Why does Amazon not flow in UAE?


The UAE’s official visit to China earlier this week was momentous in many ways, not least in what it said about future flows of capital between these two (very different) emerging markets. But what was also momentous was the way technology was hailed as integral to the “new e-Silk Road” between the two countries.

Dubai World announced the launch of a website in Mandarin, which will give “a clear picture of the group’s investment interests” to potential partners in China. This is both an indication that the internet is key to mature trade relations and that state-owned conglomerates are not always the secretive beasts that many paint them to be. But there is more to online business than trade relations. And the range of services offered online in the UAE is, in fact, still extremely limited.

Where, for example, is the Middle East’s Amazon.com? I often see parcels from Amazon arriving at the Emirates Business offices, delivered using expensive [and logistically inefficient] airmail. It is not just sites such as Amazon that are missed. In a country where one can phone up their local convenience store to have a pint of milk delivered – a luxury that many miss when returning to their home countries – it is surprising that online grocery shopping has not taken off in the UAE.

Spinneys – the top-end supermarket – does not have such a service. LuLu claims to, but when I tried to order a frozen chicken online, it did not work. The same goes for online florists (Interflora is the leader in the United Kingdom, for example), and niche delivery sites. While the UAE does not do shopping sites well, it does excel in other areas.
The e-government service is one of the most advanced in the world. And we have a decent community site (Maktoob.com), as well websites for jobs (Bayt.com), auctions (Souq.com), and classified adverts (Dubizzle.com). But, there is still a huge gap in the market for local shopping sites.

Retail outlets and consumer service providers should take note of that, because – in a few years time – they will be left behind if they do not embrace the technology that their customers are already using.