Group-buying may well have cemented its position as a catalyst for e-commerce in the Middle East, according to new research from GoNabit and YouGovSiraj. The Middle East’s first daily deal group-buying website partnered with independent research consultancy YouGovSiraj to capture e-shopper sentiment among its registered users in the UAE, Kuwait, Jordan and Lebanon. The study not only shows that end users are overwhelmingly positive towards online shopping in the region, but that group buying also serves as a great entry point into e-commerce for consumers new to online transactions.

GoNabit released the results of its survey during the ArabNet 2011 Forum, the largest conference for the Arab web industry, currently taking place in Beirut, Lebanon. With the highly active online community that has sprung up around GoNabit since its launch in July 2010, the region’s leading group-buying website polled a random sample of 2,196 users to determine whether e-commerce in the Middle East has moved beyond its embryonic stages.

“We felt the reasons why people don’t buy online in the Middle East were well documented – if not often exaggerated. We all know there are issues with payment gateways and a lack of quality homegrown websites. We’ve essentially sparked e-commerce in every market where we operate and, from our experience, consumer confidence in online shopping is improving. We decided to ask registered GoNabit users, who we consider early adopters of regional e-commerce, what motivates or demotivates their online purchasing decisions,” explained Sohrab Jahanbani, COO and Co-Founder of GoNabit.

The findings signal a positive outlook for entrepreneurship in e-commerce with consumers’ propensity to spend online improving significantly. Respondents are overwhelmingly positive towards e-commerce (93% positive), despite the known and perceived problems in this region of security, availability and delivery. This suggests the market will continue to grow as these barriers are knocked down.

Two thirds of consumers (66%) claim that if it is cheaper to buy online they would buy more often. In addition, over half (56%) would buy more often if it was more convenient to purchase online. Exclusivity, ease of online transacting and a wider product range are secondary motivators for why people would choose to buy online more often.

“This shows there is great potential for online stores that can disrupt offline retailers through the cost efficiencies of e-commerce. Online retailers that can provide a mix of value and convenience will see a very receptive market,” said Jahanbani.

There is also considerable purchasing power among online shoppers. Interestingly, for a daily deal website, the GoNabit sample was skewed towards higher incomes (38% with monthly salary of $5,333 or more). Just over half (53%) have spent more than $500 on a purchase, while 3 in 5 (60%) would be prepared to do so in the future. Over half (52%) of those on the highest incomes have spent more than $1,000 online and 57% are prepared to spend that amount in the future.

With 21% of respondents having made their first online purchase within the last month, the results also confirm the pioneering role of group-buying in the development of regional e-commerce. Given the survey sample of registered GoNabit users, there is a strong suggestion that a GoNabit deal has introduced these people to online shopping.

Reinforcing the power of social networking as a tool for online shopping – and a testament to the group-buying business model – almost half (47%) of respondents have used social networking sites to share a deal online. This rises to 3 in 5 (60%) among the 18-24 age group. Over a quarter (26%) has actually made a purchase after seeing something shared through social networking sites. Again this is higher – just under a third (32%) – among 18-24 year olds.

Research is also an important factor in online purchasing behavior. The vast majority of people surveyed conduct research before buying a product online (94%). The most popular sources for this information are review websites (73%) which are used more than friends and family ‘in the know’ (64%). Deal websites (54%) and consumer forum websites (49%) are also important research tools, in addition to manufacturers’ websites which are used by 56% of males.

Word of mouth also remains a powerful influencer of online purchases with 77% having bought online after a recommendation from a friend. Meanwhile, 89% of respondents have recommended an online deal to friends and family through word of mouth.

In addition to highlighting the positive outlook for e-commerce from an end user’s perspective, GoNabit says the survey results reinforce the effectiveness of the group-buying business model as a powerful online marketing tool.

“This is the first attitudinal study in the Middle East that demonstrates the role of social networking in converting online buzz into online transactions. Using our Nabber community we can start to gain valuable consumer insights into what online tools e-commerce providers should be using to influence purchasing power and strengthen the sector throughout the region. It also tells us that as an industry we need to apply greater focus to improving security standards and online customer service,” said Dan Stuart, CEO and Co-founder of GoNabit. “This is first in an ongoing series of pioneering research that you’ll see from us.”

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