In 2016, the Middle Eastern eCommerce market was worth around $5 billion – a figure that’s expected to double by 2018. The region, as a whole, has tremendous potential. The digital share of retail in the Gulf states is a mere 1-2% of the total spent, compared to around 15% in more mature markets. To add allure, the average value of an online order placed in the Middle East is currently 50% higher than the rest of the world. The point is clear: The Middle East is a market that eCommerce retailers seeking to grow their business can no longer afford to ignore.

Many online merchants, however, continue to lose out on profits from this up-and-coming region due to their fear of Card-Not-Present (CNP) fraud. Some simply deny international credit cards. Others accept international cards, but fail to adapt their fraud review processes to account for cross-border transactions, resulting in high rates of false declines.  Either way, retailers need to ensure they have the infrastructure, and are prepared to handle an increase in sales from this promising market.

Ecommerce merchants are likely to notice a seasonal surge in sales across all verticals in the final weeks of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. So what should they be doing to ensure they are taking advantage of these customers over the holidays and throughout the year? We analyzed the habits of online shoppers from more than a dozen Middle Eastern countries to provide you with insights and actionable tips on preventing fraud and maximizing profits in cross-border sales for this region.

Middle East holiday shopping

As mentioned, retailers can expect to see a spike in spending across the Middle East over Ramadan, thanks largely to reduced work hours and a festive atmosphere. In 2016, Riskified saw an 18% increase in regional sales volume in the three weeks leading up to Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Importantly, these orders were overwhelmingly safe, with more than 97% easily approved. In fact, safe approval rates for transactions relating to this region are high throughout the year. We are able to safely approve 90% of purchases placed from Middle Eastern IP addresses, and over 96% of purchases made with Middle Eastern credit cards.

Not only do shoppers from these countries spend more during their own religious holidays – they also take full advantage of the North American sales season. During Black Friday week in 2016, for example, we saw a 47% increase in purchases made with Middle Eastern credit cards and a 103% increase in purchases placed from Middle Eastern IPs. Again, over 90% of orders could be safely approved!

Master mCommerce

A major contributing factor to the rapid eCommerce growth in the Middle East is the increase in smartphone usage.  According to our data, almost 60% of purchases from the region are made via mobile device, and over 90% of these can be safely approved. And the share of purchases placed on mobile is only likely to grow with the rise in smartphone ownership.  

Given this number, it’s prudent for retailers to ensure they are offering users a seamless mobile shopping experience. According to Google, 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing, and 40% opt to visit a competitor’s site instead. Unfortunately, many merchants neglect to adapt their fraud review systems to account for this segment, which can lead to high rates of false declines. For example, retailers may misinterpret legitimate shopping patterns as ‘risky’ due to the nature of cellular connections (e.g. a mobile carrier may shift your browsing to another location). As a result, device fingerprinting and proxy detection techniques that work well for desktop transactions are less accurate for mobile.

For further information on how to effectively prevent losses from this channel, download a free copy of our report on preventing fraud in mCommerce.

What should merchants be looking out for?

One of the factors preventing Middle Eastern customers from making the move from malls to eCommerce is the negative experience afforded by online retailers, which has led to a lack of trust in digital shopping. In order to keep false declines down – and customer friction to a minimum – it’s critical for retailers to ensure that systems designed to detect fraud in domestic orders are not automatically identifying international orders as ‘suspicious’. Billing-shipping address mismatches, proxy connections, and reshippers all frequently appear in legitimate international orders. The key is not to decline based on single data points but rather to get to know patterns of legitimate versus fraudulent behavior. Below are some tips on what merchants should be looking out for when vetting Middle Eastern orders.

Country IP

A basic data point to consider when reviewing international orders is the country from which the purchase was placed. Orders from Moroccan IPs are relatively risky for example, while those from a United Arab Emirates IP can be safely approved close to 95% of the time. Nevertheless, retailers need to be careful not to blacklist certain countries, as that will inevitably lead to false declines.

 

Reshippers

Fraudsters tend to use reshipping services to disguise their true physical location, but this doesn’t mean that fraud teams should be automatically declining these orders. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to use reshippers, including a lack of alternate delivery options or to avoid expensive shipping costs. To this end, Riskified is able to safely approve over 87% of orders placed with a Middle Eastern IP that are sent via reshipper. In fact, reshippers can sometimes even be considered a positive indicator when it comes to this region! For example, in orders placed by Iraqi and Omani credit card holders, approval rates are approximately 15% higher when a reshipper – rather than a standard delivery service – is used.

Industries

Top items in demand by shoppers in this region include fashion, smoking paraphernalia, travel, watches, phones, and auto parts. In general, most of the industries popular with Middle Eastern shoppers see little fraud.

The exceptions to this trend are tickets and gift cards. There’s no doubt that the Middle East presents less of an opportunity for concert-goers and gift card holders to redeem their purchases. Moreover, digital gift cards are highly targeted by fraudsters. With instant delivery, they are easily sold on the secondary market.

However, these orders should not be automatically rejected, as there are still many legitimate reasons Middle Eastern shoppers buy tickets and gift cards. For instance, the cardholder may be living overseas; seeking a discount via a peer-to-peer gift card marketplace; or buying a card to a global online retailer (e.g. iTunes or Amazon) as a gift.

Expand your business globally

As internet access and the availability of smartphones increases, we can also expect online shopping by Middle Eastern consumers to grow. There are boundless opportunities for eCommerce retailers in this region, which is why it’s critical for fraud teams to acquaint themselves with the market. For more information on raising approval rates and minimizing false declines, feel free to reach out to us at sales@riskified.com.