Dubai: Lots of fashion and fabrics, add some food choices and stock up on fresh produce – UK retailer Marks & Spencer has found the right mix for its newly renovated stores in the United Arab Emirates.
Fresh produce – and from the right farms – is becoming the trend in the UAE retail space, and that’s what M&S intends to deliver. Going forward, that would also mean sourcing so much from local producers, according to a senior official at the retailer.
“We can do so much more to improve the new choices,” said Nick Batey, Managing Director of M&S MENA. “Obviously we need to locate – right now about 70% of what we store is imported. But that’s good because it gives our buyers something different than they didn’t have anywhere else.
M&S took advantage of the pandemic months to relaunch significantly expanded stores at the Dubai Mall and, now, the Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi. The Yas location now has a total area of 25,000 square feet, also suitable for a 1,500 square foot café. (Yas Mall and its centralized location also help M&S with its app-based food and grocery orders and deliveries.)
A significant amount of change for the retail industry has been made in the last year – I would say five years of change in one year
– Nick Batey, Managing Director of Marks & Spencer MENA
Everything is in the “dwell”
Batey says it’s about giving shoppers one more reason to favor a visit to an M&S store over going to a contest. “In-store ‘dwell time’ is very important to clothing retail – if the Café makes shoppers stay longer, that matters to us as a retailer,” he said.
“The Café is the main feature of what it would have been before. We adjusted the size of our clothes and our food mix accordingly. If customers say they love our food and want it in store, that reflects changes in consumer behavior. This does not mean that the mixture of clothes is getting smaller and smaller.
This is the tactic employed by the British brand at the Dubai Mall, when the 33,000-square-foot store opened in June of last year. (In fact, it was one of the first large brick and store facilities to open after the lockdown phase related to controlling the spread of COVID-19.)
The next phase for all brick-and-mortar retailers is to understand what has changed with the habits of shoppers – “The market still faces uncertainty as to how consumers will buy – parts are still pending,” he said. he added. “We still don’t know what is the right thing to do for retailers.
“But those loose ends are going to start to take hold – and this is where being the nimble retailer is crucial. It is not enough to stay in touch with the market… the most important thing is to know what the consumer expects from you.
M&S local operations already have the online channel, where buyers can choose from merchandise available in the UK and then pick it up here. “Yes, the digital sector has grown tremendously – we never back down on that,” Batey said. “It gives our buyers and us options not only on the clothing, but also on the food line. This is what omnichannel offers.