United Arab Emirates flag United Arab Emirates: Buying and Selling

E-commerce in the United Arab Emirates


Internet access
United Arab Emirates, with its 9.5 million inhabitants, has the 7th largest population size among 14 countries of the Middle East. The country occupies nevertheless the second position in the region in terms of the internet penetration rate,  one of the highest in the world, estimated at around 90% (Internet World Stats). Emirati internet users, both local and expatriate, (8.5 million people) account for 5.8% of total internet user population in the Middle East (4th highest). Internet penetration has reached near maturity and now grows at an average rate of 4% (Hootsuite). UAE has the highest smartphone penetration in the world (81% in 2017) and 82% of the total population are active mobile internet users. Internet use is also extremely frequent with 89% of users reported to access the internet every day (Google Consumer Barometer). The share of mobile in web traffic is the highest (57%) and continues to increase rapidly at the expense of personal computer and tablets (-16% and -13% y-o-y respectively). As far as search engines are concerned, Google dominates the market with a 96.72% share, followed by Bing at 1.48% and Yahoo at 1.42% (Statcounter - 2017).
E-commerce market
Emirati e-commerce has one of the highest growths in recent years, and is the most dynamic market across the MENA region, as well as the e-commerce leader among GCC states. Between 2013 and 2017, online retail sales are believed to have grown from US$ 490 million to US$ 1.6 billion. The total value of the e-commerce market is expected to rise exponentially in 2018, ranging between US$ 8.98 billion and US$ 10 billion according to forecasts. Overall, the market is expected to grow at an average rate of 25% per year by 2020. Growth in the e-commerce market is forecast to be fuelled to a large extent by mobile, as the UAE have the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world (81% in 2017 according to a Newzoo survey). Smartphone usage is reported to be even higher among millennials (over 90% according to a Google survey). The share of mobile use in regular online purchases is already higher than laptops and desk computers (47% as opposed to 39% - Hootsuite). Cross-border shopping is extremely popular in the UAE, with 46% of consumers saying they have purchased from foreign websites in 2017 (PayPal 2018). American websites were by far the most visited e-commerce platforms, followed by Indian and Chinese websites. Souq.com, Cobone.com and Sukar.com are the largest locally-based e-commerce websites. The acquisition of Souq.com by Amazon, and the launch of Noon.com by Emaar Group in 2017 are believed to further invigorate the Emirati e-commerce market.
Social media
United Arab Emirates has the highest social media penetration rate in the world (99% - Hootsuite 2017). Emirati users are also among the most active on social media and spend on average 3 hours and 24 minutes per day on social media platforms, and 7 hours and 55 minutes online. Facebook and YouTube are the most popular social media networks in the UAE, with about 8.7 million users each. These two are followed by WhatsApp (7.2 million users) and Instagram (5.7 million). According to the UAE Social Media Survey and MidEast Media Survey, the ranking is different when considering only local Emiratis. In that case, WhatsApp is the most popular network, used by 96% of Emiratis (1.7 million people), followed by Instagram (78% or 1.4 million), Facebook (70% or 1.2 million) and Snapchat (62% or 1.1 million). Social media is mainly used for entertainment purposes (nearly 70% of users), while only half of users access social media to get and share news. Twitter is the top social media platform for news, while YouTube is the main platform for entertainment, according to MidEast Media Survey.

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Latest Update: April 2024

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