More people in the UAE shop online using mobile phones than via personal computers, bucking the global trend in the e-commerce industry, estimated to be worth US$680 billion (Dh2.49 trillion) this year.
About 29 percent of internet users in the Emirates have bought goods or services using smartphones, compared with 26 percent using PCs, according to a study by the research firm TNS Global.
Globally, the trend is reversed. An average of 73 percent of internet users have used computers to shop online, versus the 50 percent who have used mobile phones. "Mobile shopping [is] likely to play a bigger role than PC-based online shopping in future," according to the TNS report entitled Digital Life, making reference to the Africa and Middle East (AME) market. However, the report acknowledged that online shopping was "still under-developed in most of AME", in comparison with other markets.
According to JPMorgan, global e-commerce revenueshould be $680bn this year, up 18.9 percent from last year. While UAE consumers may be behind in their use of e-commerce, the market - which has one of the world's highest rates of mobile phone ownership - is notable for its use of smartphones for online transactions. "Accessing internet content through mobile devices is on the rise," said Satish Dave, the senior director for TNS MENA.
Mr Dave said that much of the e-commerce activity in the MENA region was for travel sites and services such as mobile-credit purchases.
James Fergusson, the managing director for the technology sector at TNS, said the mobile phone now "reigns supreme". "Mobile devices are ubiquitous and will become the single largest means of communications and transactions," said Mr Fergusson. "Here in the UAE, 31 percent of consumers are accessing the internet via mobiles, and that increased 11 [percentage points] in the 12 months from 2010 through to 2011," he said, citing earlier research.
The Digital Life report also found that UAE internet users spent an average of two hours online each day. Social networking was the most popular activity, followed by email use. About 90 percent of UAE internet users go online daily, slightly above the global average of 86 percent, the report found. TNS, which is part of the global media giant WPP, surveyed 72,000 people in 60 countries for its survey. MENA countries in the survey included Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Globally, digital media is now more popular than "traditional" media, Mr Fergusson said. "Of the world's online population, [more people] are accessing the internet on a daily basis, compared to 55 percent watching television on a daily basis," he said. This could lead to a potential "imbalance" in advertising spending, which might be skewed more towards traditional media in some markets, Mr Fergusson said.