Beth Thompson

Mall closures in Dubai to change UAE buying behaviours forever?

With the majority of retailers in Dubai reporting that they don’t expect malls to go back to where they were for at least 18 months, it is expected that this global pandemic will change UAE buying behaviours forever.

Dubai General Manager at Visualsoft, Antony Mohan, reviewed the impacts of COVID-19 on retailers in the UAE, what strategic pivots have been seen so far, and how retailers can future proof their businesses.

Changes in Dubai’s day-to-day operations

  1. Working from home
    Working from home has become the ‘new norm’ in Dubai, as it has in the UK. With everyone staying at home, and with curfews in place, consumers in the UAE are having to use alternative routes to purchase products or services to continue working from home in comfort.

  2. All malls were closed
    As malls in the UAE are such a popular social location, retailers quickly began to feel the effects of the closure with a number being forced to close the business, or temporarily reduce staff wages considerably to soften the impact on their company.

  3. Dubai’ International Airport stopped all passenger flights
    With the airport being one of the world’s busiest, providing access to the international business hub, a huge change has been noted by businesses all over the UAE.

  4. UAE Banks offered support to businesses and individuals
    Six Dubai Banks joined the effort to provide relief to their customers during the global crisis, such as support packages to individual and business customers. This provided some leniency and relief for a temporary period to businesses struggling through difficult times helping companies to stay afloat during times of uncertainty.

  5. Expo 2020 has been postponed
    With the show being postponed, many companies who were planning to attend the expo as their ‘gateway to growth’ to showcase their products/ services and develop international relationships with like-minded organisations have had to re-think their strategies for international growth.

How can businesses plan for the future?

To future-proof a business, those who are in a stable enough position should move stock online. This will help to retain current customers by continuing to provide services. This could also even assist with acquisition strategies by placing the business in front of a fresh online audience.

With the impacts of COVID-19 predicted to continue to impact footfall of mall-based retail stores to varying degrees for the next 18 months, shoppers are likely to adapt and locate what they need virtually rather than physically. This will quickly become the ‘norm’. Solidifying your brand and building loyalty over the next few months could be key to stabilising your longer-term growth strategies.

For smaller businesses, a great entry to the world of eCommerce is through marketplaces such as Amazon, Fruugo and the Dubai-based Noon, which have slowly been picking up traction over the last year in the UAE. We expect to see a vast increase of Dubai based sellers over the coming months to support their retail stores and eCommerce websites alike.

As the market in the UAE becomes more saturated, Dubai-based retailers will likely notice challenges in reaching the right markets and attracting quality traffic to their online store through the website alone. Investing in and implementing quality online marketing strategies from day one will help retailers build authority, brand awareness and traffic to the website. All of which will place them ahead of the competition.

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