Back to school
Residents enjoy some back-to-school shopping at Carrefour in Mall of the Emirates Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

As children across the UAE prepare to head back to school next week, retailers are bracing themselves for a bustling shopping weekend.

From backpacks, textbooks, stationery and electronics to lunchbox essentials and groceries, the shopping lists for families are extensive. Parents and students are flocking to malls and scouring e-commerce platforms for new supplies, looking to snag the best bargains before the academic term starts.

Recognising the urgency of shoppers, retailers in the UAE are stepping up their efforts with last-minute promotions, discounts and bundle deals, ensuring that this year’s back-to-school shopping is as seamless as it is affordable.

“Back-to-school shopping season is a time of renewed energy and excitement for students and their families; and for retailers, this is an opportunity to connect with our customers in a meaningful way by providing a comprehensive selection of products that cater to the diverse needs of students and parents,” says Ruban Shanmugarajah, Chief Executive Officer – Babyshop, Landmark Group. “This season underscores our commitment to being a dependable partner for parents and students and get them the best start they deserve,” he says.

Ruban Shanmugarajah, Chief Executive Officer – Babyshop, Landmark Group

The annual back-to-school season is indeed a crucial period for retailers in the UAE. With strategic promotions and marketing campaigns, they not only look at boosting sales but also fostering long-lasting connections with their target audience that extend beyond this shopping season.

“We strategically approach the back-to-school season by prioritising our customers’ needs,” says Neeraj Teckchandani, CEO of Apparel Group. “This period is not just about sales growth for UAE retailers; it’s an opportunity to deepen customer relationships and affirm our position as the go-to destination for school essentials.”

Neeraj Teckchandani, CEO of Apparel Group

Growth in key product categories

As the demand for essential school supplies surges, certain product categories particularly experience notable growth during this season.

“Back to school is all about backpacks, but we have seen a significant growth in canteen essentials, hydration items and uniforms,” says Shanmugarajah. Babyshop’s range features over 1,000 styles from over 100 brands.

“We have products catering to all consumers – price conscious as well as feature enthusiasts. Our core offering starts at Dh99 for a 3–piece set, but there is a vast expanse of what is on trend. We have a significant range of characters in the offering – from Batman, Spiderman, Naruto, and Sonic to Hello Kitty, Barbie, BT21 to name a few. Strategic partnership with Disney displays some of their characters such as Mickey, Minnie, Princess and Frozen. Our online platform ensures convenience, enabling families to find everything they need from the comfort of their homes,” says Shanmugarajah, adding, “We’re not just following trends; we’re shaping them as well, constantly evolving to align with the changing landscape of education and lifestyle.”

At Brands For Less, backpacks, shoes, stationery, gadgets, and educational toys have experienced a heightened demand this season. “This surge is a response to evolving educational requirements and changing consumer preferences. Students and parents now seek stylish yet functional backpacks, comfortable and versatile shoes, and creative and personalised stationery,” says Toufic Kreidieh, Executive Chairman and Group CEO.

Toufic Kreidieh, Executive Chairman and Group CEO, Brands for Less Group

“We acknowledge these trends and offer a diverse array of high-quality products that cater to the evolving needs of students and parents during this crucial shopping season while accommodating budget constraints.”

Brands For Less has a range of discounts and promotions, both in-store and online.

“A Buy 1 Get 1 offer on Tchibo items has garnered attention, extending to school supplies, power banks, headphones, lunch boxes, and more. Additionally, we have enticing discounts of up to 80 per cent off retail prices on back-to-school essentials like shoes, bags, and clothing,” says Kreidieh, adding, “These [promotional] strategies aim to provide exceptional value to customers while fulfilling their diverse needs for the new academic year. We not only offer attractive deals but also a wide variety of products to create a compelling and convenient shopping experience for students and parents alike.”

Tech essentials see traction

While bags and school supplies are the bestsellers during the back-to-school shopping season, parents are prepared to spend more on tech products as well. With increasing integration of technology in learning, electronics, wearables and tech accessories are nowadays commonly sought after by students who need high-tech gadgets for academic tasks, research and project work.

“Laptops, tablets and accessories are experiencing remarkable demand due to the increasing reliance on digital learning. Students require reliable devices for online classes and research,” says Rajat Asthana, COO, Eros Group, one of the UAE’s leading electronics retailers.

Rajat Asthana, COO, Eros Group

“Additionally, ergonomic furniture and study aids like noise-canceling headphones are becoming popular as they help create effective home study environments. These trends reflect the evolving educational landscape and the importance of technology in modern learning,” Asthana adds.

Eros has launched enticing promotions to captivate back-to-school shoppers. Its back-to-school deals include an exclusive offer where students can upgrade their old laptops and gadgets, enjoying up to Dh900 off on their new device.

Moira Chen, Marketing Manager, Asus Middle East

Meanwhile, Asus, a popular brand for the UAE’s student community, has rolled out a lucrative back-to-school deal on its e-shop. “During the back-to-school season, Asus’ Zenbook thin-and-light product segment witnesses remarkable growth due to the demand for powerful, portable devices essential for hybrid learning. This summer, our bundle offer includes the practical WT300 Asus Mouse and Asus Nereus Backpack, paired with various laptop options like the Zenbook S 13 OLED and Zenbook 14X OLED,” says Moira Chen, Marketing Manager, Asus Middle East.

Back-to-school apparel, which includes sports and fitness gear, as well as footwear also power the shopping lists of many buyers.

“Athleisure wear, like F5 Global, and footwear collections such as Hush Puppies and Skechers, are seeing significant demand. Themed supplies like LC Waikiki’s character merchandise, is also showcasing growth for us in the personalised school items segment. For university students, brands such as Steve Madden and TOMS offer trendy footwear options designed specifically for the on-the-go campus lifestyle. Moreover, our homegrown brands, Babies & More catering to the youngest scholars, and R&B with its affordable collections, have also registered impressive growth,” says Teckchandani from Apparel Group.

Adapting to changing tides

From product selection to shopping habits and after-purchase experience, customer preferences are changing fast. To maintain a competitive edge, retailers are actively realigning their strategies to match the rapid shifts in buyer behaviour. They are embracing innovative solutions such as personalisation, omnichannel experience, flexible return and exchange policies, sustainability and more, to effectively connect with shoppers. Many of them are also leveraging social media and interactive marketing campaigns to score with their younger audience.

“While our diverse brand portfolios, including Skechers, Crocs, Aldo, and Toms, captivate shoppers, we’ve deployed strategies to further enhance the shopping experience amidst numerous choices. It’s not merely about promoting a product; it’s about sharing a story – whether it’s the campus vibrancy of Toms or BBZ’s dedication to enriching academic journeys. Our strategies are designed to both spotlight the uniqueness of our brands and ensure easier decision-making for parents during this pivotal shopping season,” says Teckchandani. ■