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UAE retailers ‘cautiously optimistic’ as sales rise above pre-COVID-19 levels for first time

DUBAI: The UAE’s retail sector showed signs of recovery in the third quarter of 2021 as shoppers returned to malls or embraced e-commerce to send sales above pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels for the first time.

Point-of-sale transactions rose by 7 percent in the third quarter of the year, according to a recent report by retail giant Majid Al Futtaim.

The company, which runs major shopping malls in the region, such as Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, said the change was significant because it was the first time “consumer spending exceeded levels last seen in 2019.”

MAF group chief executive officer Alain Bejjani, said: “Our research shows a continuation of the buoyancy in consumer sentiment, with further positive indicators pointing to solid growth and momentum in the non-oil sector.”

Despite the COVID-19 health crisis having crippled consumer spending amid salary cuts and job losses, Dubai Economy, a government body set up to diversify the emirate’s economy, recorded the highest level of consumer confidence in a decade over the third quarter, the MAF report said.

However, the survey results were compiled before the emergence of the omicron COVID-19 variant, which may set back progress in the final quarter of this year.

According to MAF, footfall in its outlets in the third quarter jumped 18 percent compared to the same period a year ago, while online shopping was up by 34 percent over the same quarter.

“The adoption and acceleration of e-commerce and food delivery services are a great example of how changes to consumer behavior have become a ubiquitous part of post-pandemic day-to-day life for us all,” Bejjani added.

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He pointed out that the recovery of retailers would depend heavily on innovation “in order to effectively cater to both new preferences and old habits.”

Dubai’s hosting of Expo 2020 has helped with the economic recovery (Shutterstock)

Bejjani noted that many factors had led to this “cautious optimism,” including an aggressive COVID-19 vaccination drive that allowed the UAE to lift restrictions relatively faster than other countries.

The revival of trade and tourism had also helped retailers, MAF added, and the positive economic outlook may be applied to the UAE’s Gulf neighbors, citing data organization Oxford Economics’ projection of up to 5.1 percent regional gross domestic product growth in 2022.

Other factors behind the retail recovery include Dubai’s hosting of Expo 2020, as well as the emirate’s growing real estate transactions, which official figures claim to be the “highest since 2015.”

Bejjani said: “While there are undoubtedly risks ahead, overall, we see much from which to draw strength, as the economic recovery continues to accelerate, and our communities adapt to living in a new post-pandemic world.”



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