DUBAI // The emergence of the mall as not only a shopping venue but a meeting place and an entertainment hub is the reason why the online retail market has yet to catch up with that in the West, a marketing academic says.
Sitting at a computer and ordering online cannot match the entertainment value offered by Abu Dhabi and Dubai's malls, with their thousands of restaurants and shops, ice rinks and even ski slopes and zoos, according to a report by Nnamdi Madichie, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Sharjah.
"Online shopping is unlikely to ever match the hedonistic consumption patterns in Dubai's malls," said Mr Madichie, whose findings were published in a report entitled, "The Bold and the Beautiful of the UAE Retail Environment" in October's edition of the journal Marketing Intelligence and Planning.
"People go there not just for shopping, but also for a lifestyle option and for socialising. Entertainment has actually become the core product of shopping malls.
"This presents a major challenge to the country's efforts to lure shoppers online."
His report describes The Dubai Mall as a "mini metropolis", highlighting its 1,200 shops, restaurants, an aquarium, skating rink, fountain show, cinema and hotels.
Many shoppers at The Dubai Mall confirmed they go to the venue not only for shopping but also for entertainment.
"It's just something to do," said Adrian Young, 33, from the UK. "I don't always buy something. I come here for cinemas, restaurants or just to read a book."
He said that the shipping charges for international retailers such as Amazon.com were often prohibitively high. "If I want to buy something, I buy it when I'm here," he added.
Sixteen-year-old Mohammed Jamal, from India, said he often came to the mall for socialising. "I just came to meet friends," he said. "Our parents don't mind us being here because they know where we are."
The Dubai Mall last year recorded a footfall of 47 million, or 128,000 people a day. However, only about half of the people who visit malls go there to buy something, according to mall statistics.
"There's a lot more to shopping malls in Dubai than just shopping," said Simon Lindsey, the managing partner at the Dubai research and marketing consultancy GRMC.
"They are also community social centres and places to meet. Even so, many people do make impromptu purchases when they are at malls because of the convenience."
Mr Lindsey, who also runs a business selling automotive accessories, believes it is the lack of proper infrastructure for deliveries rather than just the popularity of malls that is to blame for hindering the growth of online retail.
"I'd love to be able to sell my products online," he said. "But we just can't do it because we can't take somebody's money from Jeddah and guarantee that we can ship his product there.
"It's very difficult to ship across borders, there is not a reliable logistics system."