UAE – Retailers and supermarkets enter online shopping sector

By Aya Lowe

Dubai: While online stores may be a concept that is yet to take flight in the UAE, an increasing number of retail businesses are choosing to set up cyber shops.

The development is timed with the growing confidence in online shopping.

The past year has seen a number of online only shops launched such as and Now, leading supermarkets are entering the fray, while the likes of Marks and Spencer and Carrefour also have online plans.

While the UAE is far behind the US and the UK in internet penetration, it is very much at the vanguard in the GCC region. There are 2.26 million internet users here, which translates to 56 per cent of the population, compared to the US and UK which have 220 million (72 per cent) and 43 million (71 per cent) respectively.

With such a sizable web user universe locally, it’s open season for portal launches. was launched recently as an offshoot from, a local distributor of products described as environmentally friendly. had been designed for corporates, but after rising demand from individual clients, Anu Agarwal, CEO of, came up with the new portal.

“One of the reasons we chose to go online was because rental rates are very high in Dubai,” Anu said.

“You’re also able to reach a wider audience if you go online; [but] eventually we’ll have an offline store.”

It is also cheaper to acquire customers via the online gameplan.

“We pay 10 cents a click with Google adverts and from that we have customers that come to shop for $500,” Anu said.

Another advantage with online retailing is the option to conduct targeted research. Before the launch of a product, firms test the region’s need for it by sending e-mails and the response can give a good indication of what might work and what won’t.

To get its message across, Anu said and made full use of social marketing tools.

“We use Twitter a lot to launch our new products online; we also have a page and community on Facebook,” said Anu. “We use which is pretty useful in spreading the awareness of products.

“International Google adverts also drive a lot of traffic for us.”

Another portal,, was launched in May and has since seen a steady increase in converting traffic over the months. “The UAE customer is demanding more choices in online travel,” said Tarique Khateri, vice president of business development at the online travel booking site.

It is estimated that airlines get almost 20 per cent of their business from online channels.

However given that these are supplier sites, the overall travel booking is estimated to be at 15 to 18 per cent at the moment. In more mature markets, the share is anywhere between 35 to 40 per cent.

“Going by how markets behave across the spectrum, we are confident of seeing the 30 per cent mark being reached [here] in the next two years,” says Khateri.

The key to online retail is to keep it simple. “For a full online travel portal, we believe in a straightforward premise of ‘making travel simple’ for our consumers,” Khateri added.

Anu uses the three-click principle to retain consumer attention.

“Within three clicks people should find what they’re looking for,” she said. “We update the site daily with a lot of window dressing. We always have a new look depending on the season.

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