Sheikh Up Retail

By Karl McKeever | 04.04.17

Dubai’s mall overhaul

Retail is big business in Dubai, making it a natural place to hold the annual World Retail Congress. Today marks the official opening of this year’s conference. During the course of this week, industry leaders and attendees will be debating and rethinking the way we shop as well as how technology, innovation and creativity can be embraced, to meet new world challenges. These are all themes that this city’s visionaries – experts in turning dreams into bricks and mortar – know well; the signature of the Dubai skyline is the crane.

Dubai is already blessed with plenty of outstanding mall-makers. Think The Dubai Mall and The Mall of the Emirates – both major ‘supermall’ destinations built to draw in the crowds thanks to a combination of sheer scale, brand choice, mixed-use facilities and prestige. In the fiercely competitive world of mall development, this is a city that believes in seven-star standards. But developers are not done yet.


competition has never been higher.


A city of ‘mega tall’ buildings and high affluence, it is undergoing dramatic transformation in order to remain a bastion of not only Middle Eastern but truly global retail excellence. For the smaller shopping malls in the city, including Dubai Festival City, the need to continually ‘step up’ has never been higher. And it is taking note. Previously it has felt somewhat remote and an oddity, but lately, things have changed. Until now, it was mainly frequented by locals and nearby hotel guests, but continued multi-million dollar investment is boosting its size, attractiveness and credibility.

Previously, Festival City was not a mall that people would ‘seek out’ – especially given the attractions of bigger, more comprehensive competitors that are a short taxi ride away. Located less than five minutes from Dubai International Airport, it offers one of the best views of the Dubai skyline and sunsets from Festival Bay. But as a mall, it has always felt somewhat unfinished, lacking in purpose, with a patchy retail mix and no real sense of ‘heart’… a mall in waiting but lacking in vitality.

Tory Burch, Dubai

However, when the new multi-million dollar investment is complete, it is expected to be one of the largest mixed-use commercial developments in the region with combined working, living, and leisure facilities. It will comprise a series of residential communities, hotels, malls, a golf course and other entertainment sites, and a full suite of public services, including schools. To call it ‘city’ may be an appropriate term in the fullness of time, if the development is built as planned.

Today, Dubai Festival City is one of the city’s larger shopping destinations, featuring a fantastic line up of retailers including the country’s only IKEA store.

The investment has seen the mall space significantly extended, redesigned and upgraded. As part of this, a new flagship Robinsons Department Store opened last month. It may not be a name that is familiar to UK or even European shoppers, but with existing stores in Singapore and Malaysia, it is well known within the region.


shoppers in Dubai are truly restless.


The new Robinsons store hosts a brand new John Lewis shop-in-shop, the largest of its kind overseas. As a brand with such high credibility in the UK, John Lewis often anchors its own retail developments. Here however, the brand appears to be testing its performance before acquiring its own dedicated property in the area.

In terms of design, the mall breaks convention – the Robinsons store will open adjacent to an existing Marks and Spencer store in a new space created next to the interconnecting Intercontinental and Crowne Plaza Hotels. For shoppers, this will result in ‘off centre’ navigation to the mall with a dense gravity of the three big name stores located all together. Time will tell if the footfall to other stores in the mall follows through to maximise the full trading opportunities for all other retailers.

Alexander McQueen, Dubai

When it comes to an appetite for the next and the new, shoppers in Dubai are truly restless. Over the years, they have been nurtured to expect the biggest, best and most spectacular. Dubai Festival City will have to compete hard, and sustain those levels, if it is to improve its visitor numbers, drive retail sales and deliver a return investment. Not least because the city has already started to shift its focus to the ‘next generation’ mall: Dubai Meydan City – a multi-billion dollar investment that is scheduled to open in 2020. And yes, in true Dubai-style, this flagship development promises to be bigger and even more spectacular than anything that has gone before.


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