x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The multimedia approach to holiday shopping

Toys R Us is distributing catalogues in a drive to drum up new business in the UAE's increasingly competitive retail market.

Shoppers who cannot bear to brave the holiday crowds at the malls can now buy their children's gifts with a flip of the page and a phone call or an e-mail.

Starting with Dubai, Toys R Us is distributing catalogues in a drive to drum up new business in the UAE's increasingly competitive retail market.

Al-Futtaim, the retail conglomerate that has the franchises for Toys R Us, Marks & Spencer and IKEA, plans to make its products available to customers through several avenues, starting with phone and e-mail, and later through SMS messaging and online retail, said Robert Willett, the chief executive of Al-Futtaim.

"It's about the customer's ability to contact you 24 hours a day via call centres, online, SMS," he said. "We're starting to build that capability … The customer that comes to you through more than one channel is more profitable than the ones that go in through one channel."

Shopping through catalogues has been widespread in North America and Europe for many years, but has yet to become established in the UAE.

This week, Al-Futtaim distributed more than 200,000 Toys R Us catalogues to doorsteps across Dubai. It may extend the programme to its other brands and in other emirates if the campaign proves successful, said Mr Willett. The catalogues each have about 120 products on offer, and the group plans to add more in future editions, he said.

The retail group, based in Dubai, plans to launch an online retail portal by next spring for its brands. Al-Futtaim gave out the catalogues to connect with its customers directly in the meantime, said Mr Willett.

"This is a way of starting the direct communication to homes," he said.

The new strategy comes amid media reports that Al-Futtaim will be bringing John Lewis, the UK department store giant, to the Middle East. According to the property magazine Estates Gazette, the two retailers are in advanced negotiations to open several stores in the region, including Al-Futtaim's shopping centres in Egypt and Dubai.

Mr Willett declined to comment. "We don't comment on speculation," he said.

Neil Saunders, the consulting director of the retail analyst group Verdict, said the UAE would be an attractive market for John Lewis because of the high number of expatriates and its experience in the region through its sister company, the Waitrose supermarket chain.