Packed satchels and new term time routines aren’t just top of mind for parents as thousands of children head back to school over the next couple of weeks. Retailers across the UAE are also gearing up for one of the year’s busiest shopping seasons with seemingly unbeatable deals and attractive bundle offers aimed at giving kids everything they need for the year ahead.
The back-to-school period usually contributes 10-12 per cent of annual revenue, depending on category and product range.
“From the retailers’ point of view, the back-to-school period is very important,” says Kamal Vachani, Group Director of Al Maya Group. “Post Ramadan, this period provides opportunities to retail stores to engage with customers, and helps retailers to drive sales volume. The back-to-school period usually contributes 10-12 per cent of annual revenue, depending on category and product range.”
Consumer patterns appear to have shifted as buyers make more informed choices in an uncertain economic climate. And as an increasing number of brands vie for diminishing consumer budgets, back-to-school shoppers have more than ever to choose from.
“There is a ton of choice for the consumer this year between the variety of what is available, new brands as well as collections, definitely something for every type of customer,” says Payal Mirchandani, Managing Director, Pinca Trading, a distributor of apparel, fashion and accessories for children and tweens, including brands such as Pokemon and Warner Bros. “The competition will be fierce between the retailers to retain their share of customer base.”
The explosion of e-commerce in the region has also changed how consumers are spending their money/
Consumers appear to be shopping around more than before, and comparing prices and offerings before actually buying anything. “The explosion of e-commerce in the region has also changed how consumers are spending their money,” she adds. “They are looking for deals all the time.”
Over the past couple of weeks, mums across the country have been comparing notes on back-to-school merchandise on Facebook groups such as Shop Well For Less UAE. One user’s post about snagging two pairs of shoes from a UK brand for Dh395 led to a discussion about quality, alternatives and retailer offers. “There is a definite shift in spending habits of consumers locally and this is forcing retailers who were overcharging to correct their pricing,” Mirchandani explains.
In the UAE, retailers are responding with a wider range of products, a better differentiated range and more attractively priced deals. For many parents, the struggle revolves around finding an on-trend product that is durable enough to last the school year without breaking the bank.
Customers are not only searching for cheap deals, they are searching for the best products for their children at the best prices.
Mona Ataya, Founder and CEO of Mumzworld, says it’s important that retailers cater to that sweet spot with as many options as possible. “Customers are not only searching for cheap deals, they are searching for the best products for their children at the best prices — and for products that are trendy and that are up and coming. So we make sure to have products for all the budget ranges and all the tastes.”
In terms of actual products, Ataya identifies the top three themes for the year as unicorns, which appear to be slowly replaced by llamas, superheroes, and everything glittery and sparkly.
Thankfully, the character-led merchandise so popular over the past few seasons appears to be giving way to on-trend, thematic lines, explains Mirchandani. “Kids today don’t think characters are cool anymore unless its Fortnite or football clubs or LOL — but other than that, kids are opting for more fashion collections.”
Never mind whether or not the kids are ready, UAE retailers at least have done their holiday homework ahead of the new term.
Growing appetite for green products
As students resume school all over the world in the face of a climate emergency, the growing appetite for sustainable, environmentally friendly products appears to be extending to the back-to-school season — although not as quickly as might be desirable.
Online retailer Mumzworld, for example, offers environmentally sensitive products in its Better Planet section, which features thousands of items, says Founder and CEO Mona Ataya. These include brands such as EcoVessel, Ecozoi and Petit Collage, as well as the plastic-free Asobu, SoYoung, PetitMonkey and Ello.
Ahead of the new school term, eco-aware Dubai store Eggs & Soldiers has moved into new premises at Times Square Centre that are ten times’ larger than before — testimony to the growing demand for eco-aware products, says Founder/owner and mother-of-four Sofi Chabowski.
She says retailers can do more in general. “I find a lot of UAE retailers don’t actually understand the concept of ‘eco-friendly’ and sustainability, they just know there is hype around it, and are jumping on that bandwagon. For example, you’ll find a shop selling a reusable product that is then wrapped in plastic and placed in a plastic bag, which obviously completely negates the objective.”
No one said it was easy being green.