Shopping in UAE
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The discounts sale season is on in the UAE. Step into any mall in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, the red banners and signs bearing the discount percentages shoppers can expect are in full-on display mode.

30-80% discounts do help

Welcome to the world of frenetic summer shopping – and this year it promises to be one. Based on market feedback, a sizeable number of UAE residents prefer to stay put rather than take a summer break. With so much uncertainty still swirling over travel and ‘red list’ quarantine requirements, these residents believe giving the summer break a miss is a more sensible thing to do.

And divert them to doing something closer to home… like shopping, perhaps? That’s what UAE’s retailers and mall owners are expecting would happen. Based on the feedback from malls, the weekend visitor traffic is robust, even with all the parameters set up under COVID-19 protocols.

Another bumper week for shoppers will be the upcoming Eid Al Adha, and malls are well set to take them in. Of course, the 30-80 per cent discounts do help.

Going for 90% discount sales in UAE

And then there are the mega-discount days – but held in defined numbers each year. In Dubai, retailers can be part of these three-day ‘Super Sale’ promotions in May and November. The November sale also coincides with the ‘White/Yellow/Friday’ online promotions that herald the arrival of the end-of-year shopping spree. In addition, on the final day of each Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises, retailers can bring on 90 per cent offers.

Eid Al Adha flash sale in Dubai

In addition, this year’s Eid Al Adha will also feature a flash sale where discounts can stretch to 90 per cent – and a repeat of an initiative the Dubai Festivals & Retail Establishment introduced last year.

Baiju Kurieash, CEO of BUZ Management & Marketing Consulting

“With five “deep discount” events as part of Dubai’s Annual Retail Calendar, there is an added push for both brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce platforms to lure customers with incredible discounts,” said Baiju Kurieash, CEO of BUZ Management & Marketing Consulting.

Clearance sale vital for in-store shopping

These “90% off” clearance sales have been vital to the revival of in-store shopping – first as an antidote to the impact COVID-19 had on consumer behaviour. Just as important, retailers and event promoters have got the hang of what needs to be done to make such promotions click. And to use it only sparingly, which is why the Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment oversees each detail and the timing of these offers.

Discounts can only be given where there is a clear win for both the shopper and the retailer. Excessive use of such offers will only diminish the retail sector in the long term. This is also the message online marketplaces are absorbing – the ‘always at a discount' mentality is being shed, gradually. Bottom-line performances will matter, and the only way to make it happen is to wean away from the discount culture.

Discounts are effectively a reward for the shopper, for sticking with a brand or retailer through the rest of the year as well. In the UAE, retailers are getting that right – and the shoppers will not mind that.

Until then, they can get on with the shopping – at anywhere from 25 per cent to 90 per cent.

Check the ‘Dubai Retail Calendar’

Each year, the Dubai Festivals & Retail Establishment, updates its Dubai Retail Calendar, offering retailers a chance to participate in the many city-wide campaigns planned for the period.

We have learned many lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic; with the events of 2020 helping to shape a new focus on what is required to host major events in the months and years ahead.

- Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO, Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment

The plan to have a flash sale – and with 90 per cent off promotions - during last year’s Eid Al Adha gave a much-needed boost for the sector, still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 disruptions.

In a statement issued at the time of the release of the 2021 retail calendar, Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO, Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), said: “We have learned many lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic; with the events of 2020 helping to shape a new focus on what is required to host major events in the months and years ahead. The new 2021 calendar offers a strategic platform of retail events, promotions and entertainment that will help to ensure Dubai stays safe and at the forefront of the world’s important retail destinations.”

Strict rules on discounts in UAE

When retailers can offer discounts and the extent of discounts they can offer need to have official clearance from the relevant sign-offs. In this regard, the UAE and the various emirates have been strict right from the time the country’s retail sector emerged as a major contributor to the local economies.

What the authorities did not want happening was retailers passing on discounts based on “artificial” price settings. Because whether it is the Dubai Shopping Festival or a promotional blitz sponsored by Retail Abu Dhabi, the discount offers had to have the official stamp of approval.

“For any promotions in Dubai, retailers must apply for a permit from the Department of Economic Development in Dubai,” according to the Business Registration & Licensing (BRL) division at Dubai Economy. “There is a limit - discounts are from 25 per cent as a minimum to 75 per cent as a maximum.

“The days {when the promotions can be held} are indicated in the Dubai retail calendar by Dubai Tourism and according to the location of the store. If the shop is in a tourist area or a commercial centre, it follows the Dubai retail calendar.”

Whether it is Abu Dhabi or Sharjah, where summer promotions are now in full swing, retailers are expected to be transparent with their pricing – and that extends to the promotions they are putting up. No effort is being spared to bring about that extra layer of visibility for what shoppers are buying into and the price they have to pay.

The discounts are the real thing, indeed.

