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Mon 29 Dec 2008 11:53 AM

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Malls need to offer 'escapism' from gloom - expert

Branding chief says malls must emphasis overall shopping experience during 2009.

Malls could be a place where people go to escape the economic gloom, one of Dubai’s leading branding experts has said.

Shopping centres may not be the first place credit-struck consumers turn to in the midst of an economic slowdown, but some retail therapy could also serve as escapism when times are hard.

That is the message mall operators need to emphasise next year, according to Michael Hughes, executive director of strategy at The Brand Union Middle East.

“Going into 2009, malls will need to give people a reason to go there. So they might need to think beyond just what shops they’ve got there and more about the experience,” he said.

“It could be that they provide a certain sense of escapism. You tend to find that in times of hardship, people still need that.”

Should there be a slowdown in consumer spending, many of the region’s more upscale malls are unlikely to be able to compete on price.

But Hughes added that it is still not clear to what degree consumer spending in the Gulf will be hit by the global financial crisis.

Retailers have told Arabian Business that the last few months have seen a decline in the number of tourists visiting their stores, and that there has been a slowdown in sales of luxury goods. But many remain upbeat about their prospects for 2009.

The Brand Union is responsible for the branding of recently launched The Dubai Marina Mall, which is being pitched as Dubai’s first major local mall, rather than a destination people travel to from all over town.

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ahmed 11 years ago

oh please...wake up...lets be realistic...who wants to go to these exorbitantly expensive malls?..high time thge mall managers decide to reduce rents and pass the benefit to the customer...the way things are, the shop owners will just wipe out if they are not given flexible rental opportunities by the mall owners

Sussex Sheikh 11 years ago

I agree with Ahmed. You can't spend 'the experience' but you can the savings on lower prices.

Aussie Ahmed 11 years ago

Of all the outright wrong, backward-thinking besetting the world today, this must rank up there – I mean, seriously, which editor approved this story? Of course The Brand Union wants to get a story like this out there, but c’mon – insane reliance on credit lies behind the current financial malaise, why encourage even more of it as ‘escapism from the gloom’? The buck stops with the editor who ran this story – it’s poor, poor journalism and bloody irresponsible. Do people really need to be coaxed into the malls with trashy claims like this - 'shop more, it will make you feel better'??? Addiction to consumerism and credit - albeit on a bigger mortgage-level, but we all start somewhere - is what has caused the global financial crisis. Don't encourage it even more - if people need to shop to feel good about themselves, they have bigger problems than merely needing/wanting the latest fragrance from Louis Vuitton etc. Arabian Business - you do run some good, insightful, honest stories in your publication - please continue with more of these and less drip-fed PR such as this. It's a very transparent, weak story which is of no news value - it should never have made the cut.

Alan 11 years ago

Whilst I agree with the underlying sentiments, expressed so strongly by Aussie Ahmed, I do believe the commercial world we live and operate within, is not in a position to tell consumers what to do or not to do. If the overall experience of visiting a mall provides some pleasure, then so be it. It's the mall managements responsibility to get people in - it then becomes the retailers job to get the cash. At the end of the day it is the consumer who decides if they go to the mall and equally, oif they part with their cash. Let's at least agreee that the experience should be pleasurable.

Michael Hughes 11 years ago

Unfortunately, my comments have been taken slightly out of context. I never suggested people should buy their way to happiness. I agree far too many people have been spending beyond their means and the banks have previously encouraged this with their easy credit policies. I am not suggesting malls or retailers encourage people to spend money they don’t have – far from it. In Dubai (and the region), the mall is much more than a place to shop; it is often at the very heart of people's social life and entertainment. However, this has been lost lately with a focus on who has the biggest or most shops and frenzied spending. The malls have an obligation to give something back and continue to remain the place people can go and escape, even if it is just to meet friends for a coffee. The experience I am talking about it about is the entertainment and atmosphere that malls can provide for free - this is the escapism I am referring to, not just spending money in the shops. Malls have a responsibility to give back and the experience I am referring to is the entertainment and atmosphere that they provide other than shops – for free. Malls are somewhere to meet friends, maybe for a coffee or lunch - this is the escapism I am referring to, not just spending money in the shops. Retail has not been hit as hard in Dubai as in the US and UK - yet. However, retailers here will need to adjust so their prices so they are more realistic. They also need to ensure they don’t compromise on quality. For many companies, they have had it too good too long. Now, the tide has turned and customers will not be as easy to attract or satisfy. Customers will actually question what they are getting for their Dirhams and stores will have to work harder to get the business. This is compounded by the exchange rate which means Dubai is not so attractive to tourists. Put simply, many are finding their Pounds and Euros are not going as far and the same goods are now considerably more expensive than at home. Investing in brand is still essential. More so than ever, companies need to consider the entire customer journey, every touch point, to ensure a consistent and differentiated brand experience – a unique Brand World. Understanding the key customer’s needs and wants are essential but how to ensure they have a valuable experience is where many brands fail. More than ever people are looking for the value but not just something that is affordable but something they can justify and appreciate. The entire brand experience needs to be properly considered, especially the sales staff, the people who represent the brand.

paul 11 years ago

This is just an advert for Mr Hughes's business in disguise. And a fairly poor disguise. Arabian Business does itself no credit publishing dross like this. It should stick to the Reuters feed if it cannot add anything useful from its own reporters, and instead has to fill space with press releases that claim to be able to save Dubai's malls from the collapsing economy.