - Risk and Fintech, Wego, the region’s biggest travel marketplace, said: “MENA has become a priority market for many of the world’s tourism boards as it’s a reliable source of long-stay visitors with excellent spending power.”

The relentless growth of fintech

The survey also shows that remittance apps remain the most widely utilized form of fintech in MENA, but as other products increase, so does adoption.

The report found that 82 percent of consumers in MENA use some form of fintech app in 2022, up from 76 percent in 2021.

Innovation has been underpinned by solutions such as Visa’s Account Funding Transactions (AFTs) which pull funds from an account and for use on a pre-paid card, top up a wallet, or fund a person-to-person (P2P) money transfer. “The secure, reliable, and fast movement of digital money between individuals, businesses and governments is the engine powering today’s global economy”, said Dr. Saeeda Jaffar, Senior Vice President and Group Country Manager for GCC, Visa.

Meanwhile, half of the consumers in markets such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE used Buy-Now-Pay-Later (BNPL) options this year and as many as 67 percent across MENA indicated they may use it in 2023. In crypto, 55 percent of 18–35-year-olds in UAE and Saudi Arabia would like to be able to pay for goods and services in crypto or stablecoins in the next 12 months.

“Previously, retailers viewed BNPL as just another payment method and often compared BNPL services to other payment providers, resulting in downward pressure on rates. However, we see retailers increasingly focusing on overall growth, including marketing, customer experience and product maturity. As a result, we see a win-win, sustainable partnership model,” said Sargun Bawa, VP of Growth at Tamara, the homegrown BNPL platform.

Read more: UAE launches new incentives to attract 300 digital companies: Minister

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