Dubai’s malls thrived during summer shopping season

Last updated on September 16, 2021 at 02.54 pm

Dubai’s malls have cemented the emirates’ position as a leading shopping and entertainment destination, especially during this year’s summer shopping season, retail experts have said.

Highlighting the success of the recently concluded Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) festival, which saw more than 625 unique events and activations taking place, and 589 brands and 1,972 stores dropping prices by as much as 90 per cent over the final sale weekend, experts hailed this year’s DSS as one of the best editions ever. They added that the retail sector’s gradual yet positive reemergence from the Covid-19 hiatus has served to highlight just how essential the city’s shopping and entertainment destinations are to both Dubai’s economy and its population.

“Dubai has earned a global reputation as a city that has embraced innovation on a grand scale,” said Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), the organisers of DSS. “The definition of an all-year-round destination, Dubai reveals a special side to the city’s character during the summer, with malls playing an important role as places where residents and visitors can experience a wide range of truly unique retail moments.”

“This summer season, malls have welcomed an increase in footfall spurred by an annual collection of retail activations and not-to-be-missed promotions. Whether visitors are meeting friends for coffee or exploring the sales, the city’s malls are welcoming hubs of activity with great opportunities for socialising, shopping and more,” he added.

Echoing his sentiments, several retail leaders also shared how Dubai’s vast shopping landscape is centered around its many malls. As the ultimate retail concept, they are the ideal outlet for the shopping habits of residents and visitors, while delivering world-class indoor entertainment options all year round. Transforming an everyday shopping trip into an adventure, they said, has helped Dubai’s malls grow their appeal while also boosting their ability to keep customers for longer.

As the list of ‘must-do’ experiences grows, consumers are inclined to spend more time, and more money, on site which stimulates more purchases on a wider range of items beyond regular shopping items such as clothes and accessories. The complete ‘mall experience’ incorporates F&B, entertainment, recreational activities and much more. KPMG’s report ‘The Evolution of Malls and their Value Proposition’ found that the growth of F&B and entertainment offerings has seen malls evolve into weekend and entertainment destinations, with offerings ‘tailor made’ to suit the target audience, from international visitors to residents.

Timothy Earnest, group director of Al-Futtaim Malls, which includes Dubai Festival City Mall and Festival Plaza, said that the summer months see more UAE residents and visitors spend time within malls. “We always have huge footfall from families interested in spending time together, so our entertainment concepts are very well received. As such, and in line with our strategy of focusing on the best customer experience across leisure, lifestyle and entertainment, earlier this year we introduced a selection of new F&B options.”

The mall as a desirable destination remains very strong, he added. “Our shoppers tell us that they still love going to malls. Whether it be for shopping, dining out, moments of family entertainment or simply for a social experience, they are looking for something that serves all these purposes. By creating a sensory experience that compels an emotional response, we are able to connect the customer with the physical – in our case the physical being retail options.”

While the retail sector’s pivot to entertainment is not new, it remains a reaction to seasonal consumer behaviour and demand, Earnest explained. “There is a magnetism to shared moments and unique experiences, particularly with millennials but also other categories of shoppers too. This means that the purpose of the mall changes, particularly in summer, to be about social moments and experiences as well as shopping.”

During the summer season, it is this mix of innovation and retail that allows malls, from world-famous developments to smaller neighbourhood favourites, to cement their appeal among shoppers and visitors to Dubai. For example, Dubai Festival City Mall’s Imagine show draws audiences to free nightly performances at Festival Bay. As well as lasers, light, fire and water displays, the show also features songs from popular artists. “On average, we see around 12,000 shoppers visit Festival Bay each night,” said Earnest, adding that the increased footfall boosts the mall’s tenants.

Omar Khoory, chief hospitality and assets officer at Nakheel Malls, which includes Ibn Battuta Mall and Nakheel Mall on the Palm Jumeirah, said that a mix of lifestyle and retail outlets, as well as expansive F&B choices, give customers, particularly parents, much needed options to keep youngsters entertained during the long school holidays. “During the summer we are seeing increased footfall at our malls as families start spending more time together during the holiday season, visiting cinemas and participating in in-mall activations.”

