Back to school lead
Got bags to fill - UAE retailers are not holding back on this year's Back to School offers. As more than one million students get set to return to schools, retailers are scoring with Back to School.. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: They are back - kids and parents are turning up at stores and malls in the UAE with just days to go for the opening of the new school term. And for retailers, this year’s ‘Back to School’ marks a welcome return to form for what is typically one of their critical promotions in a year.

“School reopening linked offers make up 10-15 per cent of a retailer’s annual sales in the UAE,” said V. Nandakumar, Chief Commercial Officer at LuLu Group. “It could be even more this year, which is why no retailer can afford to miss out on scoring with Back to School.”

What Nandakumar leaves unsaid is a comparison with whatever happened in 2020, when the Back to School phase was consumed by the COVID-19 campaign. The authorities, school administrators, parents and children were more focussed on making study from home work in a most seamless manner than concentrate on buying new uniforms and school bags for the school term. That shift in focus dictated by the virus left a sizeable hole in retailers’ Back to School 2020 takings.

Retailers are ready to forget that testing phase; based on feedback from multiple retailers, the mood this year is decidedly upbeat. The UAE has set the pathway for children to return in full force to classes, and schools are gearing up accordingly. September should see well over 90 per cent in-school earning happen - and all of this is reflected in the Back to School buying.

“Right through this month (August), we can see a pickup in sales for related merchandise,” said Nandakumar. “Not just bags and school kits, there are a whole lot of related purchasing that take place during this offer period. It’s no longer low margin, high volumes goods.”

Back-to-school season is going big this year as children are getting ready to return after spending last year remote-learning. Thanks to the vaccine distribution, schools are finally re-opening for in-person classes and giving families a reason to shop for school

- Dharmin Ved of

School bags and uniforms

True, no kid will want to be heading into classes with anything other than the latest fad embossed on their bags. Caught with kits featuring yesterday’s superheroes will not add up on the ‘cool and rending’ rating.

There will be a lot of kitting out to do this year after missing out last year. There was no need for another school bag in 2020 if all the classes were happening online. Bags are once again a must-have this September, as are uniforms. School uniform retailers too will have some catching up to do after enduring a disastrous term last year.

No retailer can afford to miss out on scoring with Back to School

- V. Nandakumar of LuLu Group

Will tech score again in 2021?

In 2020’s school re-opening offers, anything to do with tech and gadgets scored well with parents and their wards as they prepared for virtual learning. Almost overnight, new 'notebooks' were bought - and older ones traded in - and stores just could not get enough of tablets to ever stay ahead of demand. (Etisalat and du also got pulled in, with households wanting to increase broadband speeds and not be exposed to any downtimes whatsoever. Sure, this also helped with all those who were spending a good part of 2020 working from the confines of their homes, and which is why those download and upload speeds truly mattered.)

“Yes, tech was the runaway winner in retail sales for all of 2020,” said Sandeep Ganediwalla, Regional Partner at the retail consultancy RedSeer. “This year’s tech-related demand for Back to School will not be as intense - because most parents would already have spent significantly on new products/upgrades last year.

“The next big tech-related sales in the UAE should happen only by the ‘Black Friday’ season in November, when all of the big tech players would have brought out their latest models.”

The shift to technology is certainly the macro story of this year, and is providing the industry with much needed tailwinds. The only likely dampener would be the serious shipping and chip industry disruptions.

Tech support for Back to School
According to Niranjan Gidwani, a retail consultant, "Parents recognise that if their children are going to keep up, they are going to have to make those investments in technology. Even more surprising is the kind of technology devices parents will be splurging on this year: cellphones, tablets and e-readers, laptops, wearables, as well as digital subscriptions for learning programmes. E-learning resources are likely to increase, as many parents feel their children’s learning fell behind last year."

UAE’s big-name tech retailers and hypermarket offer bundled promotions

UAE’s big-name tech retailers and hypermarket chains have the offers going to tap any incipient demand that is out there. Apart from straight up discounts, these retailers also have bundled promotions, including two-for-one schemes. In addition, Apple and its retailers have the regular price-based promotions on educational buys.

Alex Tchablakian of, the gadget e-tailer, is keeping his fingers crossed that this year’s BtS run will be just as fulfilling for tech sales. “We sure expect so, and will be launching our campaign next week” he said. “Tech-related demand is running consistent since last year, with clear spikes during special promotions and popular model launches.

"We have exclusive promotions where the shoppers gets 10 Air Miles for each dirham spent - and the most popular product is the Apple AirPods Pro."

Before the pandemic, the amount of spending in-store was much higher and online much lower. Today the two lines – percentage of share in-store versus online – are beginning to get closer to converging some years down the road

- Niranjan Gidwani, Retail Consultant

Even a car as mega prize

That’s right - a retailer is bringing on DSF-style pizzazz to its Back to School promotions. The Apparel Group’s retailing arm, 6thStreet, is handing over the keys to a car as the 'mega prize' offered with this promotion.

