As online shoppers in the UAE slowly warm up to the idea of using Amazon.ae following the e-commerce giant’s takeover of Souq.com, many are asking themselves whether Amazon’s premium service, Amazon Prime, is actually worth the AED 16 per month or AED 140 per year.
Let’s weigh the pros and cons. The monthly subscription gives UAE customers access to free shipping on local and international items, free next-day delivery, exclusive discounts, Amazon Prime Video streaming service and Twitch Prime gaming platform.
The monthly and annual charge for UAE Amazon Prime subscribers is a fraction of the costs borne by their counterparts in the US. At the same time, consumer reviews suggest that the selection of products available to UAE Amazon Prime members is limited compared to the US and other markets, not to mention that some members outside of the UAE enjoy same-day shipping, unlimited photo storage, flat-fee grocery deliveries and ad-free music streaming.
How does it compare to the competition?
In the category of free shipping, Amazon Prime’s offering appears to be unmatched as the membership program promises UAE shoppers free shipping on Prime-eligible products, in addition to free delivery in 6 to 9 days on international orders at a minimum spend of AED 100. Taking into count the high cost and hassle of international shipping, we would say this is a pretty good deal if you are a frequent online shopper.
Although Noon.com offers free delivery for the same minimum spend on orders, its shipping delivery times depend on the type of product ordered and the amount available in stock. On the positive side, Noon.com does not charge a membership fee and the website offers its UAE customers the option to use Noon.com branded lockers where they can store and collect their packages.
Logistics and delivery
Should you want to return any of the items you purchased on Amazon.ae, you can do this within 15 days of delivery, compared to the 30 day-period offered to customers of the Amazon Global Store. This can be done relatively easily through the website’s Online Return Center, thus eliminating the need to call the customer service phone number to make your case. If your return request is approved, you will be asked to label and drop off your package before you get a full refund. The returns process for Noon.com works a bit differently as customers are only given refunds in the form of store credit.
There are also a handful of smaller e-commerce players that have become popular with online shoppers in the UAE, such as Awok.com which operates a business model similar to Amazon and Noon.com, but promotes daily deals with the option to order pretty much anything you would find in a hypermarket or department store at competitive prices. Orders with Awok.com placed within the UAE usually take anywhere between 4 to 6 working days from purchase date, while delivery charges can cost up to AED 39 per package, depending on the customer’s location.
The Amazon effect
E-commerce transactions in the UAE are projected to hit AED 59 billion in 2019, according to a joint study by Dubai Economy and Visa, with the number of transactions expected to grow by 23 per cent on average annually between 2018 and 2022. Tech-savvy consumers, a vibrant startup ecosystem, consumers’ growing appetite for online shopping are just some of the factors that are supporting this growth trend.
The same study showed that consumers in the UAE are spending more when shopping online as they move from single large-ticket purchases to using digital platforms and apps to pay for everyday things such as groceries, food delivery, and entertainment.
As competition heats up within this market, industry players will have to keep up with evolving demands of their customers. Price, customer service, ease of use and delivery are likely to remain the most important factors that define the online shopping experience for years to come.