This week, the Fung Global Retail & Technology team attended the World Retail Congress 2016 in Dubai. We have published individual flash reports following each day of the three-day conference, so please see those for highlights of the event’s many presentations. Here, we focus not on the content of the conference, but on our experience of Dubai retail outside the conference.
At the end of the second day of the event, we were given a guided tour of the impressive Mall of the Emirates, courtesy of its owners, Majid Al Futtaim. Several World Retail Congress attendees had already noted the uniquely experience-rich nature of Dubai retail, and we certainly witnessed it during our mall visit. Here are a few of our observations.
Kids’ Products Appear to Be a Route to Shoppers’ Wallets
Heritage luxury brands such as Gucci, Dior and Burberry were in abundance at the Mall of the Emirates. And more contemporary, premium lifestyle brands such as Cath Kidston and Tommy Hilfiger were present, too, although they were not as prominent. Childrenswear and other kids’ products were heavily featured in both segments: many of these luxury and premium brands put children’s goods front and center in their stores. And, in many cases, they were operating dedicated kids’ stores.
Investment in the Latest Entertainment Technology
The Mall of the Emirates is about more than shopping; it offers a host of leisure services complementing the retail offering. A flagship leisure venue is the 24-screen Vox movie theater, which incorporates 4D technology that brings physical motion and sensations to film watching. Since September 2015, the cinema has also featured a restaurant from celebrity chef Gary Rhodes; dishes are delivered to the (deluxe) seats of cinema-goers for them to enjoy while watching their movie. Four of the 24 screens offer this premium dine-at-seat service.
Bringing Snow to the Desert
The mall’s second major leisure venue is the indoor ski slope, Ski Dubai. This features an 85-meter-high slope, with five different runs of varying difficulty. It is equipped with a ski lift and a lodge-style Avalanche Café.
And Penguins, Too!
Even more unique than a ski slope in the middle of the desert is Ski Dubai’s penguin colony. Visitors can view and touch some of the 29 penguins housed in the complex (we were lucky enough to meet three of them, including a king penguin). The penguins are trained to recognize their names, come when they are called and pose alongside visitors for photographs. It is a unique experience, especially in a desert city.
The Mall of the Emirates is impressive for the breadth of its retail and leisure options. To a large extent, the innovation that marks this and other malls in Dubai is a result of the environment: in a hot, desert climate, there is little to do outdoors and few people are willing to do much in the scorching heat.
But that uniqueness does not mean that elements featured in the mall cannot be incorporated elsewhere, including in the struggling malls of the US. The American Dream Mall, due to open in New Jersey in 2017, is one mall that is putting leisure services at its heart. We expect others to follow.