DUBAI: Internet users in the Middle East and North Africa are increasingly engaged with ecommerce and social networking, according to new figures.

Econsultancy, the insights provider, and Real Opinions, the survey firm, polled 2,000 web users in North Africa, the Levant and the Gulf, including nations like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

On average, participants spent two hours online per day, while 38% dedicated between two and five hours to this channel, and 34% committed an even greater amount of time to the net.

In all, 66% of respondents use the internet to research products before making purchases, with 48% "occasionally" doing so, and 18% "regularly" undertaking such an activity.

A further 27% sometimes made purchases via this route, and 6% frequently did so. Transactions linked to flights, hotel reservations, utility bills and buying books are currently the most common.

More broadly, 39% of people not using ecommerce services intend to in the future. The main obstacles at present incorporate a lack of trust in payment systems, on 44%, and unsuitable payment options, on 36%.

Aliya Zaidi, Econsultancy's research manager, added: "Consumers also cited poor website design, unreliable delivery and inability to process customer orders, so a focus on best practice can help to remove some of the barriers to buying online."

The study additionally reported that social networking is the most widespread web activity across the featured countries, with 88% of the connected community logging on to these sites every day.

Facebook was easily the top-ranking site in this category, as 98% of individuals questioned had signed up. Exactly 77% of this group had "liked" a brand, rising to 82% in the Levant markets, such as Jordan and Israel.

However, in the Gulf states, like Qatar, Oman, and the UAE, email remains the leading internet activity, accessed by 87% of contributors in these nations each day, beating the MENA average of 80%.

Turning to mobile, 77% of smartphone owners log on to social networks through these devices, standing at 70% for sending and receiving email. Instant messaging, watching video clips and gaming are also popular, the study found.

Data sourced from Econsultancy; additional content by Warc staff