Online shopping has come of age in Oman, writes Alvin Thomas.
It’s a hot Tuesday in Azaiba, with the temperature soaring to 39 degrees Celsius. It has left 38-year-old stay-at-home mum Leena in limbo. She needs to go shopping for her weekly groceries to prepare dinner for her three children, husband and sister-in-law, who lives with the family.
But the intense midday heat forces her to stay at home until her husband returns as the nearest shopping mart – Rawasco – is 15 minutes’ walk away.
A month ago, she would simply have headed to LuLu Hypermarket in Bausher with her friend, who has a car. But since her shopping companion left for her summer vacation, Leena has been struggling to do her household shopping.
But Leena has a plan.
She switches on her laptop and logs on to online webstore Shop On Click, a grocery shopping website based in the UAE and Oman that delivers all the groceries she requires.
“I came to know about Shop On Click through a flyer I found on the road in Al Khuwair when my husband and I were out and about,” says Leena. “It seemed like a good option to try it out, especially when no one is at home and when the heat is unbearable.
“Plus, it would save me some time,” she laughs.
Completing the transaction is fairly straightforward: Leena simply logs onto the website (shoponclick.me), which poses as a virtual market for goods and groceries, complete with pictures of the items and their prices.
She also saves time by typing out her list of groceries in a virtual “Shopping List” on the website, thus eliminating the need for paper and a pen.
After that, she simply scrolls through the vast number of groceries on offer in the digital store. Nestlé Cerelac and Nido, check; 1kg Sadia chicken, check; Al Rawabi milk, check; assorted vegetables and fruits, check; Galaxy Minis chocolate, check and one packet of London Dairy ice cream, check.
Her total amounts to RO11.825.
Next, she simply types in her location, apartment number, building name, street name and additional instructions on how to get to her apartment, and clicks on “Checkout”.
In less than an hour, a delivery boy arrives with her groceries – all packed and all fresh. She also pays the bill on delivery, using her debit card.
A surcharge of 400 baisa is charged for delivery and processing.
“I could get used to this system of shopping online and I may avail myself of their services from now on. I would also like to see the service catch on,” says Leena.
The reality of this scenario is a welcome change to the way we shop in Oman as e-commerce takes hold in the Sultanate.
The future is now: all the technology that Leena uses to purchase her groceries today is readily available at her fingertips through the comforts of home and via her laptop and smartphone.
In fact, Shop on Click is only one among a sea of other online shopping retailers that have started to get a foothold in the Omani retail market today.
But as the chief executive of Shop on Click, Mohamed Saleh al Araimi, says: “Oman is still only taking baby steps in e-commerce and online shopping. Our country is still only slowly adopting online shopping. But the process has been steady, and more and more people have started using it.”
According to a recent survey carried out by Mordor Intelligence, the e-commerce market in Oman only accounted for one per cent of the total sale of marketed goods in the region this year.
The study shows that approximately 20 per cent of residents here have made at least one purchase over the internet since 2014. But the figures are still lower by 50 per cent than that of the United States and 75 per cent lower than that of the United Kingdom.
The statistics are a surprise considering that Sultanate has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the Middle East. Oman and its neighbour, the UAE, has the highest smartphone penetration in the GCC region after Qatar, which has a 79 per cent reach.
Only eight per cent of the population was recorded as using their mobile devices for mobile and online shopping.
The list of items bought in Oman from online stores range from clothing to groceries and music, while more than 25 per cent of the population have made purchases from foreign websites such as Google, Souq, eBay, AliBaba and Amazon.
However, consumers in the Sultanate are now “gradually exploring online shopping” options locally as well. According to an Online Shopping Behaviour Study carried out by financial services company MasterCard, nearly 25 per cent of those surveyed in the country said they accessed the internet for online shopping, of which 76 per cent said they were highly satisfied with their online shopping experience.
Consumers also said they spend most of their money on clothing, airlines, travel, beauty care, and medicine; followed by coupons and deals, hotels and groceries.
It was also noted that more than one in three respondents made a purchase online during the three months prior to the study being undertaken.
