Stock - Dubai CommerCity
Dubai CommerCity intends to reimagine what free zones can do for businesses. Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Dubai: If anyone wants physical proof of Dubai’s ambitions to shape its digital economy, just head over to Umm Ramool in Deira. That's where ‘Dubai CommerCity’ is shaping up as a one-stop destination for ecommerce companies of all shapes - and offerings. And with the promise of a 45-minute delivery to customers anywhere in Dubai.

The choice of location - with Dubai International Airport a road away - is no happy coincidence. The promoters – Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority and wasl Properties - of the $1 billion development wanted a location where future tenants can deliver on the promise of ‘same-day delivery’ of ecommerce orders to anyone in Dubai. And we are talking in minutes rather than hours on those deliveries.

Video by: Anas Thacharpadikkal Reporting: Manoj Nair

Speed matters

“We can help achieve pickup and delivery to the consumer in 45 minutes to everyone in Dubai,” said Devere Forster, Chief Operating Officer at Dubai CommerCity, which will be built over 2 million square feet. “That’s because we are strategically located in the heart of Dubai. If we look beyond Dubai, we can deliver into northern emirates and down to Abu Dhabi the same day.”

Choosing Umm Ramool
For Umm al Ramool, the Dubai CommerCity is the "first large project aimed at bringing a new look to the area," says Devere Forster. "Our partner, wasl Properties, has this ambition to help redevelop this area by creating more mixed-use areas, offices, residential, education, and more social offerings."

All within extremely close proximity to Dubai International Airport.

Being this close to Dubai International is again part of the big picture. Pick up from the Airport can be done within 90 minutes “because we are only 1 kilometre away,” said Forster. “Because this will be the key for companies running ecommerce businesses out of the UAE and get their orders cross-border into Saudi Arabia, the rest of the GCC and anywhere else.

“What’s important is that we are within access of 5 billion consumers within a 3-hour flight.”

Stock - Dubai CommerCity's Devere Forster
Devere Forster, Chief Operating Officer of Dubai CommerCity: "Building an online store is only the start of the journey. Running an ecommerce store is very different. That’s where we come in." Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

All in the delivery

If one had to describe what Dubai CommerCity is all about, it can be compressed into five words – built to deliver at speed. Forster makes a point of covering all angles – even as the development takes shape.

Rather than just focus initially on local ecommerce businesses, the COO is thinking about vendors from outside as well. “If someone is shipping into Dubai from cross-border, they need to have that product sitting close to the consumer – and that’s the only way they can promise same day/next day delivery,” he said.

“Consumers are becoming more demanding and they will not be content with anything other than same day-next day delivery offer. There are international ecommerce vendors who take orders from here and then take three or five days for delivery. That’s OK today, but consumers will switch at some point to another vendor who can deliver the same product the same day.

“International ecommerce players need to move their products closer to compete in this market. That’s what Dubai CommerCity can provide.”

A 'city' for all things ecommerce
The idea of building a free zone in Dubai dedicated to ecommerce was "first dreamt of back in 2015 due to the hyper-growth expected in the sector", says Devere Forster. "The project design for the site began late 2017 with shoring, piling and construction getting underway in early 2019.

It was during the design phase that decisions were made to deliver the project in two phases. Phase 1 would deliver 50% of the Business Cluster made up of six G+6 buildings with 82,000 square metres of leasable office space.

Phase 1 also includes 50% of the Logistics Cluster, with 24,500 square metres of leasable e-fulfilment centres. There is also around 2,000 square metres of leasable space in the Social Cluster, made up of retail spaces, a food hall and a multi-purpose events hall.

"We pre-leased 30% of the facilities in just two months," says Forster. "The initial plan was to deliver the Logistics Cluster mid-2023, but we have brought that forward to Q4-2022. And the original plan was to deliver final building in 2029-30, but we now plan to complete the Business Cluster early 2028."

Talk fulfilment, not storage

Now, if anyone starts thinking Dubai CommerCity is all about warehousing and storage spaces, Forster will be quick to correct that assumption. “We are building e-fulfilment centres,” he corrects. “Any ecommerce business is using the facility to carry very light stocks. The product comes through a door on one side for inbound and heads out from another side for outbound. In between, it gets put away, picked up, packed and then dispatched.

“Ecommerce operators already active in the UAE need to move into e-commerce facilities that are designed for them. They don’t need warehouses where storage is the only consideration.

“In terms of clients coming down to look at our facilities, they are seeing premises where they can work from rather than just store.”

Help them scale

This is also the point where Dubai CommerCity stretches the envelope. Rather than just be the landlord and negotiate a rental contract, the free zone offers startups access to technology that can help them focus on just their core area – that of selling a product online.

“We can provide the complete ecommerce solution in a box and where the client simply operates the online store,” said Forster. “If need be, we can even run the store for them. All they need to do is get the products, put these into our logistics cluster, which can be managed by them or they can go into a multi-client warehouse operated on a pay-as-you-go model.

“if you are the client, you focus on just the business. We take care of all the services required and put them under one roof. So, you park your car and all the services are then delivered to you - on an A to Z requirement or as a la carte.

"That's why we want to be known as a 'free zone plus'."

And as the destination in Dubai where ecommerce happens...