Dubai shoppers under a microscope

The Department of Economic Development is looking at providing an information service to retailers on customer footfall, profiles and trends at the UAE's malls - with video.

DUBAI - OCTOBER 22,2009 - Colorful lights complete the interior of Dubai Mall in Dubai. ( Paulo Vecina/The National ) *** Local Caption ***  PV Mall 4.jpg
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Retailers and mall operators would benefit from a plan to provide them with details on consumer demographics, spending habits and trends, experts say.

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It is hoped that the information service under consideration by the Department of Economic Development (DED) would encourage the best mix of shops in malls, matching the profiles of consumers to the types of stores available.

Laila Suhail, the chief executive of the Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment, part of the DED, said providing retailers with such information would boost growth of the retail sector.

"[A platform] is something that's being worked on at a government-DED, level," Ms Suhail said. "There's a very strong infrastructure when it comes to shopping malls, but there is no single platform of information for a retailer about particular malls."

The DED service would probably be outsourced to a private data provider that would collate information provided by malls and retailers on footfall, sales and consumer profiles, as well as conduct surveys and polls to complement the data.

"By providing a transparent and competitive context, an information platform will help retailers establish strategic points of sale and optimise their store locations," said Richard Adams, a retail analyst at Verdict Research. "Ultimately, it would benefit the Dubai retail sector overall and structurally the whole economy."

Historically, mall operators have tended to chase rental yield at the expense of examining what stores work best together in the long run.

This has often led to an eclectic mix of outlets, which can prove detrimental to retailers and mall operators.

Vishal Mahajan, the director of the Dubai Outlet Mall, said he hoped the platform would mark the start of improved regulation for the industry, which he conceded was "over-retailed" in Dubai.

"A lot of malls are suffering, rates have fallen drastically and they will continue unless there is proper regulation," Mr Mahajan said.

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Some retailers and mall operators already share information on sales and footfall as part of their lease agreements, and many retailers conduct their own consumer research to better understand their customers' spending patterns.

But experts say an independent service would give a better picture of the whole industry.

Retailers said they would welcome such a data platform but also said transparency would be crucial to the project's success.

"It's true that today we lack sufficient information about the size of certain parts of the industry," said Mansour Hajjar, the managing director of Allied Enterprises.

Allied is part of the Chalhoub Group, a regional partner for dozens of luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Fendi.

"The aspect of transparency is important because if the mall is publishing growth in footfall while the number in your stores is showing a drop, then it becomes contradictory and independence is needed," Mr Mahajan said.

He said mall operators and retailers shared information, but there was no guarantee of its veracity.

"I can say to you my footfall is 300,000 per week and you will believe it," he said. "We welcome any structure put in place by the Government. However, it would need a lot of proper data to support it."