When the world suddenly stops, so does sales in brick and mortar stores everywhere. Shutters descend in front of shops while mall doors are locked indefinitely; beloved space that forms the most integral part of our shopping culture in the Middle East. This is the inevitable truth that the mall is our playground; The monolith was built as an air-conditioned escape from the often extreme heat, and small towns – with enormous love letters – headed for luxury and style.
For tourists and residents, Dubai in particular has become synonymous with shopping, with The Dubai Mall registering 84 million visitors in 2019 alone. The Middle East is one of the last strongholds of the dominant physical shopping experience; business models that have so far worked for brands, franchisees and retail space developers, as well as our most consumers.
But when a disaster COVID-19 forcing it to stop steadfastly, how do luxury brands, which have historically evolved from the experience of IRL and by-promise-only store sales, enter the bustling crowd in the e-commerce market? Especially because – according to Chalhoub Group research – 70 percent of women like to shop ‘with the clans’ with their group of friends?
Social alignment certainly dampens that, but does that mean that the habits of our consumers in the Middle East will change permanently? In addition, how will the relatively late e-tail pivoting of the region impact the mall business that has been hit, and maybe even continue to do so?
In the past month, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Bvlgari and Tory Burch join the e-comm competition in the Middle East; a move that, although unavoidable, has undoubtedly been accelerated by the onset of Coronavirus when brands try to make up for lost sales. It’s only a matter of time before more prisons follow suit, and the good news is that the data shows that the appetite for buying luxury goods – even though online for a while – is still alive, good and not letting COVID-19 beat it as much as you were initially afraid of.
Working from home has created a real effect, with luxury e-tailers, Moda Operandi noted an 85 percent jump in the search for high-end sports pants in the immediate month after March 9; the week that COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic. However, it also saw a 40 percent increase in buyers who wanted to buy investments Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion saw an increase in sales of jewelry, watches and shoes.
But, in the end, what does this consumer behavior unite with the retail evolution of our mall? In Europe and the United States, even pre-Covid, brick-and-mortar retails have suffered for years, but because the mall culture here is so intertwined in the tapestry of how we live, it’s hard to imagine it going the same way. Many have reopened, and are as busy – if not more – than before. What’s important to remember is that the mall here offers more than retail; they form part of our community – our way of life. Evolution is natural, so this is e-commerce just to strengthen the treasure experience that we care about.
All images belong to Jason Llyod Evans
From the 2020 Summer Edition of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia