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Retaining an edge in UAE retail

Retaining an edge in UAE retail

Mohammad A Baker looks at the state of the UAE’s retail environment, and how brands can improve their chances of success

With more than 80 shopping malls nationwide and an expected turnover of over $51bn by the end of 2021 in Dubai alone, the UAE’s retail sector is a mainstay of the local economy.

Dubai in particular has become synonymous with retailing prospects. The emirate flies the flag for luxury brands and premium shopping malls, and is ranked amongst the highest in the world in terms of penetration by international retailers.

Stocking the latest, most fashionable, must-have items has been a priority for the country’s retailers in the past decade. However, as a result of economic globalisation and evolving consumer habits, a course change is needed in
order to futureproof an industry that contributes substantially to national diversification initiatives.

While the UAE’s retail environment is undoubtedly robust, physical storefronts are increasingly being challenged. The fact is that offering a wide range of products to UAE consumers is no longer enough to capture their interest. Consumer habits are also being reformed by the convenience and prevalence of online shopping options, which again offer consumers an enormous wealth of brands from all over the world.

Local UAE retailers — especially those with a strong brick and mortar presence — urgently need to re-focus on wooing consumers through extraordinary customer experiences. Think of Amazon’s entry into the world of physical retail. Amazon Go breaks boundaries and bucks the trend of ‘going digital’ by using smart technologies to deliver a truly exceptional in-store experience. It works because customers in a connected environment want more than the latest styles and brands. In short, they want to be wowed.

To avoid losing ground to other innovative retail capitals, UAE brands need to go above and beyond the expectations of customers by concentrating on exceptional service, personalisation, and shopping spaces.

A better service

Service plays an undeniable role in creating a memorable customer experience. Going the extra mile with the provision of unbeatable service will therefore help to secure customer loyalty. Training UAE retail employees to deliver to the highest level can be a huge competitive edge.

Today, it’s essential to train staff to be able to read a customer’s needs. We’ve all been in a store where it feels like we’re being hassled by sales people following us around. On the flip side of that, we’ve all been left stranded without an employee in sight when we’ve needed assistance. Getting the balance right is key to creating a comfortable atmosphere in which your team is on hand to help, without being too pushy or aggressive.

Empowering shop assistants with the tools they need to answer questions on the spot is key. Embracing technologies such as cloud-based applications on smart devices will give them a world of answers at their fingertips – whether doing a price check, surveying inventory, or referencing product features.

Personalisation through data

A new generation of customer relationship management (CRM) solutions are paving the way in creating a personalised retail journey through better customer data. These solutions can, and should, be spread throughout your operations to gain insight into customer’s preferences, purchasing habits and their interest in promotions.

Even in physical stores, there are many ways to leverage this abundance of data. It can be used in-store through technologies such as near-field communications (NFC) to help staff identify shoppers and greet them by name. Such technologies can also be used to ping product reviews and tailored offerings directly to a customer’s phone depending on their location in-store and their purchase history. Data on purchasing habits can also be used to tailor loyalty programmes, such as offering discounts on products you know they love, or updating customers on soon to be released items while they’re at the checkout.

Creative spaces

It seems basic, but not enough retailers are truly combining creativity and practicality in designing (or re-fitting) their storefronts. The physical environment has an enormous impact on the way that your customer feels and interacts with your merchandise. There is a wealth of information out there today on how lighting, sounds, textures, and even scents can bring people from a busy shopping mall into your own unique retail experience. Ultimately, creating an interior layout that is both inspiring and convenient will encourage more spending.

In addition to the physical layout, creating the right atmosphere is a top consideration. Companies need to build in features that complement their products, and that align with the lifestyle their customer is likely to lead – or that they perhaps desire. If you sell sporting goods, for example, incorporate active lifestyle elements with sports trainers on standby. If you’re catering to a youth demographic, integrate more innovative smart tech features throughout the store that give shoppers greater autonomy to browse products and search for recommendations on social media.

Moreover, retailers offering many different product categories need to ensure that there remains a single, consistent brand experience across the entire storefront.

Realising potential

With its penchant for innovation, strong infrastructure, and global appeal, the UAE is the ideal place for taking brick and mortar outlets to the next level. Global brands think so too. The UAE market has more than 62 per cent penetration from international retailers, with many using Dubai as a stepping stone to roll out new concept stores. In just two years’ time, 81 per cent of marketers say that they expect to be competing mostly or completely on customer experience. One edge that local brick and mortar has over e-commerce is that it can deliver a physical experience not yet possible through digital channels.

As we head towards Expo 2020, when all eyes will be on Dubai, there has never been a better time for local retailers to put their best face forward.

Mohammad A Baker is deputy chairman and CEO of Gulf Marketing Group

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