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Key findings from our MENAP report

MENAP payments report

2020 represents a significant moment for payments and e-commerce throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Pakistan (MENAP). With many traditionally cash-centric countries converting to high rates of digital payments overnight, the pandemic has spurred something little short of a payments revolution.

Our report into the payments landscape across the MENAP captures this pivotal moment. 

It’s a fast-evolving market that presents a huge opportunity for merchants to capture new business by optimizing payments and catering to consumers’ unique demands in the region. 

Here are five key findings from the report:

1. Digital commerce is here to stay

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital commerce across the MENAP region. Our data finds 45% of consumers have shopped online more frequently since the beginning of the crisis. And 50% expect to shop more online in 2021. 

Thirty five percent say the safety and speed of digital payments specifically is their top reason for shopping online.

Our network data support these findings. We’ve seen a near 86% year-over-year increase in payment volume coming from the region. 

According to merchants, a growing number of consumers are also saving their card details on their favorite online stores. These actions are a positive sign that these trends are here to stay.

Expert view: Emre Talay, Director of Global Payment Operations at Delivery Hero

"The value proposition for digital payments changed overnight. There was this huge shift from cash to digital payments across all markets without exception. In some markets, around 50% of the cash usage has shifted to digital. The change is rapid. We have also seen a rise in consumers wanting to save a card on file."

2. Consumers trust digital payments

Cash has typically been the payment instrument of choice in the MENAP — and remains so —  despite the recent surge of digital activity. While various factors make this so, many argue that cash preference largely stems from a distrust of digital security and anxieties about online fraud. 

Our research finds this isn’t true. 81% of respondents to our survey say they trust the safety and security of online payments. And most concerns with digital correlate with social and political security issues that impact the financial institutions holding their money.

Expert view: Sylvie-Anne Bond, a lawyer specializing in financial services across the MENAP region

“Cash is already one abstraction for communities who tend to think of wealth in terms of tangible assets such as jewelry. Numbers on a screen are an even deeper level of abstraction and remove especially when trust in governments, socio-economic harmony, banks and even currency stability can all really waver.”

3. The digital opportunity is starting to convert

Despite the recent shift to digital forms of payment, Cash on Delivery (CoD) remains the preferred payment method by 36% of consumers across the region. 

However, government initiatives, coupled with the hygiene concerns around cash, mean that merchants will likely see a definite and consistent move away from CoD in the coming months.

And this represents a significant opportunity for merchants to understand their customer’s preferences and use new tools to encourage them to adopt digital forms of payment. 

Expert view: Jelena Tustic, Digital Operations and ePayments, at Chalhoub Group

“With more new players entering and providing digital payment platforms at this time of need, they’re setting the momentum for payment trends such as paying in installments, link payments, and so on. The resulting competition could be helpful to enhance the overall service experience for end-users across this region.”

4. Apps are where it's at

Consumers in MENAP are leapfrogging their peers in Western markets by bypassing traditional eCommerce on a laptop or desktop and shop predominantly through mCommerce apps. Our data finds that 45% of online consumers across MENAP prefer to purchase products or services via an app.

Many consumers are also heading to social media services such as Facebook and Instagram to make their purchases. Fourteen percent of online consumers in MENAP are most likely to conduct their shopping through social apps and shoppable advertisements.

Expert view: Hadi Raad, VP, Head of Digital Solutions – CEMEA, Visa

“Social media platforms such as Instagram are integrating the e-commerce experience in their platform, with in-app checkout. This is allowing users to make purchases without leaving the app, enabling merchants to complete the sale at the time of a consumer’s interest.”

5. Optimizing authorization rates is key to success

Given the complexity of the payment landscape and rapidly changing online behavior by consumers in the region, authorization rates are an issue for merchants. Our data finds that 21% of consumers in MENAP have experienced a false decline — compared with 14% in the United States

What’s more, MENAP consumers have a low tolerance for failed payments. They are 20% less likely to retry following a failed payment than their peers in Europe and the US — which is an additional incentive for merchants to drive down their false decline rates. 

Data is key to overcoming this challenge. data shows that the most common false decline reasons in the region come down to format error or failed 3DS authentication. However, it is precisely this kind of data that our research tells us is sorely lacking for many merchants.  

Sixty five percent of merchants say they don’t receive detailed response codes on failed payments. And to provide customers with the support needed to encourage successful retries, merchants must start by ensuring that they’re not in the dark themselves.

Arjun Singh, EVP — Cards and Payments at Al-Futtaim Group

“A blind spot that has a negative impact on acceptance rates and therefore a financial impact are declines with generic error messages. On the customer side, these can be frustrating and hinder a second or third attempt because the decline is not further explained. We have worked towards a solution to this problem by providing customers with more defined action points post decline of a transaction, such as ‘use a different card’ or ‘your card has not been activated for online purchases,’ which helps us retain customers and support them in trying again.”

Harnessing the MENAP opportunity

The forces of change are in full swing across MENAP. The future is exciting and full of opportunities for merchants. Understanding what these changes mean and taking proactive steps to take advantage of them is the key to success.  

About the Author

Julie Scrase is Editorial Lead at, responsible for leading flagship research and editorial projects that demystify the world of fintech, payments, ecommerce and crypto. Before joining, Julie worked as a Senior Content Editor at the FT across its Banking and Finance portfolio, led the Strategic Projects team at EI and was also a Senior Researcher and Producer at the Association of Corporate Treasurers.

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