In January this year, MAF added Store of the Future, a digital concept store created in partnership with tech giant Cisco at Mall of the Emirates, combining e-commerce and an experiential physical space. Brands and retailers will be invited to utilise the space on rotation (MAF’s own That Concept Store is the first name in). Equipped with state-of-the-art cameras, sensors and AI artificial intelligence technology that work in sync, it’s designed to offer a hyper-personalised shopping experience, while retailers learn from a complete analytical breakdown of customers’ response to products.
Shireen El Khatib, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Shopping Malls, emphasises the importance of technological innovation. Next-gen concept stores should merge technology with personalisation and localised experiences, she says, referencing That Concept Store. “That was developed with a millennial mindset — it requires brands to not only understand their audiences, but to foster and live their values as well. The pandemic accelerated existing trends pushing customer groups who have not historically focused on digital to change. That transition has its own challenges which we have worked through.”
Another new concept, luxury shopping on wheels — where you can literally hop on and shop in a luxury bus fitted out to for a bespoke retail experience — came to Dubai during the pandemic courtesy of Insta Runway. In the US, brands such as Louis Vuitton have explored this format. Runway on Wheels in Dubai focuses on accessories, with brands such as Sarah Jesssica Parker and Furla. “The UAE is known for its innovation, and customers like something creative and personalised,” says Samara Punjabi, founder of InstaRunway. For Ramadan (which began on 2 April), the company has partnered with the Shangri-La Dubai hotel, with a luxury bus parked outside where guests can shop during Suhoor (the last meal eaten before sunrise).
Why concept stores matter in Dubai
Concept stores offer something different to customers in a very competitive retail market. Elisa Bruno, general manager of Level Shoes, the world’s largest shoe store, located in The Dubai Mall, says: “This region is very demanding of experiences, services and the ability to select products that tap into the local culture, while having a very international look and feel. Concept stores are important to the retail mix.”
Level Shoes offers a café, cobbler and Margaret Dabbs Sole Lounge spa offering pedicures. An addition to the mix during the pandemic was a dynamic interactive space for London’s Presentedby, a sneakers specialist — exactly the kind of innovative concept store that Bruno champions.