For UAE's malls fast-track change is a near constant

For UAE's malls fast-track change is a near constantImage Credit: Supplied

The UAE has come a long way in the last few decades, from its traditional souk retail to modern retail formats.

There are a variety of formats, ranging from strip retail and community centres to super-regional malls, with Dubai as the most mature market in the region. The impressive blend of shopping and entertainment has allowed Dubai to become one of the popular tourist destinations in the world.

As the UAE's retail market advances, a ripple effect is more than likely to cause other Gulf countries to follow suit. The UAE has undergone substantial economic and infrastructure development along with population growth. It also possesses the financial capabilities to respond to retail demand and attract the attention of retailers worldwide.

Several international brands have become prominent retailers with franchising agreements with various dominant retail groups (Landmark, Chalhoub, Apparel, Al Shaya, Al Tayer).

The arrival of major developments such as The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, the Marina Mall, World Trade Center Mall and Galleria in Abu Dhabi has restructured the retail standard in the country. Old malls are working to reinvent themselves (BurJuman Centre and Wafi Mall) and new malls (Mall of the World and Yas Mall) are looking to provide a more innovative experience.

The current saturation of the UAE retail market with super-regional malls, notably in Dubai, has forced developers to consider sophisticated retail formats as well as community-orientated centres to respond to various consumer needs and preferences. They are seeking opportunities to create value by delivering unique concepts such as the Beach by Meraas, as well as, announcing the construction of community centres in proximity to major planned residential projects (Akoya by Damac in Dubai).

Retail trends popular in the Western world such as omni channel retailing, increasing digital and technological integration into marketing and advertising, and usage of big data systems are essential to effectively compete. Retailers worldwide are working to adapt to these changes through personalised in-store experiences, innovative store designs and promotions to keep the ever changing consumer engaged.

However, these trends are still lacking in the Middle East. But as consumers in the UAE become more tech-savvy, real-time data orientated and demand faster response times, the adoption of these trends will be inevitable to effectively compete.

Hence the increasing use of digital technology and multichannel retailing by retailers to better target their customers is being introduced. A popular example being eCommerce, where popular online websites such as MarkaVIP and Sukar are providing consumers with the ability to purchase various branded products online.

Apple is allowing its consumers to purchase products online with a click of a button. Moreover, the usage of digital technology and big data systems to send new merchandise alerts to loyal consumers through mobile messaging is also being adopted by retailers.

Experience is replacing location as retailing moves to the digital age. Developers will need to ensure they invest in activities that will drive footfall and increase the dwell times. As these activities achieve lower rents, it will force the developers to become increasingly cost-conscious.

Change is coming, albeit slowly. The Expo 2020 win is likely to accelerate this process. Shoppers in UAE still crave the physical store experience due to shopping being one of the major leisure activities in UAE.

The physical store will continue to exist, but the developers will need to invest in the infrastructure to support the new technologies. Due to increasing globalisation and the need for innovation, UAE retailers and malls are not just competing locally, but with retailers and mall developers across the world to attract the right customers and create the next most innovative and distinct retail destination.

As the retail world progresses, it is not just about providing a quality product anymore but also about providing an experience that engages a consumer on every sensory level.

Get a glimpse on amusement hospitality in Dubai

Source: Andrew Williamson, Special to

The writer is the Head of Retail at JLL MENA


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