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The first Qatar e-Commerce Fo­rum held re­cently was rare and refreshing, and un­like any­thing we have been to be­fore. Not one bit like the “all talk, no ac­tion” af­fairs that you'd ex­pect. Apart from the top-cal­i­bre speak­ers and big pres­ence of lo­cal e-commerce star­tups, we were most pleas­antly sur­prised by two things – a very hon­est in­tro­spec­tion of what is im­ped­ing Qatar's e-commerce push and the im­por­tant ini­tia­tives that were an­nounced at the event to counter th­ese. Not a prom­ise of some­thing to come some­day, but very con­crete steps in the form of the Qatar Na­tional e-Commerce Roadmap, which gave real mo­men­tum to the dis­cus­sions which took place there that day.

At first glance, it is hard to imag­ine why e-commerce in Qatar isn't do­ing as well as it should, con­sid­er­ing the high dis­pos­able in­come of its cit­i­zens, the strong and se­cure ICT in­fra­struc­ture and its highly con­nected so­ci­ety. Ac­cord­ing to ic­tQatar, while trans­ac­tions worth QR3.67 bil­lion ($1 bil­lion) are con­ducted an­nu­ally on­line in Qatar (which is poised to reach QR7.34 bil­lion ($2 bil­lion) by 2020), this ac­counts for only 14% of the to­tal re­tail spend of the pop­u­la­tion. How­ever, on­line shop­pers in the coun­try are the high­est spenders in the re­gion ($3,453 per user per year), with an av­er­age sin­gle trans­ac­tion val­ued at QR970 ($264). Th­ese num­bers will grow or­gan­i­cally in the years to come, but as key­note speaker Char­bel Sarkis, Google MENA's Sec­tor Lead for Re­tail, e-Commerce, Tech­nol­ogy and Tele­com, said, “We should be ask­ing, how do we grow 10 times?”

Num­bers show that the is­sue is not ex­clu­sive to Qatar. Around the Gulf and the larger MENA re­gion, e-commerce is strug­gling to pick up. In fact, Qatar is do­ing really well when com­pared to its neigh­bours, with in­creased aware­ness es­pe­cially among home-based busi­nesses which are trad­ing and mar­ket­ing through so­cial me­dia chan­nels and large re­tail­ers like Lulu and IKEA who are also go­ing on­line. That's why this is the per­fect time for a con­cen­trated push in the right di­rec­tion to line-up all the com­po­nents of the ecosys­tem and be­come a re­gional leader in this space. “With global highs in In­ter­net/smart­phone pen­e­tra­tion and time spent on­line, the re­gion has so much po­ten­tial,” Sarkis ex­plains. “The GCC has 10 mil­lion dig­i­tal shop­pers while the MENA has 25 mil­lion; this is ex­clud­ing on­line pur­chases of travel and hos­pi­tal­ity

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