Innovation in the clicks & mortar retail in the Middle East
Retailing has changed more in the last 3 years than in the past 3 decades. Actually, it is the consumers who have changed. They are more mobilized, more informed and more connected ! They can shop 24/7/365, anywhere and they share their experiences in social media platforms to everyone they know. In many ways retailers are still trying to play catch-up to a consumer centric world, to better understand their customer, create stories and put romance around their brands.
We caught up with David Thurling, Vice President at Emaar Malls Group and asked him a few questions about the challenges and the drivers of omnichannel in the region – customer, digital adoption and information.
Melanie Euverte : David, you’ve been working in the region for a while now, what have you learned about the consumer in terms of shopping?
David Thurling : “Dubai has perhaps the most diverse customer profile for any major retail market in the world. As such, it is an incredibly difficult exercise in coming up with a “one size fits all approach” in catering for these many and varied customers. This starts with meeting the daily and weekly needs of local residents, who range from UAE Nationals to multiple expatriate nationalities. This alone is a broad customer group with wide ranging tastes and shopping needs. Then you have the tourist segment which for The Dubai Mall is a substantial percentage of our total footfall. Tourists range from local GCC Arabs to Western European travelers and increasingly South and East Asian shoppers. All of whom have differing tastes and budgets. In Dubai Mall we are constantly reviewing how well we cater for these many groups from the type of retail stores we have through to the many different choices of food and dining options. We also have multiple language skills available in our Guest Services team to meet the needs of our many foreign customers. The Dubai Mall due to its sheer size and depth of retail, F&B, Leisure and Entertainment options has catered for the diverse market we have in Dubai perhaps better than any other single destination in the region.”
M.E :Could you give us an insight into the consumption patterns of the typical consumer?
D.T :As mentioned above, the market is simply too broad to define “the typical” customer. Nevertheless we understand that visitors to Dubai expect the best choice of malls and shops for anywhere in the world. Dubai, through initiatives such as the famous Dubai Shopping Festival has created for itself a reputation as one of the leading shopping cities in the world. Customers therefore come armed to spend, whether this is in the old Gold Souk, hunting for bargains in Deira and Karama or searching for the ultimate in luxury at The Dubai Mall’s “Fashion Avenue”. Dubai is ranked second only to London in terms of choice of International retail brands. In terms of Department Stores alone there is nowhere else in the world where you will find the best of British, French and American Department stores in the one city.
M.E :Of late, there has been a slew of online businesses offering heavy discounts. How, in your opinion, does it affect the entire business and impact the full price in stores?
D.T :It hasn’t affected our business at all as a mall operator. In fact, the reality is that our Malls in Dubai are experiencing very strong growth in both Sales and Footfall. However, there is no doubt that online retailing provides customers with additional options and “bricks and mortar” retailers are adapting to meet this alternative retailing challenge. Ultimately however, shopping is a social experience and nothing will ever replace that fundamental reality. You cannot sit down and eat a meal with friends and family “online”. You can’t spend the afternoon browsing in and out of fashion boutiques with your best friend “on-line”. Online shops are however a fantastic tool for customers to learn more about products before they venture out to the local mall. People are far more aware of product choice, price and competitive options before they buy than they have ever been before.
M.E :Ecommerce is not a part of the Middle East region’s culture, in the sense that people are more comfortable buying clothing and apparel off the store racks rather than punch in their credit card numbers online. There is a lot of hesitation and suspicion about ecommerce networks amongst the Middle East consumers. Do you agree?
D.T : E Commerce is becoming increasingly a part of the shopping experience in the Middle East in the same way that it is elsewhere in the world – especially in areas such as music, videos and books. A substantial expatriate population in the region means many of these shoppers retain on-line shopping accounts that are not currently available in the Middle East. However, having said that, the increase in online activity has in no way affected the performance of our Malls. In fact, online activity is making it easier for us to reach our diverse customer base through web sites and social networking. People seem to forget that online buying was once called catalogue buying. Neither will replace the “live” shopping experience.
M.E :Do you think online retail will be the single biggest platform and will overshadow store retail in the near future?
D.T : Definitely not – as stated above
To learn more about the hot trends and innovation in the clicks & mortar retail in the Middle East join us @ The Retail Show 2013 in Dubai !