Mon, Aug 29, 2011 - Page 11 News List

FEATURE: Western retailers turning Dubai into shopping oasis


Limited Brands Inc, operator of the Victoria’s Secret chain, and American Eagle Outfitters Inc are among retailers seeking a foothold in Dubai as consumer confidence in the emirate reaches a seven-year high.

Sales in Dubai are up about 10 percent this year, according to companies such as Rivoli Group, which sells watches from brands including Tissot, Burberry, Gucci and Cartier. US retailers, traditionally reluctant to enter the region, are coming to Dubai as sales in their domestic markets and other fashion capitals remain subdued.

Consumer confidence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the second-biggest Arab economy, is the highest since 2004, according to the MasterCard Worldwide Index of Consumer Confidence released on Aug. 18. Confidence was 95.6, compared with 73.6 six months ago, exceeding markets such as China and India. The score is calculated with zero as the most pessimistic and 100 as most optimistic.

Dubai is the second-most attractive emerging market for retailers after China, in part because of high disposable income, according to management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

Retail accounts for 30 percent of GDP in the emirate, home to about 40 shopping malls, Standard Chartered Bank PLC estimates. Dubai malls feature an indoor ski slope, an aquarium, ice rink and a “dancing” fountain, similar to the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Williams-Sonoma Inc, the 55-year-old housewares chain that owns Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn Kids, opened the first stores outside of North America and Puerto Rico in the emirate last year. Bloomingdales, owned by Macy’s Inc, also opened its first store outside the US in Dubai last year, while Victoria’s Secret and American Eagle Outfitters opened stores in the emirate earlier this year.

“With limited opportunities for growth in their own markets, more retailers have taken the plunge and made inroads into the region, typically using Dubai as a springboard into the region’s other markets,” research company British Monitor International said in a report last month.

Visitors from Gulf Arab nations and China are coming to the UAE as political unrest in other Middle Eastern countries diverts tourism. Uprisings in the region this year have toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia and sparked conflict in Libya, Syria and Yemen. In 2009, the UAE and China signed an agreement to facilitate travel between the two countries which has helped boost Chinese tourist number to the Gulf nation.

The possibility of a “second dip” globally could hurt sales, said Daniel Starta, managing director of A.T. Kearney in the Middle East.

However, “only catastrophic drops in oil price or truly fundamental stability issues that challenge both emerging and mature markets would likely have an impact on the regional retail sector,” he said.

Dubai’s retail industry is recovering after the global financial crisis caused sales to plunge 45 percent in 2009, according to BMI. Retail sales in the emirate will likely increase 7.2 percent this year, up from last year’s 3.6 percent growth, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates.

David Macadam, head of retail for the Middle East and North Africa at consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle, said retailers are reporting annual sales growth of 5 percent to 8 percent, with some as high as 12 percent. That’s returned revenue to 2006 levels, he said.

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