Luxury retailers in the UAE need to alter course slightly... until foreign shoppers turn up, they have to double down on getting their resident clients to keep buying. Image Credit: Bloomberg

With global travel at an all-time low and the usual influx of international shoppers into the UAE at a standstill, retailers have had to think local in order to stay afloat.

Over the past few months, the retail industry has gone through a big period of change, and like many businesses, we are focused on being agile and adapting to the accurate health and safety measures for our employees, customers and stakeholders. Agile in this case means, re-addressing the balance between local buyers and the gap left by non-resident or tourist customers and focusing on how we can offer the best possible service to both new and longstanding customers.

Manage those expectations

The luxury industry has consistently thrived in the UAE and we have witnessed the increase in buying power when it comes to luxury items. For example, demand for specific watches has steadily increased, with several customers placed on waitlists that span years.

We live in a market whereby, consumers are highly aware of the trends and product offering. They are smart, savvy and keen to purchase and, as a luxury retailer, we need to adapt our services and offering for our loyal customers.

It is up to the brands and retailers to manage customer expectations and deliver what customers are looking for.

Right now, that means focusing on our homeland clientele. We are privileged to have a robust list of local clients who look to us for the latest timepieces. And given the current circumstances and various restrictions over the past few months, we have worked closely with local customers to ensure they have access to the product offering.

While malls were closed, we created a luxury home delivery service for regular and VIP clients in place of an e-commerce website. During lockdown, following all the stringent health and safety guidelines, we delivered watches and catered to the influx of enquiries that we received for specific watches.

Will they be back?

But what next? Even though malls are open, many of our customers are, understandably, still reluctant to venture far from their homes. And for those who choose to visit the malls, they wish to do so safely, but also expecting nothing less than superlative and seamless service.

Our approach to this involves several different tactics:

• Offering the latest timepieces and collections from sought-after brands. Our longevity in the region and breadth of portfolio means that collectors can come to us for several pieces from several brands, all under one roof.

• Offering pieces that are exclusive or unique, either to us or to the region. Consumer demand in the region has motivated many of our brands to create unique products for their Middle Eastern customers and we are proud to offer capsule collections or limited editions.

• Staying up to date. We are thankful to the government for sharing information on health measures and educating us on how to maintain social distancing to ensure that people are as safe and comfortable as possible.

• Multiple touchpoints. We regularly update our digital and social channels and have a customer service team on hand to field enquiries that come through via phone, email or WhatsApp. In today’s climate, we must be able to service our clients in whichever way is most convenient to them.

We view this as a good time to focus on the community that sits on our doorstep, with a view to welcoming our international clients back again in due course. In the meantime, with malls allowed 100 per cent capacity, we will concentrate on providing an engaging customer experience, which is key for the luxury sector.

Naturally, the health and safety of customers and employees is our utmost priority, and whilst things haven’t been easy, we are positive and hopeful and look forward to helping the community any way we can.

- Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi is Chief Commercial Officer at Seddiqi Holding.