When considering the most popular payment methods in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), cash is typically the first option that comes to mind. And you'd have been right, but not anymore.
The old saying that 'cash is king' is no longer valid in the MENA region.
The region is a vibrant hotbed of payment innovation, ignited by the dramatic shift to ecommerce over recent years. And this is leading more and more consumers to forgo cash and shift their attention to digital payment options.
In this blog, we'll tour the region, exploring the variety of alternative payment methods in MENA and how merchants can evaluate what options they should offer.
Looking back just a few years ago, ecommerce was in its nascency. There were few payment options, a lack of trust in digital commerce, and a habitual preference for shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. In other words, ‘mall culture’ and cash reigned supreme across the region.
But, as is often the case in the Middle East, change happens fast. That’s certainly true regarding the growth of the digital economy and digital payments across the region. Adoption and usage rates have increased dramatically in recent years. And while the pandemic-enforced lockdowns had a significant role, it’s not the only factor at play.
For example, governments across the region double down on building next-generation digital economies as part of a broader strategy to reduce reliance on oil. There is Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia, the UAE Digital Government Strategy 2025, and the Qatar National Vision 2030. These all have digital commerce, digital payments, and digital financial services more broadly as core agenda items and are fostering an environment ripe for new entrants to power innovation.
Demographic factors also have a role to play. As the younger generation enters the economy, they demand fast, friction-free, convenient shopping experiences and managing their finances.
As McKinsey highlights in its report on the region: “The Middle East is on the cusp of a payments revolution. Its digitization targets are aspirational but within reach. Digital payments will be central to the new normal.”
Let’s look at some statistics to illustrate further the dramatic transformation in MENA’s digital commerce and payments landscape.
The Middle East & North Africa has quietly become one of the fastest adopters of BNPL. It’s expected the BNPL market will rise to $89 billion by 2030. Several factors drive the adoption, including the solution being seen as Sharia-compliant and marketed as an alternative to cash.
Changing economic conditions are also continuing to drive BNPL adoption, with individuals across the region using it to maintain their standard of living. It remains to be seen whether regulation will impact this growth. At the time of writing, only Saudi Arabia regulates BNPL. However, it’s likely other regulators will follow suit.
Brands offering BNPL across the region include Cashew, Postpay, Tabby, and Tamara.
Cash-based electronic payments, or cash on delivery, were once the most popular form of online payment method, accounting for up to 75% of ecommerce payments in some markets. Today, its popularity is waning as individuals become more comfortable using cards, wallets, and BNPL when shopping online. However, it remains a method merchants should consider offering customers as part of their overall payment strategy.
In 2022, cards accounted for 31% of ecommerce payments and are forecasted to remain around that mark in the coming years. Cards branded by the international schemes Mastercard and Visa are the most common form of cards across the region. However, there are also local schemes, like Mada in Saudi Arabia, Knet in Kuwait, and QPAY in Qatar.
Stored-value digital wallets are gaining popularity, especially in regions with large unbanked populations. With no need for physical cards, consumers prefer digital wallets for their speed at checkout and secure transactions. The ease of use, security, and various top-up options have contributed to the swift adoption of this payment method. Popular digital wallets include Alipay+, PayPal, and WeChatPay. There are also local alternatives, such as BenefitPay in Bahrain.
Pass-through mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay, are incredibly popular in some markets. These include the UAE, where half of the population prefers to use a digital wallet. Mobile wallets enable users to make convenient contactless payments via cards or digital devices.
Interested in learning about alternative payment methods in other regions?
The payment landscape in MENA is incredibly fast-evolving and dynamic. Offering the preferred alternative payment methods to customers across different markets should be a critical component of a business go-to-market strategy.
By offering their preferred payment methods, businesses can expect to:
Increase speed and UX at the checkout
Reduce cart abandonment
Foster customer loyalty
Reduce fraud risks
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is undergoing a profound transformation in its payment landscape. The once-dominant reign of cash is over, replaced by digital payment options.
Whether it's BNPL, cards, digital wallets, or mobile wallets, businesses that provide their customers with their preferred payment options can reap numerous benefits, including improved checkout experiences, reduced cart abandonment rates, increased customer loyalty, and enhanced fraud prevention measures.
If you're a merchant eyeing the MENA market, it's time to embrace these alternative payment methods and ride the wave of digital innovation in the region.
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