JOHANNESBURG: Online retail is growing faster in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region than in any other part of the world, new figures have indicated.

Estimates from eMarketer suggest that the region's business-to-consumer ecommerce sales growth rates are outpacing the rest of the world by a margin of nearly ten percentage points.

Moreover, the research firm forecasts MEA online sales to reach $20.6bn in 2012, up 43% on a year earlier.

Further ahead, double digit annual growth is forecast for MEA every year out to 2016, by when the market will have more than doubled to $45.5bn.

This growth, however, is coming from a low base. MEA is the world's most underdeveloped e-commerce region. The region's forecast 2012 sales of $26bn are roughly half of those predicted for Latin America, and are on a par with South Korea.

Ecommerce firms in the MEA region suffer from numerous disadvantages, including a small number of local internet users and a lack of consumer familiarity with the concept of online shopping.

Development is further hindered by a lack of stable online payment systems and limited credit card usage by consumers.

But the situation is rapidly developing. Earlier this month, emerging markets telecoms group Millicom acquired a stake in Africa Internet Holding, an online shopping and services business, as it looks to move into higher value products.

Meanwhile, local companies are searching for new ways to develop the market.

South Africa is one of the more developed e-commerce markets in the region, with a recent Google report showing that the nation's online retail sales increased by 30% last year to an estimated $365m in 2011.

Data sourced from eMarketer; additional content by Warc staff