Look Back 2012 The good times returned for retailers in 2012, with confidence high and many looking for new opportunities.
Bright future in store for retailers
While some companies in other parts of the world continued to suffer aftershocks from a financial crisis that began five years ago, the good times returned for UAE retailers this year.
Sentiment among consumers was positive, giving retailers extra confidence, according to experts.
"Retail was very strong in 2012," says David Macadam, the head of retail at Jones Lang LaSalle.
Not only was Mall of the Emirates named among a list of the world's 15 most productive shopping centres, earning US$1,423 (Dh5,227) per square foot per annum, according to research by the International Council of Shopping Centres (ICSC), but many of the retailers operating in the UAE were on the lookout for new opportunities.
"We heard it from the mall operators and we heard it from the retailers themselves [at the Middle East Retail Forum this month] that there are waiting lists to get into malls like The Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates - the destination malls - which means there is still room and retailers are still looking for space specifically in destination malls," says Hussein Doughan, the general manager of Euromonitor International for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.
"It shows that there is the appetite to take up more retail space within the country and there is a need for it."
One retailer looking for space to open another outlet was Clarks, the shoe shop, which has 14 stores across the UAE, including outlets in both The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, but is on the lookout for a flagship store.
"It's very difficult because retail property is in extremely high demand," says Melissa Potter, the global chief executive of Clarks.
"[There are] 1,600 people waiting to get into the Dubai Mall," she adds.
In Abu Dhabi, the retail sector started to diversify with the launch of very different projects.
"When you just look at the new outlets that have come to the market, you have Mushrif Mall, Al Wahda extension, Etihad Towers and they are three quite good examples of where you can see the market is starting to diversify," says Duncan Pickering, a partner, real estate, for DLA Piper.
The most striking example, he says, is The Avenue at Etihad Towers: the capital's first luxury mall and the only shopping centre in Abu Dhabi where all stores are designer boutiques. Opening in a fanfare last month with a fashion show featuring holograms and a black entrance carpet which sparkled with 10 kilograms of crystals, the mall features more than 34 brands - around 20 of which are new to Abu Dhabi.
"[The Avenue has] really plugged into the high-end luxury element of the market, which has been served up to a point in Abu Dhabi but has only really been served in Dubai up until now," says Mr Pickering.
And then there was the unveiling of the more affordable Al Wahda Mall extension, which doubled the size of the shopping centre. Some of the brands in the centre are new to the capital, including the Turkish clothing store Lufian.
"I think when we all look back at 2012 next year or in a couple of years' time we will end up seeing 2012 as the platform which really launched Abu Dhabi retail, certainly in terms of the retail operating, in terms of the malls and retail outlets that are available to all retailers but particularly international retailers and their brands," says Mr Pickering.
This year in Dubai saw a handful of openings of small community malls in the Jumeirah area.
"The new smaller centres are all about convenience. One is for example on Al Wasl Road. There's a Meraas one on the corner of Al Wasl near Safa Park," says Mr Macadam.
"There's another one that's on Al Wasl down the south end, near the police [station]. That's another good one. But they are very small," he adds.
So can they compete with the bigger malls in Dubai?
Experts say they can, because they are targeting a different type of customer: people who live locally who can either walk or drive there easily.
And the UAE is in need of more malls like them.
"What we see that Dubai needs more of, or the UAE in general, are neighbourhood malls, and that should tie in really well with the factor of convenience," says Mr Doughan.
Consumers in the UAE are busier than ever, he says.
"They are working longer hours and that trend is driving the need for convenience, for products with home deliveries," he adds.
But developers already seem to be a step ahead, with more community centres in the pipeline, such as the Meraas Holding project at Jumeirah Beach Residence, which was announced this year.
The expansive retail, leisure and entertainment centre of 40 towers, which will run along the Dubai seafront, will include a mall of shops and restaurants that will run for nearly a kilometre along the beach from The Hilton Hotel at one end to the Sheraton Hotel at the other and is expected to be completed less than 18 months after its announcement in August.
Mall of the World
Of everything that happened in the retail sector in 2012, arguably the biggest development was one that is not yet in existence.
"Mall of the World is the big news," says Mr Pickering.
Part of the massive Mohammed Bin Rashid City development, the sprawling mall will have capacity for 80 million visitors a year and have 100 hotel facilities.
The development, a joint venture between Emaar Properties and Dubai Holding, will be located between Sheikh Zayed Road, Emirates Road and Al Khail Road and partly developed by Universal Studios.
But is Dubai big enough to be home to two of the world's biggest malls?
Apparently so, according to experts. The Dubai Mall already has a huge number of visitors, says Mr Macadam.
"Given what is happening in Dubai with the expansion of the new terminal that is exclusively for A380s, there will be an increase in the tourist volumes.
"And when you increase the tourist volumes over what they are now it's going to make the shopping environment even more popular and maybe a little more crowded, so by the time these new shopping venues are incorporated into the market it will be just the right time."
There is not much information about Mall of the World yet. But it does not seem to matter to retailers, who are in general agreement that it is a good idea, Mr Doughan says.
"They are all still looking for retail space. They want to expand and bring more brands in. So, in essence, I think Dubai can handle such more retail space."