DSS sale
The 'sale' signs are back on, and getting a spike in consumer spending will be instrumental in getting the economy back on even keel. Image Credit: Yousra Zaki

Dubai: There’s nothing in the world quite like shopping in Dubai. A city that is known for having some of the largest shopping malls in the world and the best fashion collections. Retail is a core part of Dubai’s identity and one of the prime drivers of the economy. The retail and wholesale category accounted for 26 per cent of its GDP in 2018, according to Dubai Statistics Centre.

Under regular circumstances, visitors flock from all over to shop here. Dubai is so tourist-friendly that shop assistants at malls are strategically hired from those countries where its tourists are big-spenders in the UAE. They include the Chinese, Russian, Arabs and Indians to serve customers better in their own language. It all adds to the bespoke experience.

Then came COVID-19

The pandemic has struck hard, setting off a contraction in economic growth during the first quarter. This was expected. Overcoming a virulent virus isn’t an easy feat. ​​

​​​​​​The pandemic resulted in a 3.5 per cent decline in GDP in the first quarter of 2020. A global limitation on travel and strict precautionary measures limited the flow of freight across borders and has had significant consequences on the global economy. Dubai, as a hub for trade, also felt the pinch.​​​​​​

Even in the most normal of circumstances, the UAE’s summer months were always accompanied by a bit of a lull on consumer spend. This is the time where many expats got into the habit of “going home for summer”.

It was 23 years ago that Dubai Summer Surprises was introduced as a means to combat quiet summers. The shopping and entertainment event gave people something to do beyond being cooped up at home or at the office. A sure way to get people out of the house and a great opportunity for Dubai’s retailers to multiply sales.

Today, the local economy needs that summer sales more than ever before.

Dubai’s malls are operating at a 100 per cent capacity and the sales – based on initial signs - seem to have removed the fear factor in shopping during a global pandemic.

The festival kicked off with a 12-hour sale on Thursday that ran from 10am until 10pm at Majid Al Futtaim owned malls in Dubai. Shoppers who ventured to the malls could pick up what they wanted at 25 to 90 per cent off.

Guess what... It worked

I went down there and was immediately confronted with what was a rare sight during the worst phase of COVID-19 – there were at 40 people lined up outside of Chanel.

As in Coco Chanel, the makers of Dh18,000 handbags. I decided to investigate. Chanel was offering 40 per cent off shoes and accessories. Any bags? No - but still… worth the line up. A discount at Chanel is unheard of. As I chatted to people leaving the store, they revealed that they’ve been waiting for over 45 minutes to enter.

“This is unheard of - this never happens,” said Zahra Shinwari, one among the Chanel shoppers. “A sale at a designer store like this is so unusual.”

For Melanie Zarife, it meant heading out as soon as “I got an SMS from them announcing this sale.” She and about 3,000 other people on Chanel’s mailing list.

The question on everyone’s lips was: Was the 12-hour sale really as advertised? Mega-deals and unforgettable discounts?

In a way, yes it was. But I don’t know if that’s my shopping-hungry post-self-isolation mind talking, or if the deals were really worth it.

Generally, shopping during a sale is exhausting. Discounted clothes tend to be shoved onto one rack in a corner – no real focus aesthetics when a sale is on.

Winning the people back

The clothes are the main draw at the shopping event. Uber-luxury labels such as Chanel, Coach, Michael Kors and Salvatore Ferragamo participated.

In addition, many of the fast fashion brands like Massimo Dutti, American Eagle, Mango, H&M and Forever 21 also added to the sales pitch.

The discounts on clothes were ranging between 40 to 70 per cent. Only in rare instances were merchandise listed at the elusive 90 per cent markdown.

It is also worth mentioning that most electronics stores didn’t really offer attractive discounts. They did have special opportunities like "win this or that" if you spend more than X. However, the spot that properly marked down their electronics the most was Carrefour.

I spotted laptops priced at Dh800 and Dh1,000 discounts on white goods like refrigerators.

One thing for sure, the sales definitely raked in the crowd.

There’s no denying that shopping provides a major boost to the economy.

Majid Al Ghurair, Chairman of Dubai Shopping Malls Group, said, “With Dubai building its way back to full operations, we are working towards speeding up the recovery for the retail sector.

“Our long-term strategic partnership with malls in the city has helped us design a new interactive way to host this year’s much-awaited DSS 2020 promotions. We are confident that we have organized a safe experience for consumers who can now enjoy their summer in Dubai.”

Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO, Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment said, “We are diligently working towards building consumer confidence and reshaping the retail sector with campaigns that offer more than just shopping d