Top 10 items UAE residents buy online (and how malls still win)

Half of UAE respondents intend to make an online purchase in the next 6 months

Shopping malls in Dubai and the rest of the UAE are benefitting from a surge in online enquiries as the country’s consumers are increasingly opting for the clicks-to-bricks mode to make their purchases, a new report says.

According to the Nielsen Global Survey of e-commerce, which examines the online shopping and purchasing intentions of consumers worldwide, online purchase intentions in UAE have doubled since 2011 for many durable and entertainment-related categories including e-books and event tickets.

However, despite this increasing intent to purchase, an increase in online browsing for products is driving more traffic to physical retail outlets, with the country’s numerous malls witnessing record footfalls.

That is because the UAE and the rest of the Middle East may indeed be at a stage where online shopping or, in fact, browsing, is boosting sales in the bricks-and-mortar outlets thanks to the experience that such shopping destinations offer.

“In the Middle East, online browsing is more used for the pre-shopping exploration and shopping for daily needs is the norm,” says Arslan Ashraf, Managing Director, Nielsen Arabian Peninsula.

“Shopping centres and malls have promoted the shopper-tainment culture and also serve as community centres – a physical place to meet, connect and engage. This is an experience which online shopping can’t provide,” he adds.

The new study conducted online by Nielsen polled more than 30,000 internet respondents in 60 countries, and provides an overview of global consumers’ buying intentions for both consumable and non-consumable categories in the growing e-commerce landscape.

The study shows that about half of UAE respondents intend to make an online purchase in the next six months in high-prominence categories including airline tickets (57 per cent), hotel reservations (48 per cent) and event tickets (43 per cent).

Here are the top 10 items that UAE residents buy online: 

Do you plan to shop for or purchase the following categories using an online device in the next 6 months?


Will buy online

Will shop for online

Won’t buy/ shop for online

1. Airline tickets/ reservation




2. Tours/Hotel Reservations




3. Event Tickets, including movies, games, etc.




4. Mobile Phone




5. eBooks




6. Clothing/ Accessories/ Shoes




7. Electronics, including TV/ camera, etc.




8. Software




9. Music




10. Videos/DVDs/Games




Source: Nielsen Global Survey of e-commerce, UAE respondents

An analytical look at the data clearly shows that barring a few items, many more UAE consumers shop for, or browse, a number of categories online but do not make their final purchase online, thus benefitting the bricks-and-mortar malls and retailers.

When it comes to shopping for event tickets and e-books, or making reservations for tours and hotels, there is a closer correlation between online searching and shopping – those who browse online are also more willing to buy online.

Consumable products, on the other hand, have lower online browse/buy intention rates than non-consumable products, but their browse-to-buy correlation rates are just as strong.

For example, with music, 31 per cent of UAE respondents say they browse, and 26 per cent say they buy: a close one-to-one correlation.

Similarly, about one-fourth of UAE respondents say they browse and buy Video / DVD / Games (29 per cent/24 per cent). And roughly one-fifth browse/buy flowers (22 per cent/21 per cent) and toys/dolls (22 per cent/21 per cent).

Products more conducive to online browsing than buying include: mobile phones, electronic equipment and cars/motorcycles.

These products can carry a high price-tag and often require a try-before-you-buy test run. The browse-to-buy difference for these products averages about 6 percentage points.

However, the changing lifestyle choices of UAE consumers mean that we are increasingly opting for shopping newer things online.

The online market for buying groceries and other consumable products – while not as strong as non-consumable categories – is starting to show promise, the report maintains.

Since 2011, UAE online purchase intentions for the cosmetic category increased 5 percentage points to 19 per cent, groceries rose 7 percentage points to 18 per cent and baby supplies jumped 9 percentage points to 17 per cent, it reveals.

With regard to devices being used to make online shopping decisions, while computers are the favoured device for online browsing and buying among respondents in all regions, mobile phones are a close second choice for respondents in the Middle East/Africa region, with 53 per cent of UAE respondents using the device for online shopping — 9 percentage points higher than the global average of 44 per cent.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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