How the UAE is rethinking the concept store

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In January this year, MAF added Store of the Future, a digital concept store created in partnership with tech giant Cisco to the Mall of the Emirates, combining e-commerce and an experiential physical space. Brands and retailers will be invited to use the rotating space (MAF’s That Concept Store is the first name). Equipped with state-of-the-art cameras, sensors and AI technology that work in sync, it’s designed to deliver a hyper-personalized shopping experience, while retailers learn from a comprehensive analysis of customer response to products.

Shireen El Khatib, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Shopping Malls, stresses the importance of technological innovation. Next-generation concept stores should merge technology with personalization and localized experiences, he says, referring to That Concept Store. “It was developed with a millennial mindset – it forces brands to not only understand their audience, but also promote and live their values. The pandemic has accelerated existing trends pushing customer groups that have not historically focused on digital to change. This transition has its own challenges that we have been working on.

Another new concept, luxury shopping on wheels – where you can literally hop on and shop in a luxury bus outfitted for a bespoke retail experience – has come to Dubai during the pandemic thanks to Insta Runway. In the United States, brands like Louis Vuitton have explored this format. Runway on Wheels in Dubai focuses on accessories, with brands such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Furla. “The UAE is known for its innovation, and customers love something creative and personalized,” says Samara Punjabi, founder of InstaRunway. For Ramadan (which started on April 2), the company has partnered with the Shangri-La Dubai hotel, with a luxury bus parked outside where customers can shop during the Suhoor (the last meal taken before sunrise).

Why concept stores matter in Dubai

Concept stores offer something different to customers in a highly competitive retail market. Elisa Bruno, Managing Director of Level Shoes, the world’s largest shoe store, located in the Dubai Mall, said: “This region is very demanding in terms of experiences, services and the ability to select products that tap into local culture, while having a very international aspect. Concept stores are important for the retail mix.

The Level Shoes has a cafe, cobbler and the Margaret Dabbs Sole Lounge spa offering pedicures. One addition to the mix during the pandemic was a vibrant interactive space for London-based sneaker specialist Presentedby – exactly the kind of innovative concept store Bruno champions.


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