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Thu 3 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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Power of change

While malls now dominate Dubai’s shopping scene, a new concept looks set to take centre stage

|~|PUnderhill200.jpg|~|Paco Underhill: "There is no place on earth at the cutting edge of a global society like Dubai."|~|Power centres - open air developments that contain a number of ‘big box’ stores - are a staple of the retail scene in many Western countries. And while the concept is less well known in the Middle East, the situation looks set to change with the arrival of Dubai Festival City, an ambitious development covering more than 75 million sq ft close to Dubai Creek.

The power centre at Dubai Festival City, which is the first development in the region to embrace the power centre model, contains a number of high profile ‘big box’ stores, including Ikea, HyperPanda hypermarket, Plug Ins electrical store, and Ace Hardware. The centre covers some one million sq ft, encompassing numerous other support retail outlets than are usually available in similar complexes in other parts of the world.

But while the power centre at DFC fits the power centre concept, it also combines elements of the traditional shopping mall that are considered important in the region. Indeed, while most of the stores are accessible through their own individual entrances, they are also connected by an air-conditioned precinct containing a support network of retail, food and service outlets, allowing customers to move between stores without having to cope with Dubai’s overbearing summer temperatures.

Phil McArthur, general manager of shopping centres and commercial Real Estate, Al Futtaim Group, said that Dubai Festival City builds on the concept of the power centre, and is essentially a fusion of five different concepts, encompassing elements including retail, fashion, restaurants and hotels. This is partly due to Dubai Festival City’s location on the edge of Dubai Creek, a prime position that lends itself to developments such as hotels, restaurants and cafés.

To complete the power centre, DFC will be adding more big boxes with a combined floor space of between 300,000 sq ft and 400,000 sq ft, according to McArthur. These are likely to include stores dedicated to home accessory, kitchen equipment, bathroom suits and office equipment. The wider DFC development will include two levels of fashion stores and a cinema complex. A gourmet food court is also soon to be announced.

The power centre already comprises 640,000 sq ft of gross leasable area and by the end of the year, this will have increased to about 1,6 million sq ft. By mid-2007, this figure will reach 2.2 million sq ft, and eventually, the power centre will cover about 2.7 million sq ft. Meanwhile, DFC itself covers more than 75 million sq ft.

A waterfront section, which will make use of DFC’s location on Dubai Creek will open in phases and will eventually include about 90 restaurants, food courts, coffee shops and other venues according to McArthur.

He added that this part of DFC aims to be Dubai’s equivalent of famous waterfront locations such as Darling Harbour in Australia. Part of the waterfront section, which will be known as ‘trade routes’ will feature retailers selling handicrafts and other specialist items not available in the larger stores.
But McArthur admits that developing such a project as DFC is no mean feat. “Mega projects such as this are very difficult to execute,” he said.

“In Dubai, Mall of the Emirates has managed to do a good job, and obviously a ski slope is a big draw, but our offering is big and a bit more complicated because we have hotels as well.”

He added that three of the directors on DFC’s board of directors each have about 25 years experience in the retail sector, which has helped to make the project a success so far. DFC also brought in two consultancy companies from the UK to help with the food and beverage offering, mainly to assist with the mix and positioning of food and drink outlets.

Paco Underhill, a retail consultant and author who sits on DFC’s board of directors, shared some key insights with retailers from DFC shortly before the opening of Festival Centre. In an analysis of the psychology of shopping, Underhill discussed the four main issues that are important for all retail outlets to consider: visual language, gender consideration, convenience, and recognising how to approach different kinds of customers.

Visual language, a means of communication that encompasses maps, signs and other informative images is something often overlooked by retailers, according to Underhill. “Visual language is evolving faster than the written or spoken word and therefore is one of the most powerful mediums for communicating with the customer,” he said.

“This relates to the concept of ‘information architecture’ whereby retailers need to decide exactly what they want to portray to the customer at each point of the shopping experience and seek to construct ways in which to achieve this through store design, merchandising and overall environment.”

He added that recognising the power of the female shopper and designing facilities accordingly is also vital for long-term success. “Women are most often the leaders when it comes to shopping, harking back to the days when they were gatherers for the family,” he said. “As such, retailers need to accommodate their needs by supplying larger mirrors, child friendly environments and the most powerful marketing tool of all, the chair, for the bored partner.”

Indeed, providing a “streamlined and hassle free” shopping experience is vital in securing customer purchases, and retailers need to understand the value of efficient transaction time and accessibility to sales facilities, according to Underhill.

With many people in Dubai visiting malls as a form of entertainment, Underhill also emphasised the need for mall and store manager to offer facilities other than those linked directly with shopping. This can help increase the number of visitors – and therefore potential consumers - to a mall.

Underhill added that Dubai excels in certain areas, such as tailoring its retail offering to accommodate the many diverse cultures and shopping styles that exist in the city. For Uunderhill, salespeople in the region have become expert at tailoring their approach to suit different customers. “There is no place on earth at the cutting edge of a global society like Dubai,” he said.

Paco Underhill is Founder, CEO and President of Environsell, a New York based research and consulting firm with offices around the world.

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