Shoppers browse at the Ramadan Night Market in Dubai World Trade Center, which is open from 8pm to 3am until August 19. Razan Alzayani / The National
Shoppers browse at the Ramadan Night Market in Dubai World Trade Center, which is open from 8pm to 3am until August 19. Razan Alzayani / The National

Shops ring up bumper Ramadan sales

Retailers across the country are predicting scorching summer sales this Ramadan - despite the Holy Month falling in the hottest period of the year when tourist numbers are traditionally low.

In a poll by The National, 12 of 15 retail executives and analysts questioned said revenues would be higher this Ramadan with retailers having already reported record sales growth for the year. Jewellers, electronics shops, clothing retailers, mall operators and online stores are all forecasting bumper profits.

"For us and electronics, it's been pretty good, particularly because there's some aggressive promotions that we are running," said Amit Malani, the president of Harman Middle East, an audio and electronics specialist.

"I think Dubai has had a trend in the last four years that every single Ramadan becomes better than last year. For the last four years it's been like that."

Harman Middle East closed its yearly reporting season at the end of June, with sales increasing more than 30 per cent to US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion) across the region. It is now aiming for more ambitious growth, predicting sales of $400m in its next calendar year.

The huge numbers of tourists in the UAE have contributed to the increases in sales for many retailers so far this year. But as overseas visitors have slowly trickled off during the Holy Month, residents have picked up the slack, boosting sales in malls and restaurants across the country.

"The UAE's retail industry will definitely see sales growth during the current Ramadan festive period," said Ruban Shanmugarajah, the general manager for Babyshop, which has stores across the UAE. "In fact, it is one of the strongest trading periods for a number of the retail segments within the industry like grocery, fashion and gifting solutions providers."

Dubai Duty Free recorded an 8 per cent increase in sales to $62,500 in the first 18 days of Ramadan, on a 10 per cent increase in transactions. "The sales are high on gifting items across all categories especially perfumes, cosmetics, delicatessen and confectionary," said Saba Tahir, the vice president for purchasing at Dubai Duty Free. "The sales of Arabic sweets and dates are noteworthy during Ramadan when compared to rest of the year."

Malls have also reported high numbers of people escaping from the summer heat, which has converted to spending in the shops.

"Footfall to our centres has been consistently strong throughout Ramadan," said Fuad Al Najjar a senior director of shopping malls for Majid Al Futtaim Properties, which operates six malls in the UAE, including Deira City Centre and Mall of the Emirates.

"Ramadan is generally a quieter period for the retail landscape. However, sales have been consistent for this time of year and we are already witnessing a boost in activity as we are nearing the Eid festivities."

There were some retailers who were less sanguine about the prospects for Ramadan and said sales in the first couple of weeks had been slow as people spent time with family.

But most executives were confident shoppers would pour into stores ahead of the Eid Al Fitr celebrations.

"For the first days, revenues show no sign of increase but we are confident that the next two weeks will make up for this," said Ishwar Chugani, the executive director for the Middle East at Giordano, which has plans to have a total of 250 outlets in the region and India by 2015.

"The Holy Month of Ramadan is one of the most important periods of the year in the Middle East markets. All retailers, especially apparel retailers, witness a growth during this period as the consumers are out shopping for new clothes for Eid."

Although executives expected sales to increase during Ramadan compared with the same time last year, some also said the timing of this year's Holy Month would mean sales growth rates were not at the heady heights seen in other months so far this year.

Eidfalls in the middle of the hottest month of the year, which executives said would mean many potential shoppers would celebrate the holiday abroad.

"As Ramadan came in July, which is the peak of the summer shopping, business has been affected as many expatriates have left for the holidays earlier and there is a reduction of GCC and other tourists coming in," said Mr Chugani.

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The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

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4. Shahada

5. Zakat 

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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Favourite book: Between two hearts- Arabic novels

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July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

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