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The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently shifted the economic landscape, accelerating changes that were already under way. At tasjeel.ae, we have a unique view of that change. Since April 2020, we’ve recorded an 83% increase in .ae domain registrations, as offline businesses move online. It’s a dizzying statistic, but what interests me are the reasons behind the increase.

When we break down the numbers and look at our expanded customer base, there’s a clear trend: Established bricks-and-mortar businesses are embracing online sales like never before. One of the strongest drivers of this growth is retail. That’s no surprise, since retailers have been among the worst affected by the pandemic and related restrictions.

But the movement of UAE retailers online doesn’t explain the preference for .ae domains specifically. As CEO of a leading UAE domain registrar, I’ve identified 3 factors behind that trend:

The Need for a Local Presence 

When a business moves online, it doesn’t have the advantage of a physical storefront. Add to that, the local nature of an online business isn’t always clear to consumers. But the .ae domain name immediately establishes relevance in the UAE. You can think of it as a digital storefront in a prime location.

That local association compares favourably with .com, .net and other international domains. These are often associated with businesses in the US, but do little to attract consumers in other regions.

Essentially, it’s all about relevance and trust, values that are doubly important for retailers embracing ecommerce for the first time. Registering a .ae domain name says to UAE customers ‘We’re here to serve you’.

The Availability of .ae Domain Names

Another major drawback with domain extensions like .com is the lack of truly distinctive names available. Verisign’s domain registration statistics suggest there are over 366-million registered domains in total, with almost half (160 million) being .coms or .nets. Against that backdrop, claiming your first-choice domain can be challenging.

Meanwhile, in December 2020 it was estimated there were fewer than a quarter of a million registered .ae domains. That’s an encouraging number for anyone wanting to get online with a strong domain like ‘mybusinessname.ae’.

But with .ae domain registrations soaring, there’s no room for complacency. Just as we saw in the US, where demand for .coms surged in the 1990s, UAE businesses face being left behind if they don’t secure their slice of prime digital real estate.

The Low Cost of .ae Domain Name Registration

The wide availability of .ae domains makes the registration process more affordable. That’s because a higher proportion of retailers and other businesses can find suitable unregistered .ae domains, instead of having to buy pre-registered premium .coms.

As of April 2021, we offer .ae domain registrations at 139AED for the first year. Admittedly, that’s a little more than an unregistered .com, but for business owners seeking a catchy website address, the .com option often isn’t available.

We can’t pretend that .ae domains will remain readily available for ever. The window of opportunity to register the best names is narrowing, and that’s motivated us to develop a dedicated marketplace for premium UAE domain names.

The Future

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of selling through diverse channels. It’s no longer enough to be an offline-only retailer, and businesses of all sizes need to adapt. With shifting consumer behaviours expected to outlive the pandemic, we anticipate continued growth in .ae domain registrations well into the 2020s.