Aaron Oliver, the head of emerging payments (Middle East and Africa) at MasterCard says: “It is encouraging to see that online shopping in Oman is gradually increasing in popularity.
“Consumers value the safety and security of online payment facilities and the convenience of being able to shop on the go.
“Considering Oman’s high mobile penetration rate, and the unbeatable convenience of being able to shop anywhere and anytime, it is not surprising to see that rates of shopping online via mobile are also steadily rising.”
Airline tickets were found to have the highest spend rate when compared to other leading services including travel products, home appliances and electronic products. Nearly 15 per cent of the respondents in the survey also identified the Oman Air website as the most commonly visited portal for ticket procurement.
But for everything else, eBay was the most commonly visited site for online shopping, followed by Yallahoman, Muscat360, Amazon and UAE-based Alshop.
The sudden boom of social media in Oman has also seen a host of local companies taking to platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to offer their services to local residents.
Compared to international vendors, these local dealers also provide potential customers with exclusive benefits and lower costs.
However, this has also given rise to a number of illegal home businesses in Oman. For example, it was recently reported by local press that a number of expatriate women were operating small businesses from home without legal documents and visas.
These businesses include food (cakes, home-cooked meals, etc), dress jewellery and goods, as well as other services.
“But for consumers in the Sultanate, the key considerations while making an online purchase include security of the payment facility, the availability of the product and the convenience of payment,” says Mohamed from Shop On Click.
“Our company is registered with the authorities, and we have grown over 300 per cent since the day we started.”
Shedding light on the growth of legal online shopping, Muzafir, a software developer in Muscat, says: “Online shopping will certainly grow in Oman in the coming years but I feel that if a company has to grow within this market, it has to be established too.
“For example, the new LuLu Webstore and Amazon portals are great for making purchases. But someone who is new to Oman would think twice before investing in a product from someone who is selling it on Instagram.
“People are well aware of scams now and perhaps they can distinguish between a fake service and a real one. For example, if you go to Instagram and type in ‘Oman Shop’, you can see a lot of local products made good. Most of these are real, and made in Oman.
“However, at the same time, there may be an advertisement of someone selling you a fake limited-edition Seven Friday watch. That’s something you need to be careful of.
“A lot of people are there to take advantage of your lack of knowledge but it is really up to you to make the decision.”
However, in MasterCard’s survey, Omani consumers were asked to include the factors that influenced their decisions when making online purchases. They cited price, exchange policy and online reviews as the most important considerations before making a digital transaction.
When asked how online shopping could be improved in the future, 31 per cent of shoppers in Oman said this could be accomplished by websites creating more user-friendly platforms.
The global e-commerce market has been booming, and is expected to hit US$2 trillion (RO770 billion) by 2020 and also account for a total of 7.8 per cent of market sales.
And one thing is for sure: Even though Oman lags behind countries such as the UAE, Qatar, India and even China, e-commerce and online and mobile shopping are here to say. And who knows, maybe Oman will be the base for the next billion-rial shopping website.
Country of Origin: USA
The world’s largest platform for buying and selling electronics, cars, fashion apparel, collectables, sporting goods, digital cameras, baby items, coupons and everything else you can imagine.
Country of Origin: USA
Online retailer of books, movies, music and games along with electronics, toys, apparel, sports, tools, groceries and general home and garden items.
Country of Origin: UAE
Online shopping store in the Middle East for everything from mobile phones, computers, laptops, electronics, toys, home appliances and groceries.
Country of Origin: UAE
One of the best online shopping stores in Oman. It offers mobile phones, laptops, sunglasses, cosmetics, watches and much more, along with discounted prices.
Country of Origin: Oman
YallahOman offers personal and health care products, home appliances, cakes and flowers, electronics, fashion, and has its own gift store.
Country of Origin: UAE
A portal to shop for everything from electronics, to home products, fashion and beauty.
Country of Origin: Oman
Alatool offers coupons for shopping, meals, spas, massages, clubbing, recreation, adventure sports, weekend getaways and more.
Shop On Click
Country of origin: UAE/Oman
Shop On Click is the country’s first fully fledged online grocery store.