The UAE is leading the e-commerce revolution in the Middle East with approximately five in 10 people shopping for goods and services on the internet, according to the latest research by MasterCard.
The Online Shopping Behavior 2013 study , which included responses from 3,000 people, showed that 51 per cent of consumers in the UAE went online to shop last year, the highest in the region. Saudi Arabia and Qatar followed closely behind with 48 per cent.
The UAE is home to a tech-savvy population  and has the region’s highest internet penetration and smartphone ownership rates, estimated at 71 per cent and 73 per cent respectively. The country’s e-commerce is forecast to reach $10 billion (Dh36.7 billion) in value by 2018.
“The steady growth of online shopping trends in the UAE sheds light on the priorities of the technology-savvy new age consumer, who now enjoys the convenience, speed, value for money and safety of their transactions while shopping online,” said Aaron Oliver, head of emerging payments for Middle East and Africa at MasterCard.
Overall, the Middle East’s online shopping is set for ‘exponential’ growth in the next three to five years, as more consumers embrace faceless transactions. It is also forecast that more people will move away from traditional computers to mobile devices, driving further the growth of e-commerce.
Oliver said providing consumers with more options will play a key role in increasing online transactions. MasterCard has introduced in other markets a digital wallet called MasterPass that lets consumers make purchases on the internet, in stores or anywhere.
The things that we’ve been doing, the digital wallets, as well as mobile payments, are really what’s going to drive it because if you give people more choices for where they can pay using more devices, that obviously then leads to more transactions,” Oliver said during a video conference with reporters from the Middle East on Tuesday.
Online sales in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)  countries are forecast to grow to $15 billion next year according to PayPal. The market grew 29 per cent from $7 billion in 2011 to $9 billion in 2012. Purchases on mobile devices, which represent 10 per cent of the Middle East’s e-commerce, are also expected to double, reaching close to 20 per cent of transactions in 2015.
According to MasterCard’s study, internet shoppers in the Middle East are spending their money on airline tickets, clothing and accessories, groceries, books, CDs, DVDs and travel-related products and services.
In the UAE, online shoppers mostly make their purchases through local websites like Souq.com and Cobone.