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While Dubai has a dominant mall culture, experts are beginning to question whether the emirate will ever have its very own high street.

October 2015

London has Bond Street, New York has Fifth Avenue and Paris has the Champs-Elysées. These are arguably the most famous shopping streets on the planet. For Dubai however, the world’s second most important retail destination, a high street might be somewhat of a stretch but retailers are attempting to find ways around it.

Over the last few years Dubai has cemented its position as a retail hub for regional and global consumers. The emirate’s retail success story speaks for itself – currently retail in Dubai accounts for 13% of the economy; the same proportion as the financial, real estate and construction sectors. It’s a sector that’s growing hand-in-hand with tourism. While successful, Dubai, unlike other well-known shopping destinations, lacks a high street, as the emirate’s thriving retail sector is built around its dominant mall culture.

Yet, offbeat outdoor concepts are slowly beginning to emerge in the UAE as a way to experiment with concepts of a high street, combining luxury fashion stores anchored by food and beverage outlets. The latest in this trend are several urban renewable projects emerging across Dubai, inspired by retail concepts in New York, London and Christchurch.


Even though Dubai doesn’t have a high street it didn’t always have a mall culture. Long-term residents of Dubai would have witnessed when their shopping needs were met by the street shops of Deira and Bur Dubai, or the Central Market and Electra Road in Abu Dhabi. According to a recent industry opinion piece by Ajay Kumar, CEO of Tridayle Consult, a Dubai-based consultancy agency, the subsequent retail explosion in Dubai is closely linked to the rapid growth of the mall culture taking centre stage in the lives of residents.

“A lot of time and effort went into creating unique retail and entertainment offerings to please all segments of society. But beyond all the hard work and planning of developers, one indisputable factor for the success of malls here was actually beyond their control — the weather. Eight months of the year, the air-conditioned environment helped create a refuge, and a new kind of public or community space.”

But Kumar explains that the recent innovation in Dubai of open-air districts or shopping areas may be drawing back consumers. Developments such as The Beach at JBR, The JBR Walk, Citywalk in Jumeirah, Al Wasl Square and — soon to come — The Pointe at the Palm and Dubai Design district are finding solutions to introduce outdoor retail.

However, Mat Green, Head of Research and Consultancy UAE for property consultant CBRE says the outdoor retail concept works only for F&B retailers.

“While there has been quite a shift towards outdoor retail for F&B retailers, fashion retailers prefer the mall. If you look back to the delivery of Dubai’s major malls we saw the non-mall format suffer and we saw a big shift in the occupier base, with many of these fashion retailers based at Jumeirah Beach move into malls, as they wanted to be in a high-performance mall environment and this trend has not changed,” he explains.


Green believes that the emirate has done well to create a unique mall environment that drives the right kind of consumers.

“The concept of a fashion high street is relatively untested in this environment. At the end of the day a consumer won’t shop in these outdoor retail environments as they would in a mall, especially when considering the weather. For these outdoor retailers, there has to be a realisation that they will be far busier during the cooler months of the year,” he says.

However, while outdoor retail might not be the right avenue for fashion brands, Green says that F&B retailers have more to benefit from outdoor concepts as consumers are looking for shopping experiences.

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