"6thStreet is celebrating by relaunching the Back to School campaign to prepare kids for school with all their favorite brands through a massive sale, giveaways and prizes," said Dharmin Ved, CEO. "Take advantage of all the offers."

Plus the car - a Haval Jolion - for the one shopper who’s luck is in.

Last one before Expo 2020

This year’s Back to School promotion is also the final one before the Big Day - the October 1 opening of the Expo 2020.

“The fourth quarter of 2021 is already programmed to be an exceptional one for Dubai and UAE retailers, and all other sectors benefiting directly from the Expo,” said Nandakumar. “If the Back to School delivers the results all of us are looking for, then it’s just the boost we need ahead of Expo.”

In two weeks, UAE’s roads will again be buzzing with school buses, the bells will start marking time for the start of the newest school year, and a new season of hope and renewal gets underway. All those school bags, uniforms and kits will again come into play.

What UAE moms and dads are planning this Back to School

Over a million students return to school this academic year. The UAE government said schools will reopen to students in the new academic year, subject to specific health and safety protocols. In fact, these protocols have been developed to keep the school communities safe and to give schools flexibility to respond to changes.

As parents ready to send their children back to in-person classes, a factor looming on their minds – like it does every year - is about the expenses. Gulf News spoke to a cross-section of parents on how they are looking to deal with the costs.

Will they look to derive some savings by crimping on some purchases? Or decide to go for the whole set of needs right now?

As is the case when balancing such competing demands, the answers we got represent a broad mix…

BtS family_Thomas
British expats Thomas Jacobs and Marie-Clemence Jacobs Image Credit: Supplied

Thomas Jacobs, a secondary grade Maths teacher and wife Marie-Clemence Jacobs, who teaches French, say they have spent very little so far on the school needs for Ella-Marie Jacobs, who is in grade 4 at Deira International School.

“Our Back to School expenses will not be higher this year. This is because thanks to the use of technology at schools, Ella-Marie did not use most of her stationery last year,” her father said. “We do not need to replace much of what is required. Her iPad and accessories are all still in good condition - so she will continue to use them in 2021/22.

“We waited until winter last year to buy uniform. Therefore much of this is in good condition for this academic year.

“Our daughter returns from her holidays with her grandparents shortly before school starts. We will then visit the shops for anything additional. We always visit a store to pick up stuff rather than buying it online. Ella-Marie enjoys picking out her own bag and water bottle from the shelf. There are sales on everywhere, so we are sure of a bargain in our local mall.”

BtS_family Idhant
Indian expats Vivek Kastwar and Prachi Image Credit: Supplied

Vivek Kastwar, a banker, and his homemaker wife Prachi said Back to School expenses for the second child are usually less as he or she gets a lot of hand-me-downs from the older sibling. “My son Idhant will get from Lehar who is going to university this year,” said Prachi. “For anything else that is required, I will certainly wait for promotions. It is very expensive to buy things at normal price. So I will wait for promotion.

“I prefer to visit a few stores in order to compare the price and quality. I will only pick up after analysing a good deal. Most of the promotions nowadays are on selective items.”

BtS family_Dima
Lebanese expat Dima Habbouchi Image Credit: Supplied

Dima Habbouchi, an executive assistant, said she has picked up everything online for her three children, Jana (studying in Year 10), Adam (Year 8), and Hania (Year 6). They study in Lycee Français International George Pompidou.

“Things were cheaper than last year, but I still think considering the pandemic, prices of Back to School items can be cheaper.”

BtS_family Azra
Pakistani expat Azra Kashif Image Credit: Supplied

Pakistani mother, Azra Kashif, a teacher, said her three children, Dua (Year 8), Huda (Year 6) and Yahya (Year 3) attend Arab Unity School. She does not find prices on Back to School items as being less expensive.

“I will buy online as we save a lot of time and effort to visit a store and shop. Purchasing online is quicker and we are not distracted. When you visit a store, you are tempted with the displays and sometimes you can stock up on things that are more than necessary.”

BtS family_Pooja
Indian expat Deepak Ahuja Image Credit: Supplied

Deepak Ahuja, an entrepreneur, and his wife Pooja, a homemaker, are set to send their twins - Bhuvan and Bhoovi - to school. Studying in Grade 5 at Dubai International Academy (DIA), the twins are, naturally, excited about the return to school.

“We have not really felt the burden of Back to School expenses,” said Deepak. “My wife and I are constantly on the lookout for deals. We usually plan these expenses well in advance, so there is no pressure on ours purse at the very last minute. There are tons of offers by UAE retailers and are lucky to avail them.”