x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Shoppers just have too much time to go online

One reason online retail has not yet taken off in the Middle East: consumers have lots of time on their hands.

One reason online retail has not yet taken off in the Middle East: consumers have lots of time on their hands.

Until the region's consumers become more "time-starved" and the proper infrastructure is in place, internet shopping will not be as popular here as it is in other parts of the world, said the chief executive of the retail group Kamal Osman Jamjoom Establishment.

Kamal Osman Jamjoom, the owner and chief executive of the company with brands including Mikyajy and Early Learning Centre, said for online shopping to be widely adopted the region needs an address system for deliveries, a shift from cash to credit cards, and consumers must have less leisure time.

Mr Jamjoom estimated all of this would take another five to 10 years.

"You can't do online until you have the infrastructure … we have to have the postal system sorted out, we've got to have the credit cards in place," he said. "And also you have to have a population that has less time on their hands."

Mr Jamjoom said his company launched a regional retail website for its Nayomi lingerie and leisure wear brand online three years ago but shut it down because the small volumes did not justify the cost.

"I wouldn't go back and experiment online with our business, I would wait for someone else to try it," he said.

Mr Jamjoom's comments come as many regional retailers are launching online retail portals, or have plans in the works.

Last month Carrefour, the French supermarket giant, launched a UAE-specific retail portal, in conjunction with its local partner Majid Al Futtaim. Jumbo Electronics plans to launch a region-wide online retail website and Al Futtaim, with brands including Toys "R" Us and Marks & Spencer, plans to introduce its portal by next spring.

Internet start-ups such as Nahel.com have found relative success with UAE consumers, and other online entrepreneurs have followed.

E-commerce in the UAE should grow by 72 per cent to about US$33.7 million (Dh123.7m) by 2014, Euromonitor forecasts.

But one third of all web users in the Emirates have never bought anything online, according to data from the research company Nielsen.

Available discretionary time and the vast number of "beautiful" malls are roadblocks to e-commerce, said Mr Jamjoom. "That in a sense competes against the online business," he said. "I think in other societies where time is critical, you're planning every minute … then you have to shop online. You don't have the time to go to the mall."

aligaya@thenational.ae