Grocery shoppers are turning to smaller stores carrying fresh food near their homes instead of driving to hypermarkets that are further away.
Small is the new mall for many shoppers
DUBAI // Adeb Dalab likes the convenience of walking next door from his apartment in Tecom to buy groceries, even though the Carrefour Market there has a smaller selection and charges more than a hypermarket further away.
"I just like the fact that I can do my shopping somewhere so close to my apartment," said Mr Dalab, 32, of Jordan, who works in sales.
"I know it's probably a little bit more expensive than the main Carrefour in Mall of the Emirates, or Lulu, but it's worth it. I don't have to drive around for ages looking for a parking space, then fight my way through the crowds at the mall or wait in long queues to pay."
Mr Dalab is among a growing number of consumers who choose to shop very close to home, even if it means paying slightly more for their items.
Experts say people are shopping less frequently at larger chains, and making more stops at smaller markets in their neighbourhoods.
The trend is encouraging some of the biggest supermarket chains to open more small stores in residential areas.
"There is a shift to a more western-style community shopping experience, where people move from doing big shopping once a week to an almost daily shop for fresh food," said David Macadam, the head of retail at real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. "In choosing between price and convenience, convenience wins every time."
Examples can be found in proposals by both Carrefour and Spinneys to open local supermarkets at the southern end of Al Wasl Road in the next year, he said.
"These retailers are sophisticated, and wouldn't be spending this money to build these community supermarkets unless there is a market for them," Mr Macadam said. "I think they will make their returns pretty quickly. There is a growing trend within the population of going local."
Consumers want supermarkets with easy access to the road network and a 10-minute route that did not involve a lot of traffic lights or turns, Mr Macadam said. He added that many of these new supermarkets acted as "anchors" for the residential developments in the area, and therefore it was attractive for them to be in the market.
Carrefour, which had already boasted 16 Carrefour Market (formerly Carrefour Express) smaller stores in Dubai and Sharjah, plans to open two more by the end of the year in the Diamond View Centre in Jumeirah Lakes Towers and Burj Views, Downtown Dubai.
Franck Rouquet, the vice president of Carrefour Supermarkets in the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, said the supermarkets had been filled with consumers.
"As expected, we are finding customers are using our Carrefour Market supermarkets to top-up their larger, monthly shopping trips to a hypermarket," he said.
"With such a high turnover of produce, our supermarkets are receiving fresh produce on a daily basis, which is fundamental to the success of this model."
For Nameeta Jamal, a Kenyan businesswoman who lives in the Dubai Marina, the shift happened only recently.
"I used to do most of my big shopping at the hypermarkets, but now the vast majority of my daily groceries I order from the shop in my building," she said.
She does, however, continue to shop at the more high-end Spinneys and Waitrose markets because of the wider range they offer.
"They have stuff that other supermarkets don't have, so that's the main reason, and I still do my bulk grocery shopping there maybe once a month," she said.
However, some shoppers in Abu Dhabi said they prefer the wider selection and lower prices at hypermarkets.
Aris Abdulaziz of Abu Dhabi, a general manager at a travel agency, said he almost never shops at his local grocery.
"My personal view is that people prefer to go to bigger hypermarkets in malls," said Mr Abdulaziz, a 37-year-old Indian who has lived in the capital for 15 years. "There is a big difference in prices. Your milk and soft drinks are the same price, but rice and other food products are so much more expensive [in smaller stores]."
Mr Abdulaziz also prefers the selection at the mall supermarkets, where he said fresher products are easier to find. "Plus, you can take your family with you to the hypermarket," he said. "It becomes a whole family outing, going to the market together."
Linda Pacioles, 58, a Filipina housemaid who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 28 years, visits a hypermarket once or twice a month for most of her shopping. But she recently visited a small grocery store in the capital's Al Markaziyah neighbourhood to top up her food stock, which had been running low at the end of the month.
"Sometimes, what I need they don't have," she said of the smaller market.
However, she said, the small store is closer to home than the hypermarket, and the trip takes much less time. She said she prefers the convenience of smaller markets "for immediate needs".
* With additional reporting by Vivian Nereim and Jen Thomas