“We are proud that all our malls have strong leasing strategies that ensure different experiences to serve different target audiences and groups,” he added. “Nakheel Mall, for example, has a variety of safe and hygienic play areas where parents can drop off the kids and enjoy shopping or leisure time. We believe that attractions complement the shopping offering and add a unique perspective to shoppers’ experiences.”

A report by Pederson & Partners, while focused on e-commerce, also highlights the social role malls play. “Especially during summer, individuals, couples, families and groups of friends will continue to visit the malls for shopping, dining, entertainment – a chance to stretch their legs and socialise whilst respecting social distancing in large, air-conditioned environments,” the report stated.

Nisreen Boustani, PR and Corporate Communication manager at Mercato Mall and Town Centre Jumeirah, agreed with the findings, and stressed the importance of Mercato as not only a shopping mall, but a social hub as well.

“Most of the shoppers visit Mercato to enjoy the whole experience and shop as well. We are keen to focus on the entertainment factor when it comes to the key campaigns such as DSS and Back to School,” she said. “Informative kids’ workshops are the best choice for families to keep their kids having fun while the parents are shopping. Entertainment centres at Mercato and Town Centre Jumeirah such as Fun City, Vox Cinemas and Orange Wheels are popular destinations, especially with the strict safety measures first introduced in the pandemic that remain in place. Confidence, safety and entertainment continue to be connected for shoppers.”

The appeal of Dubai’s malls can best be seen in the success of the city’s and the world’s biggest mall. Since welcoming its first shoppers in November 2008, The Dubai Mall continues to enjoy annual visitor numbers in the tens of millions and remains a major must-see attraction on the itineraries of first-time travellers to Dubai and returning tourists alike. The mall has also consistently upgraded and developed its range of offerings, from high-end stores to unique attractions, plus hundreds of shops and F&B outlets.

A spokesperson for Emaar, which operates The Dubai Mall and Dubai Marina Mall, among other venues, said that the mix of attractions and retail once again proved popular with residents and visitors during the summer season. “This year’s edition of Dubai Summer Surprises has so far received an overwhelming response across all Emaar Malls assets from residents and tourists alike. Our malls have witnessed robust activity with visitors making the most of their time at the restaurants, shops and attractions. Emaar Malls’ offerings complement the vision of the UAE’s leadership to establish Dubai as a year-round tourist destination.”

With a variety of eye-catching features attracting and retaining customer attention and spurring spends, the cool and welcoming spaces of malls combined with annual promotions and extended sales mean that Dubai’s unique retail landscape will continue to meet the seasonal needs of every visitor, experts noted. As the city continues to establish itself as the premier destination for shopping and entertainment throughout the summer period, malls will continue to welcome back customers buoyed by a combination of safe shopping, a demand for family fun experiences and plentiful options to socialise indoors.

Ahmed Al Khaja added that DSS is proud of its status as a main economic driver for Dubai and as a major part of the city’s calendar of events that attract visitors from around the UAE, the region, and the world. “We’re proud to have once again worked so closely with our strategic partners, including retailers and key national champion companies, to create 10 weeks of wonderful moments for families and shoppers that has served as the ideal build up to the start of Expo 2020 Dubai in October and the UAE’s Golden Jubilee in December. We all look forward to hosting the 25th edition of DSS next year.”

Rohma Sadaqat I am a reporter and sub-editor on the Business desk at Khaleej Times. I mainly cover and write articles on the UAE's retail, hospitality, travel, and tourism sectors.Originally from Lahore, I have been living in the UAE for more than 20 years. I graduated with a BA in Mass Communication, with a concentration in Journalism, and a double minor in History and International Studies from the American University of Sharjah.If you see me out and about on assignment in Dubai, feel free to stop me, say hello, and we can chat about the latest kitten videos on YouTube.