The 2023 Retail Summit and beyond

The 4 biggest trends that are shaping the future of retail in the UAE

The third edition of The Retail Summit, an annual event hosted in partnership with Dubai Chambers, took place on the 14th and 15 March 2023. This year’s event saw over 900 delegates in attendance, with 72 speakers coming together to share their experience and insights on the latest industry developments. With 10% more speakers than the previous year and 25% more delegates in attendance, the success of the 2023 Retail Summit was testament to the rapid pace of the sector’s growth. 

The past few years in particular has seen an influx of international interest in introducing both new and established brands into the UAE market and growing its local production capacity. A total of 339 Retail Summit attendees flew in for the event from countries such as the United Kingdom, India, France and Lebanon. 

Prior to the onset of COVID19, the UAE’s retail market was experiencing exponential growth and was valued at USD 55 billion heading in 2020. The pandemic however, unsurprisingly slowed this accelerated growth, reducing its projected growth from just under 6% to just 0.4%. But, recovery is well underway. The country’s luxury market alone is expected to exceed a total value of over USD 15 billion over the next year. 

Dubai in particular has outperformed other UAE territories and represents a thriving retail hub in terms of its relative market share. The opinions and forecasts shared at this year’s Retail Summit provided several key indicators of what we can expect from the sector over the next year. These are 4 of the biggest trends driving the expansion of the retail industry:

Luxury in (and on) demand

The demand for luxury goods has led the charge as one of the UAE’s leading retail categories. This can be attributed; in part, to the fact that the UAE’s up and coming generation of millennial and Gen Z shoppers have more disposable income to spend on luxury items. According to recent estimates, nearly half of the region’s population is under 24. Their increasing demand for high-end products has significantly increased the share-of-wallet that the luxury category has amassed over time. 

A strong international influence

The demand for luxury items has attracted the interest of foreign investors and brands from abroad; many of which have big plans to expand throughout the UAE. One key example of this is Walpole, the UK’s official sector body for luxury goods. Walpole’s extensive membership comprises more than 250 brands across sectors like interior design and craftsmanship, fashion, food and drink and hospitality. 

In attendance at this year’s Retail Summit was Walpole’s, Charlotte Keesing, Director and Corporate Affairs and International. As she explained in a recent press statement: “The GCC, and the UAE in particular, present hugely important markets for British luxury brands. With a young, high-spending and discerning customer base, strong growth particularly in luxury and high-end brands, and a fast-growing tourism economy, there are so many opportunities for Walpole Members to expand their businesses across the region.”

Several prominent brand leaders were part of the Walpole delegation in attendance. These included representatives from iconic British brand, Harrods, Piccadilly-based department store, Fortnum & Mason, and multi-national fashion authority, Manolo Blahnik. 

Alongside The Retail Summit, the Department of International Trade organised a Meet The Buyer Event for 30 British brands looking to enter the UAE heard from local retail experts. Plain Tiger CEO, Oliver Baillie, gave a talk on how to develop relationships with UAE based retailers.

Local, UAE brands were certainly not left out of the conversation. A number of talks and panel discussions touched on the myriad of opportunities that exist for local and international brands to interchange and network. Newer, emerging brands based in the UAE will see a growing interest from international retail chains to enter into strategic partnerships and carry the unique UAE brand of luxury to foreign shores. 

E-commerce continues its expansion

The proliferation of e-commerce in the UAE is a reflection of the bigger picture of globalised, digital transformation. One of the key themes of the Retail Summit was the impetus that online shopping gained during the pandemic years. As many of the speakers and delegates agreed, this trend is indeed a sign of things to come. 
COVID19 compelled many brick-and-mortar brands to make their foray into the e-commerce space, expanding their offerings in order to reach a wider; and possibly younger target audience. 

The future looks bright for e-commerce brands in the UAE, according to Michael Kliger, CEO of In a talk entitled, ‘Inspiration Not Aggregation: Setting New Standards For Luxury E-commerce Platforms,’ Kliger reported that the company had succeeded in retaining the majority of its customer base despite global inflation and economic turbulence. According to Kliger, saw revenue of €689.9 million as revenue in 2021 alone, proving to be robust even under lockdown conditions. 

There is still a long way to go however, before e-commerce leaders like can realise their full potential in the UAE. According to a study by lexology, UAE e-commerce platforms tend to feature less items, product descriptions and customer reviews. Furthermore, shopping malls have long been a prominent part of the UAE’s social fabric and prompting a change of behaviour into the digital arena will undoubtedly take time. In the near future, UAE retailers will likely pour more resources into bolstering their online presence and ensuring that their e-commerce platforms are on par with their international competitors.

Sustainability takes the spotlight

The sustainability of retail brands in terms of their environmental and social impact on the UAE and surrounding regions was high on the agenda at this year’s Retail Summit. Opening the first speaking session of the Summit was Tommy Hilfiger, who shared his journey and experience as a fashion pioneer as well as his personal mission to make the world a better place through his influence in the retail sphere. 

Making brands and businesses more sustainable was one of the Summit’s golden threads and was a powerful message that saw leaders support the national and global shift towards transformation. Like other leading sectors in the UAE, retail is set to align with the country’s broader sustainability goals. 

And as Mohammad Ali Rashed Lootah, president and CEO of Dubai Chambers, said: “public and private partnerships provide a critical driver for innovation and development in the retail industry. By joining forces, both sectors can leverage their respective strengths to create a more sustainable, competitive, and inclusive retail ecosystem.” 

Going forward, the government’s buy-in to global imperatives will provide the retail sector with direction and a renewed sense of focus as it evolves to meet changing consumer demands

Women leaders and their role in retail

In line with the UAE’s national move towards building a more inclusive sector and economy, the role of women leaders in retail will remain an important part of discussions around the future of the industry. 

The Retail Summit’s ‘Women in Retail’ speaking session was well attended and gave a panel of women leaders the platform to share their unique view and perspective on what lies ahead. The speaker panel included several ubiquitous names in the industry, including Jo Malone CBE, Founder & Creative Director of Jo Loves, Halla Al Kassm, Founder & Chairwoman of Carina Wear, and Khadija Oubala, CEO of Sultan Center Group.

With retail in the UAE beginning to pick up pace post its pandemic slump, digitisation, the increased demand for luxury and the move towards diversity and inclusivity will continue to redefine the sector’s next step. Behind many of these important shifts is the emerging power of young shoppers – a new generation of conscious consumers who will play a key role in shaping the industry of tomorrow.

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