x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

On the Money: UAE doing its best to corner the market on shopaholics

It is not young women, but young Emirati males, who are the big spenders on consumer goods in the UAE.

Gary Clement for The National (w)
Gary Clement for The National (w)

There's not a lot that surprises me these days. But that could have something to do with my age.

That's not to say I'm over the hill and have turned into a grumpy, old cynic, although I do know some people who would argue against that - especially if they catch me leaving for the school run at 7.15am.

It's just that I think you reach a certain stage in your life when it takes a lot to raise an eyebrow, Botox or not (for the record, I'm in the not camp).

Take women, for instance. Everybody knows we are the world's biggest - and some would say, the best - shoppers. Mention the phrase "retail therapy" and we get a glint in our eyes and are at the mall faster than our husbands can say, "Don't blow the budget again, honey".

We can blame our mothers for that "shopaholic" gene of ours. They start us out young. And they help us to develop an eye for a bargain; the bigger the savings, the better the satisfaction, they teach us.

But we also have no qualms splashing out thousands of dirhams on something that's a size or two too small because we follow that secret "shopping diet mantra", a promise we make to ourselves to justify buying something we know doesn't - and probably never will - fit.

Two years later, we rediscover it hanging in the back of our wardrobes, still with its tag on, and an even tighter fit than it was when we first bought it.

It's a good thing fashion is retro, giving us a few more years to lose those extra kilograms before the item in question is the next big thing on the runways again and is picked up by high street retailers. What a relief: we didn't waste our money, after all, not to mention that we now own an original, which we'll be fighting to wear when our (now) teenage daughters notice just how cool it really is - and we once were.

I've been thinking a lot about shopping these past few days. Not because I want to hit the malls and spend up big. No, these days, I find myself living it up in the age of austerity - and one of the few people bucking the trend in the UAE, where the retail market is on the rise once again and Dubai finds itself sharing first place with London as the world's hottest place to shop.

According to a report published in The National on April 13, Dubai now has more than half of the world's international brands and, combined with Abu Dhabi, makes the Emirates the second-biggest retail market in the world, behind the UK.

This is good news for the respondents to another survey released this week by Nielsen Company, the global consumer information and measurement firm.

The aim of the survey, Nielsen Next: Understanding Youth in the UAE, was to provide an insight into the consumer behaviour of youths here.

So Nielsen interviewed 600 males and females of all nationalities in the 15 to 29 age group in three cities: Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

And here's the surprise. It's not young women in the UAE who splurge the most on shopping - it is young Emirati males, who spend almost twice as much than their expat Arab counterparts and three times more than expat Asian youths.

"Emirati youth have a monthly household income of Dh13,500, almost double that of their expat peers, which stands at Dh7,800 for Arab expats and Dh6,200 for Asian expats," the study says.

"Not surprisingly, with prosperity and larger disposable incomes, we see an increased propensity to spend."

Nielsen found that out of every Dh100 spent, Emirati youth splashed out the most on fashion and clothing (Dh36), followed by mobile phones (Dh34), eating out (Dh15), going to the movies (Dh6), on books (Dh5) and music (Dh4).

I was raised to believe that men and shopping, even if they are in the 15 to 29 age group, went together like chalk and cheese. But the times, as Bob Dylan sings, "they are a-changin".

And that's a good thing, especially now that women appear to be sharing a slice of the shopaholic pie around - at least in the UAE.

Welcome to the club, boys.