Shopping in UAE
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How promotional campaigns are held in Dubai

To apply for a promotional campaign, retailers should submit the permit application form, a copy of the trade license and a detailed message about the promotional campaign. This should cover how and why of participating in the promotional campaign, what are the prizes, and what is the actual value of these prize offers. In Dubai, the retailers pay Dubai Economy fees according to the prize value.

On whether a single permit will apply to both the online and in-store promotions if they are held simultaneously, the rules stipulate that the permit must be “synchronized” with the store and online offers.

Where are the better discounts on offer, online or in stores?

In the past, the shopper sentiment was that for the best discounts and choices, online is the best option. But over the last 12 to 16 months, UAE retailers have worked hard on reversing those perceptions. Interestingly, the COVID-19 situation might have forced their hand.

Even those shoppers who would never have thought of picking up their needs online were suddenly shopping for deals in cyberspace. And once they made their first purchase, a sizeable number were “sticking” to online.

This is when UAE’s brick-and-mortar retailers decided things had to change for good. Discounts and promotions were no longer only about clearing off-season stock, but about trying to convince shoppers to return for a store “experience”.

Retailers went big on providing that experience, plus the promotions. It worked – through the second half of 2020, UAE’s retailers and malls had some of their best conversion rates – people visiting and spending on goods – than at any time in the previous five years.

Same for both, online and in-store

Those lessons learned the hard way is still in place. “Many retailers are running a level playing field with their online and offline stores,” said Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer at Jacky’s Electronics and a keen observer of consumer trends. “Retail has always been about price, promotion and place - and a smart retailer will utilise this when running tactical campaigns. This means you may see at times online-only promotions or store-only promotions based on the objectives a retailer is trying to achieve.

Retail has always been about price, promotion and place - and a smart retailer will utilise this when running tactical campaigns.

- Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer at Jacky’s Electronics

“Many retailers recalibrated their offerings and locations, which meant that they either brought down rents or are only open in locations where they want to be. At the same time, many online retailers have also started to work on profitability.

“Apart from the tactical ‘loss-leader' that can happen online or offline, most retailers now focus on sustaining their business which means selling at reasonable margins irrespective of sales channel, i.e. online or offline.”

Eating out and shopping: ‘Abu Dhabi Shopping and Dining Season’

Mix a bit of food with a whole lot of shopping? With retail now turning into experiences rather than the actual window browsing or buying at a store, food is now quite an integral part of that.

The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi sure thinks along these lines, after combining its dedicated retail and dining arms - Retail Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Culinary – to create the ‘Abu Dhabi Shopping and Dining Season’.

Running until August end, it incorporates the ‘Summer of Style’, ‘Summer of Ice Cream’ and Summer of Offers, where participants get to partake in promotions and interactive experiences, including international brand and stylist collaborations.

“Following our best-performing summer campaign ever last year, our objective is to continue empowering retailers, brands and restaurants to deliver a truly memorable season underpinned by a schedule of unique first-to-region experiences designed to amaze residents and visitors alike,” said Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, Executive Director of Tourism and Marketing at DCT, Abu Dhabi.

Major shopping events in UAE
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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. Visitors flock from all over the world 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 language. It all adds to the bespoke experience.

DSS to fight the quiet summers

UAE’s summer months were always accompanied by a bit of a lull in consumer spending. This is the time where many expats got into the habit of “going home for summer” to beat the heat.

I am getting married at the end of this year, so I have started buying lots of stuff for my house. I am really focusing on homeware this shopping season.

- Kim Ayad

Dubai’s malls are operating at a 100 per cent capacity and the sales – based on initial signs - are drawing many people out of their homes and into the malls.

“I am definitely using DSS to my advantage,” said Kim Ayad. “I am getting married at the end of this year, so I have started buying lots of stuff for my house. I am really focusing on homeware this shopping season.”

The festival kicked off with a 12-hour sale on Thursday, July 1. It 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.

Maya Khalil

“I actually shopped the 12-hour sale,” said Maya Khalil. “I left work a bit early and went to Zara to check what’s on sale. It’s where I get all my clothes from.”

In addition to the 12-hour sale, the 10 weeklong events will welcome back a whole host of its most popular retail events and sales alongside great new promotions and deals. The summer sale will see more than 500 brands and 3,500 outlets offering savings of up to 25 per cent to 75 per cent.

Maria El Guindy

“I really need a new phone,” said Maria El Guindy. “My goal this DSS is to get a mobile phone at a great price. There’s a mobile fest going on right now, so this is the perfect opportunity

Focusing on the residents

Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO, Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment said, “DSS is mainly designed to cater to UAE residents, who plan to stay here for the summer with their families,” said Ahmed Alkhaja, the CEO of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment at Dubai Tourism. “They are our priority. Many residents are staying in town with their family.”

