It was the first time the event was hosted by a city outside Europe, underscoring the emirate’s position as a pioneer in retail innovation.
In a report released just ahead of the congress, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimated Dubai’s retail sector to be worth $35.4 billion. The market for apparel and footwear alone in the emirate is $12.8 billion, with 5.5 percent annual growth in sales since 2010.
“Retail here attracts consumers of the future,” Majid Saif Al Ghurair, chairman of the chamber, told the conference. “We are a city of the future that has set its sights on tomorrow. We are attracting retail with the ease and efficiency of doing business and advanced infrastructure.”
According to a study published by CBRE that measures the number of international brands in the market, Dubai is second-highest on the list of international shopping destination for the fourth year in a row. Only London harbors more global brands.
Those brands have found a comfortable home in Dubai’s many shopping malls. Alain Bejjani, chief executive officer of developer Majid Al Futtaim Group, said it’s the local mind-set that has made Dubai a place where retail has flourished. “Dubai has moved from being a small outpost in the desert to a trading hub to a world destination in a very short time. It’s the open mind-set here that allows us to do that. There is an everlasting relationship between the business community in Dubai and the leadership. They recognize what’s good for business is good for Dubai,” he said.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and vice president and prime minister of the UAE, met with speakers of the World Retail Congress to reinforce this message of tolerance and development.
Many global retailers posed the question of how they would be able to learn from Dubai’s model. Stephen Sadove, former chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Inc., said in his remarks at the conference: “It’s not business as usual. How do we create experiences like the ones we see here in Dubai?”
In answering the question of how global retailers can benefit from Dubai’s model, Beijani, whose company developed the world’s first indoor ski slope inside the Mall of the Emirates, responded: “We put the customer and their happiness at the heart of everything we do. This gives us the ability to give them something before they even knew they wanted it.”
Beijani reiterated that malls have to continuously innovate, evolve and develop. Mall of the Emirates recently welcomed Saint Laurent, Marni, Jimmy Choo and Alexander McQueen boutiques to its revamped fashion avenue. Phase two of the store openings, scheduled for next month, will add another five brands to the area including Etro, Marc Jacobs, Polo Ralph Lauren, Brunello Cucinelli and MCM.
The conference closed with a gala honoring World Retail Hall of Fame 2016 inductees Tommy Hilfiger, Jo Malone and Solomon Lew. Hilfiger, who is celebrating his 10th year of operations in the Gulf, has more than 40 stores in the region. “A brand is a living thing,” he told the audience. “You have to evolve, renew, polish it and continually push it forward. Surprise the consumer, think ahead.”
Organizers said the World Retail Congress will be held in Dubai for the next two years.