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Dubai opens doors to 24-hour retail

Dubai's major malls will be open around the clock for two weeks. It is a unique experiment in retailing, its results remain to be seen.

On Thursday, Dubai will launch an intriguing experiment in retailing. In an "Eid in Dubai" promotional event running for three weekends, many major malls will be open around the clock from 10am each Thursday until 1am the subsequent Sunday.

Most government employees and private-sector workers are expecting several days off work to mark Eid Al Adha, which is expected to begin on Friday October 26. For retails clerks and others employed in Dubai's big malls, however, the opposite will be true: most will be expected to work longer hours.

Who, you might be wondering, would want to shop at 4am? Tourists, mainly, to judge by the news report on this project from the state news agency WAM. Dubai expects to welcome, as it does each year, many holiday visitors from Saudi Arabia, other Arabian Peninsula states and beyond. This year they are encouraged, WAM reported, "to experience the hospitality and unique cultural experiences that Dubai will offer this Eid".

It's a unique experiment. Some supermarkets are open 24 hours, but we have not heard retailers, for all their marketing know-how, clamouring to stay open all night. As The National reported yesterday, staff working extended hours will be entitled under the labour law to premium rates of pay, as well as compensating days off later.

On the other hand, retailers must normally pay a fee to the Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment to hold any special sale, and those fees have been waived for these three weekends.

Just how much demand for round-the-clock shopping will there be? If this experiment pays off, the result may give us a signal about the future of retailing in general.

The issue of shop hours is contentious in many countries. Small "mom and pop" retailers often demand limits on hours of operation. But chains and stores big enough to have flexibility in hiring, such as those found in malls, often argue strongly for maximum customer choice of shopping times - which translates into more market share for them.

The UAE, where so much of retailing is mall-based, seems to be a likely laboratory for extended trading times, if not for year-round, 24-hour openings. Perhaps it's time to put on a cup of coffee and prepare for an all-nighter.

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