RIYADH: Digital payment transactions in the Kingdom jumped by 75 percent in 2020 as Saudi consumers embraced online shopping during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, while cash withdrawals from ATMs and other payment points fell 30 percent over the same period.

Point of sale (PoS) refers to a place where customers can execute payments for goods or services. This can be a credit card in a clothes store, a digital payment in a coffee shop or through a food delivery app.

Speaking to Arab News, Talat Zaki Hafiz, economist and secretary-general of the media and banking awareness committee for Saudi banks, said: “The total number of the PoS operations in 2020 amounted to about 2.8 billion, an increase of 75 percent compared with the same period in the previous year.”

The value of operations amounted to about SR349 billion ($93.7 billion), an increase of nearly 24.1 percent compared with the same period in 2019, he said.

Consequently, the number of PoS devices operating in the Kingdom rose sharply by the end of 2020 to more than 700,000, an increase of about 70 percent since the beginning of the year.

As consumers turned to online and digital non-contact payments during the pandemic, the number of cash withdrawals carried out in 2020 across the Kingdom dropped by more than 318 million, or about 30 percent year-on-year.

“These statistics and indices confirm the increasing and steady demand by people and businesses to use e-payment technologies through PoS devices,” Hafiz said.

“The measures taken by the government in various sectors, including health and banking, to encourage e-payments have had positive effects and helped to reduce the negative impact of the coronavirus on the country and its people, including businesses.”

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He said that the trend of increased online shopping and e-payment will continue even after the coronavirus crisis ends.

More than 60 percent of Saudis are under 30, “which means that society is more geared toward electronic dealings and electronic banking,” he added.

Hafiz said that a main objective of the Financial Sector Development Program (FSDP) — one of 13 executive programs launched by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs to achieve the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 — is to reduce the amount of cash being used in the Kingdom by developing the national finance infrastructure to allow a transition to e-payments.

Moving toward a cashless society will deliver multiple benefits for the Saudi economy, including cost reductions associated with printing traditional money, as well as providing greater transparency in government monitoring of cash flows for taxation purposes and combating commercial concealment, he said.

Non-cash transactions are expected to make up to 70 percent of all transactions by 2030, Hafiz said.

Evidence of the growing preference for e-commerce over cash was seen during the Black Friday sales late last year. A survey carried out by advertising platform Criteo of 900 Saudi online consumers found that around 40 percent of respondents said they planned to buy more products online, with household products, groceries, and beauty and hygiene items proving most popular.

Alistair Burton, country manager MEA at Criteo, said: “The events of 2020 made it an extraordinary year for e-commerce. Our research shows that this year consumers will swap door-buster deals for online discounts that start sooner and last longer.”

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Overall, the research found that 58 percent of Saudi respondents were more comfortable shopping online in 2020 than in-store.

The surge in online interest has not only helped the banking sector. In November, Amazon announced it had created 3,400 new jobs across the Kingdom, with 60 percent of the positions going to Saudi nationals.



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