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Dubai is in prime position to capture the zeitgeist and lead the way in this new era of fashion and design as luxury shopper experience in an ever-changing online and in-store environment



Shopping remains a key component of Dubai’s draw as a tourist destination. — File photo

By Ahmed Al Khaja/Viewpoint

Published: Wed 28 Dec 2022, 2:22 PM

Last updated: Wed 28 Dec 2022, 2:33 PM

As we enter yet another Dubai winter season of design and fashion, what lies behind the doors of the world’s famous fashion houses never ceases to amaze and astound in equal measure. What makes the fall and winter collections unveiled in 2022-23 so special is the way those seasons are being presented to the world, and how consumers can immerse themselves in the world of high fashion.

Fashion and design have gone hand-in-hand with technology and innovation for decades — with these trends helping shape and build the industry into one of the biggest in the world, forecast to be worth some $3 trillion by the end of the decade . While those numbers are truly astounding, collaborations and crossovers with sport and technical wear alongside renowned fashion houses have helped accelerate that growth.

We have seen artificial intelligence come to the forefront to enhance and amplify the shopping experience, gathering data on trends to help boost sales and predict what the demand will be in the months and years ahead. Inventory related guidance has helped bolster the business bottom line, while chatbots have helped bring the latest trends into the palm of our hands via smartphones.

Meanwhile, outlets with pre-installed touch screens provide an improved customer experience and customised product suggestions. Each plays a part in building a robust future for the fashion industry to ensure its evolution continues in the years ahead.

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Luxury brands are the pinnacle of the industry, and while online shopping has changed the face of fashion, there will always be a place for traditional bricks and mortar. Visitor numbers at UAE malls were up from an average of 4.1 malls visited in 2021 to 4.3 this summer with fashion driving demand. Regional data showed 60 per cent of fashion was purchased in physical stores.

Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment.

Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment.

There is nothing quite like slipping on the finest Italian hand-made leather brogues or super-soft cashmere sweaters. These are experiences the online world is yet to replicate with any significance, and until they happen, the real-world experience will remain central to what the industry aims to achieve in customer satisfaction.

However, the boom in online shopping has underpinned the growth in the delivery industry, with demand pushing up quality of services. It is not uncommon for online stores to offer free delivery and returns within 100 days of purchase — an option almost unimaginable a few years ago is now commonplace and almost expected by the consumer.

Development of a secure online payment infrastructure has further emboldened consumer confidence. Tech firms like checkout.com are fast emerging as one of the market leaders, with a cloud based end-to-end payments platform that serves merchants and consumers. Secure online payment systems are just one cog in the wheel of modern retail but are the bedrock of commercial models.

According to RedSeer Strategic Consulting, the share of online shopping in the UAE retail market is set to reach 20 per cent before 2025 — and that trend is only likely to continue its upward trajectory thanks to more regular purchasing and average order value. Fast fashion has been on the rise with a growing number of platforms catering to immediate new trends among a broad base of fashionistas and style shoppers.

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One regional trailblazer lighting the way in the hybrid mix of online and traditional shopping trends is 6thStreet. The outlet launched its first ‘phygital’ store — a mix of the digital and physical shopping experience at Dubai Hills Mall. It offered a glimpse into the future of retail, with the flexibility and convenience of picking out items via browsing a tablet online and then physically trying them on in the fitting room. With more than 1,200 brands to peruse, and an impressive response time of just three minutes, 6thStreet laid down a marker of how the designer shopping experience could look on a wider scale in the very near future.

It is a little early to suggest if this new approach has been a resounding success, but the bravery to push new markets and adapt to common trends demanded from a new tech-savvy generation is impressive nonetheless.

Because of Dubai’s plethora of malls and expanding population — including a significant percentage of high-net-worth individuals — the emirate is in prime position to capture the zeitgeist and lead the way in this new era of fashion and design. Shopping remains a key component of Dubai’s draw as a tourist destination, as daily spend by tourists in the UAE increased 30 per cent during summer 2022, compared with the previous year. Footwear, fashion accessories and beauty were all big winners in the sector.

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Another project setting the benchmark for the rest of the industry to follow is the recent partnership with Majid Al Futtaim and Cisco to create the Store of the Future at the Mall of the Emirates. Development of the mall’s That Concept Store throughout 2022 has offered a new experience for shoppers and proved a hit for those passing through the vast halls of the Mall of Emirates.

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Visitors are transported through a futuristic journey of retail, projected via Cisco’s core portfolio of technological features. A step-up from the now commonplace store analytics, That Concept Store’s adoption of a digital display canvas, lift-and-learn technology, the magic mirror and beauty mirror has elevated the customer experience to an unprecedented level. Digital content displayed on screens in-store adapt to a customer’s view — based on their gender and age to allow for a more personalised shopping experience.

It might not be the futuristic Minority Report world brought to us by Tom Cruise quite yet, but digital adverts customised to our own biometrics appear to be becoming closer to reality – and not just reserved to the realms of science fiction.

Ahmed Al Khaja is CEO of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment. Views expreswed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.

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