ABU DHABI // With a black Nike bag in hand, Abdullah al Hashemi and his older brother, Abubakr, strolled through Al Wahda Mall, stopping at various stores. It was a typical summer afternoon in Abu Dhabi for the two brothers, 15 and 16. Shopping, Abdullah said, was a favourite pastime of Emirati teenagers.
Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that the country with the largest shopping mall in the world is also home to some of the biggest spenders too. A report released in May by the Dubai-based market research firm AMRB and its international counterpart TRU found that UAE teenagers spent more than triple the global average. On average, 12- to 19-year-olds here spent US$71 (Dh260) a week compared with an international average of $21. The only teenagers in the world who spent as much were Norwegians.
The study, which looked at the lifestyles of teenagers across 23 countries worldwide, included three Arab countries - the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It found that UAE teenagers were much like those anywhere else - they spent a lot of time online visiting websites such as Facebook and blogs. Celebrity culture and music were also a major pastime. But spending set them apart from teenagers elsewhere in the world.
"Emirati teenagers are very heavy spenders and a marketer's delight," said Abhijoy Choudhury, the project director at AMRB. At $46 a week, teenagers in neighbouring Saudi Arabia spent far less than Emirati teens. Clothing was one of the highest expenditures. "What they wear helps them express their individuality and gives them a chance to stand out in the largely conformist society that we see here," Mr Choudhury said.
"Although they have to follow their culture by wearing abayas and ensuring that there is not much exposure, beneath those abayas, however, they are wearing the latest brands," Mr Choudhury said. "They have found ways in which they can wear what they aspire to wear, modern clothes, trendy clothes, they wear it. But it does not conflict with what the culture demands." Emirati teenagers were also less likely to earn their spending money themselves and were less likely to save. While Egyptian teenagers spent all of their $6 allowance, teenagers in India saved a third of the $3 that their parents gave them.
"What we saw from our study is that parents are the key source of income for the teenagers here," Mr Choudhury said. "About 90 per cent here get their money from their family compared to 79 per cent globally." Mr Choudhury attributed high spending to the affluence of the Emirati community. "The real reason behind high spending in a country like the UAE is that the affluence level of the local families compared to that of their global counterparts is extremely high. UAE teenagers are a huge beneficiary of the nation's economic expansion. This is one of the wealthiest countries in the world," Mr Choudhury said.
"Exposure to the western world with regards to the latest products or services or brands has heightened aspirations of the local Emirati teen." The study also found key differences in spending habits between the genders. Girls outspent boys by almost 20 per cent. They spent more on clothing and make-up, while boys spent more on electronics. "On average, Emirati girls spend double what boys spend on health and beauty products, and they definitely spend a lot more than their global counterparts. The other area where they dominate spending is clothing and apparel, but boys are not that far behind," Mr Choudhury said.
The study also found that Emirati teenagers spent $25 a month on cosmetics, compared with a global average of $6. They preferred smartphones over mobile phones, which they felt were "passé". A quarter of Emirati teenagers owned smartphones compared with 11 per cent globally. Mariam al Ali, 16, said she spent most of her weekly allowance on clothes and accessories. On average, Mariam spends about Dh500 a week. She said the mall played a major role in the life of young people here. "You can socialise with your friends, relax, shop or just hang out," she said.