Online vendors in Middle East battle buyer insecurity

As one of the fastest growing categories within the region’s retail space, e-commerce is punching in the right numbers. A 45 per cent growth over the past year is what the Internet payment services firm PayPal has estimated, and take-up rates are such that the Middle East’s e-commerce marketplace could be valued at $15 billion by 2015 against the 2011 tally of $5 billion.

This when smartphone- or tablet-based online selling itself is on the cusp of a major breakthrough in these markets.

Yet, industry players cannot help shake the feeling that the issue of "online security" remains the biggest obstacle that is holding back even higher growth numbers. The issue has been magnified with recent reports of data breaches and online surveillance involving the big tech majors. These have had a ripple effect on regional shoppers’ attitudes towards online exposures.

"Unfortunately, consumers in the region already feel insecure about online data security," said Mohammad Chbib, founder and CEO of, a regional portal which curates bespoke homeware and accessory pieces. “Recent studies have shown one of the main reasons for hesitation towards shopping online is the fear of data sharing and misuse. Events such as the data snooping in the US and the UK will potentially increase this feeling of vulnerability."

But is there a perceived drop in the region’s online transaction activity each time a report of data breaches breaks in one of the global markets? According to Ahmad Al Khatib, CEO and founder of the flash-sales portal MarkaVIP, such a connection does not exist. "International events haven’t affected us... and I think this is mainly due to building a close relationship with customers,” Al Khatib said. “Given that 60 per cent of them make repeat purchases, we feel regardless of international events their confidence in MarkaVIP remains high and it is that confidence that helps us attract new customers."

Behind the scenes, it means committing significant — and continuous — funds into creating a breach-proof tech infrastructure for their operations. Industry sources maintain that in terms of robustness and level of sophistication, what’s deployed here is on par with global benchmarks. In fact, MarkaVIP has just gone through a further top up of its tech platform.

On the security side, this means adding new features from Cybersource, including one-click credit card payments and enhanced encryption of customer data. MarkaVIP’s now also has PayPal’s one-click checkout. “We do not believe there is a technology gap at all — we employ some of the best security measures in the industry," said Al Khatib.

Yet, it is a battle that can afford no let-up in focus on portals’ part. "Global industry standards for data encryption exist and are continuously improved by security experts worldwide," said Chbib. "Any e-commerce platform of a significant size operates in line with these standards. “However, recent revelations [in the west] have shown that, nevertheless, all security features have certain flaws."

That may be, but online shoppers can play their part in securing their data. They could do so by:

* Creating alpha-numeric passwords of around 12-digits. Taking help from a random password generator software is a step towards effective data protection.
* Change passwords regularly. Under no circumstances share these with others.

(News courtesy :