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UAE small businesses aim global expansion to drive growth, finds study

42% of businesses expect to be cashless within the next two years.

UAE small businesses aim global expansion to drive growth, finds study
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

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Most small and micro businesses (SMBs) in the UAE are seeking to grow their businesses and enter new international markets as digital payments become more widely accepted. Sustainability, conscious consumerism, and tech are driving the recent changes and trends in the market.

Most SMBs (93%) plan to prioritize cross-border sales as they look to expand into new markets. This is driven by consumer demand, as 83% of consumers said they already feel comfortable buying across borders, according to the seventh edition of Visa’s Global Back to Business Study.

“It used to be that only big businesses could scale to access customers across the country or around the world, but today’s small business owners can be virtually borderless,” said Dr. Saeeda Jaffar, Visa’s SVP and Group Country Manager for GCC. 

She added that the small business mindset is shifting from survival to growth mode as SMBs harness the power of digital payments to improve efficiencies, reach new audiences, and thrive in the increasingly digital world.

Small businesses are also embracing digital payments, with 100% of those surveyed saying they plan to be cashless at some point in the future. Around 42% of businesses plan to shift to cashless payments within the next two years. 

Consumers are leading the way in this shift, with 51% saying they plan to use digital payments more in the coming year.

70% of consumers plan to shop more at local businesses this year to support the local economy.

92% of UAE shoppers say that a business’s sustainability practices have at least some impact on their decision to purchase from them. Nearly all (96%) are willing to pay more for sustainable products or services.

Business owners cited offering new products or services (44%), investing more in marketing (42%), and increasing their social media presence (41%) as the top opportunities to reach new customers. 

37% of businesses believe that accepting new forms of payment is a crucial area that can help them improve their business.

Around 91% of SMBs are considering using automation and AI services like ChatGPT in the next year to boost their competitiveness. 

However, only 33% of SMBs are confident in their ability to keep up with technological and consumer changes, and more than two-thirds (67%) feel less confident about tackling this task.

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