Online shopping is a rising phenomenon but some UAE consumers are sceptical about the process, citing the high shipping charges and delays in delivery, as well a reluctance to give their credit card information.
Online shopping has been driven by consumers in the 25 to 44-year-old age bracket shopping mainly for airline tickets, hotel rooms, and home appliances, followed by clothing accessories, a study by MasterCard revealed.
Seeing and feeling the products they desire are the primary reasons why consumers still opt for visiting shops in person.
"I don't shop online. I can't trust that the item I want will be of the exact size and material. I need to see the product, whether it's shoes or clothes, and try it on," says Heba, a 24-year-old Palestinian interior designer who declined to be fully identified.
International retailers' delivery charges can cost up to Dh400 (US$108) a package, in some cases higher than the price of the item bought, and there are no guarantees that the item will arrive on the date promised because of custom procedures and delays.
"If I am ordering one item and delivery is going to cost me more than the product itself, then I'd rather wait till I'm ready to order many items together, to make it worth it," says Abdulla Ahmed, a 25-year-old Emirati manager living in Sharjah.
"I purchased a birthday gift for my friend," says Latifa Mohammed, a 23-year-old Emirati student living in Dubai, "and received it in two weeks instead of five days, as the retailer had promised. I feel lucky that I ordered the gift three weeks before her birthday; otherwise, I would have been embarrassed.
"I only shop online for products made exclusive to an online retailer, or for items that cannot be found in the UAE. Other than that, I buy most of my items when travelling," she adds.
Other consumers say if an item is a one-off and can only be ordered online, or if there is a huge gap between product prices in the UAE and abroad, then they would make their purchase online.
"From time to time, I tend to shop online, but mainly for brands that are not available in the UAE, or if the difference in prices is high, says Tamather, a 27-year-old Emirati living in Abu Dhabi, who also asked not to be identified.
"Then again, I only buy from international and world renowned online retailers."
UAE-based online retailers believe that it is only a matter of time before more people will shop online. "The UAE has the highest internet usage in the region as well as a modern infrastructure," Ali al Raqbani, an Emirati and owner of Jumeriah High Street, an online retailer.
However, he points out that in 2009, Euromonitor International stated that online retail sales accounted for only 0.1 per cent of total retail sales in the country.
"I think that's because of the availability of many beautiful malls that tempt shoppers to go there and physically do their shopping. Also the postal and online payment systems for UAE online retailers need to be developed to gain consumers' trust," says Mr al Raqbani.
"I believe that the number of consumers shopping online will increase greatly. When I started my business, I looked for young entrepreneurs with unique ideas and who were at the start of their careers, who had no shops or online representation, he adds.
"I offered to sell their products on my website. Being the only retailer that sells those products, people who really want those items will purchase them online."
Manar al Hinai is a graduate of the University of Leeds and addicted to online shopping