The annual event has put Dubai firmly on the global shopping and tourism map. Not only is it widely considered a top family summer destination for residents the Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE) ensures that hotel, restaurants, entertainment and retail sectors are participating to give residents and visitors a reason to keep the economy going.

This year’s packed calendar of events will offer something fresh to residents choosing to spend their summer here as well as for those visitors making a trip to the UAE.

Non-shopping activities to keep everyone busy

DSS isn’t just about discounts and shopping deals. There’s more to it. You can take advantage of some great staycation deals, discounted tickets on shows as well as plenty of city-wide activations.

This DSS, Dubai Festival City Mall will host a beach-themed activation featuring multiple activities, games, a playground and a sandpit for kids to enjoy.

Cartoon characters Tom & Jerry will bring their classic brand of cartoon chaos to Ibn Battuta Mall this DSS as part of the exciting and interactive Tom & Jerry Cheese Town Experience.

The Beach opposite JBR will turn up the heat this DSS with residents and visitors able to enjoy deals at the venue’s wide range of eateries and attractions. As part of the DSS Summer Code promotion, families and friends will be able to scan a QR code at The Beach to enjoy great savings on dining, leisure and retail experiences.

Summer Restaurant Week in Dubai

This DSS will see the launch of Summer Restaurant Week. For a limited time, foodies can explore many of Dubai's best restaurants, with special breakfast, lunch and dinner deals at great prices for all the family. Held from August 11 to 21. Summer Restaurant Week will encourage residents and visitors to enjoy breakfast for Dh69 for adults and Dh25 for kids, two-course lunch menus at Dh95 for adults and Dh35 for kids and three-course dinners priced Dh150 for adults and Dh35 for kids.

From July 20 to 21, The Big Eid Eat will feature special Eid dining events, menus, brunches and promotions for the whole family at great restaurants across the city. Diners at any of the designated venues will also have a chance to win Dh20,000 in shopping vouchers. In addition, residents and visitors can enjoy a selection of weekly dining deals and events held each week throughout summer in the city.

The hotel offers in Dubai

DSS is will also be offering plenty of hotel deals this summer. Book a room at the Armani Hotel Dubai or the Address Sky View hotel during DSS and receive free access to Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, VR Park and At The Top at Burj Khalifa. While guests staying at Caesars Palace Dubai on Bluewaters can enjoy the hotel’s family rooms or suites and free breakfast at Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen restaurant.

The Palazzo Versace Dubai will welcome guests to enjoy a seven-night luxury stay in a Grand Suite with free breakfast for two adults and two children below 12, hotel credit to be used at selected F&B and spa outlets, access to the Executive Lounge and complimentary tickets for two adults and two children to Laguna Waterpark, Dubai Parks and Resorts and La Perle once during their stay.

The DSS deal from Habtoor Grand Resort in Dubai Marina includes an exclusive family offer of 50 per cent off the price of a second room, free breakfast, half-price spa treatments and tickets to La Perle for two adults and two children.

Officials have confirmed that all relevant health and safety protocols, including social distance and the wearing of masks at all times, will be followed at DSS participating sites.

The psychological attraction behind discount sales

“The brain interprets the word sale as a successful deal or a winning opportunity that triggers a gush of dopamine (pleasure hormone), adrenaline (the sense of competition and wining) cause the urge to win this deal and catch that win, the sense of gratification,” explained Dr Laila Mohamadien, Specialist Psychiatrist, Medcare Hospital, Sharjah.

Dr Thenral Munusamy, Specialist Psychiatrist

Explaining further, Dr Thenral Munusamy, Specialist Psychiatrist, Aster Clinic Muteena, Dubai, said: “The limited period offers and redemption coupons are an effective purchase trigger, which creates a sense of urgency and an impulse to act to avoid the future regrets of missing the offers.”

Explaining further, Dr Thenral Munusamy, Specialist Psychiatrist, Aster Clinic Muteena, Dubai, said: “The limited period offers and redemption coupons are an effective purchase trigger, which creates a sense of urgency and an impulse to act to avoid the future regrets of missing the offers.”

Tips for healthy shopping
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Why do customers wait for discount sales?

“Customers have been conditioned by the abundance of sale events to wait because of the big discounts they expect. They perceive the benefits associated with discounts as higher and often equate sales and discounts with savings,” said Dr Thenral Munusamy.

What is the driving factor behind shopping?

Shopping is both material and emotional. Shopping is more of an experience, a lifestyle and a trend. It is a stress-buster for the worried and anxious, a hobby for the “want-some-fun” shopper and validation for the “I’m special shopper”, said the Dubai-based psychiatrist.

Dr Laila Mohamadien, Specialist Psychiatrist

“Apart from the utility, easy accessibility, affordability and marketing strategies are the driving factors behind shopping,” Dr Thenral Munusamy added.