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Visa Study Finds 97% of UAE SMBs Have Embraced Digital Technology to Meet Changing Consumer Demands

As the one-year mark of the Covid-19 pandemic approaches, more consumers continue to tap their cards in-store and click to pay online, as the businesses that serve them embrace digital payments more rapidly than ever before. The third edition of Visa’s global research study, “Visa Back to Business Study – 2021 Outlook,” conducted in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Russia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United States, found that both the continued SMB shift towards digital commerce and changing consumer payments habits show few signs of reversal as the calendar advances into 2021.

According to the study, by the end of 2020, nearly all (97%, compared to the global average of 83%) of SMBs surveyed in UAE had embraced new forms of digital technology to meet changing consumer behaviours. Looking ahead to 2021, SMBs are assessing what other payment technologies are critical to meeting today’s consumer expectations, with results led by security and fraud protection (54%) and allowing instalments for online payments (49%, compared to 35% globally, the most of all markets surveyed).

Shahebaz Khan, General Manager for the UAE, Visa, said: “While there had been a sudden surge in e-commerce and digital payments in 2020 due to the impact of Covid-19, our report suggests that these trends will continue to prevail in 2021, even as the vaccines become more widely available in the country and the wider region. In addition, we believe 2021 will place greater attention on security and fraud, and trial of more emerging digital commerce tools that can help SMBs in the UAE thrive.”

The report highlighted that digital-first mindsets will help power business forward and win consumer mindshare in 2021:

The Road to Recovery for SMBs in 2021

Contactless payments are here to stay: The global rise of contactless payment offerings in 2020 spurred by challenges including consumers looking for safer ways to pay amidst the pandemic, is showing no signs of slowing down in the New Year. In fact, in June 2020 44% of UAE’s SMBs surveyed were offering contactless payment for the first time – now, the same proportion (44%) say they are doing it more often, and of those, 73% plan to continue doing it over the next three months. Over 4 in 5 (86%, compared to 74% globally, the most of all markets surveyed) SMBs surveyed expect consumers to continue preferring contactless payments even after a vaccine is widely available.

SMBs meet consumers where they are – SMBs have steadily increased their efforts to meet consumers where they are now: online. In the UAE, 97% of SMB owners have made updates to their operations in the past three months to meet these new demands for digital payments, up from 94% in summer 2020 when the first Visa Back to Business Study was released.

The fight against fraud –  At 94%, SMBs in the UAE are the second most likely of all markets surveyed after Hong Kong (96%) to have encountered customer concerns about fraud over their new use of technology (compared to 70% globally), presenting an obstacle to maintaining positive engagement with their customers. Recognising the significance of and responding to a potential fraud attack will continue to be critical in 2021 as the shift to digital sales continues to increase.

New Year Brings a New Era for Consumer Habits

Consumer preference – Almost overnight, consumers put Covid-19 safety measures at the top of their shopping lists, igniting a rapid shift to touchless commerce. S77%of UAE consumers (compared to 65% globally) surveyed would prefer to use contactless payments as much as or even more than they are currently using it. And just in the last quarter of 2020, 62% of consumers have used contactless payments whenever possible. In fact, of all markets surveyed, the UAE consumers emerged as those that are the least likely to plan to shop more in-person (37%, compared to 53% globally) even after a vaccine is widely available.

Safety-conscious shoppers – While the universal focus is on mask use in stores, consumers are also eager to have payment alternatives to handling cash, pens and keypads. In the UAE, 74% of consumers (compared to 47% globally) say they will not shop at a store that does not offer a contactless way to pay. The vast majority of UAE consumers surveyed (93%, compared to 85% globally) expect digital options when they shop in person, more so than any other market surveyed. Tapping a credit or debit card is the most preferred option (57%), followed by paying with a mobile wallet (51%, compared to 36% globally) and mobile payment apps (44%).

At the card wash – Card cleanliness remains key for consumers in the fight against the spread of Covid-19. Nearly all the UAE consumers surveyed (96%, compared to 61% globally) are taking steps to keep their credit card clean, making them the most likely of all markets to do this.


  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.

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