During the last public holiday weekend 1.5m visitors came to Dubai from Saudi Arabia. - yes you read that correctly - the one before there were 2m and the one before that 1m. The numbers are mind boggling.
So how does this massive influx alter the retail landscape here? Well, to be frank, it doesn't. Oh, apart from the malls staying open for 24 hours every day.
So, on the last holiday weekend, I found myself in the mall and in Victoria's Secret - what a temple to retail brilliance - videos of semi-naked women, loud music, bright colours, flashing lights and lots of men like me with their wives and girlfriends shopping for sexy underwear... but wait a minute, where are all the Saudi women? There are none to be seen. Interesting I thought, so I started looking, every time I went to the mall, I polled Victoria's Secret stores - in Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall. Sure enough, apart from the occasional exception, I saw no Saudi women shopping in Victoria's Secret.
Why? Do Saudi women not like sexy underwear? Is there some from of protest movement against silk? What is it that is making these women ignore such a prominent brand. Then it struck me - these women don't want to go into the store because they don't feel comfortable there - and can you blame them? Shopping for underwear under the watchful gaze of hoards of western men like me - how embarrassing.
I tested my theory with some of my Saudi friends... 'you're right' they told me - 'we feel so uncomfortable in those stores - like everyone is looking at us... we just can't go in'.
Interesting... so, here we have an example of a brand that has completely missed the point in this region. like many brands, they have franchised or licensed to a massive local company and simply transplanted their concept here... but it doesn't work. what in earth were the team thinking when they built this store. Surely they did market research, spoke to Arab women and understood their buying habits? Maybe there were even Arab women working on this brand? Well, I am afraid brand arrogance has cost you in this instance. The rush to be just like the Americans has cost you an opportunity... or created one.
Brands that are transported in this market will, on the whole, work well. We have seen many examples of this, but brands who work in sectors like alcohol, lingerie and food and beverage have to be more careful in applying there brand - nut and bolt - here. Why didn't Victoria's Secret create a section in their store that was for women only? Possibly a separate entrance with only women shop assistants? Why didn't they listen to the 2m tourists who come to Dubai during the holidays or the thousands that come for the weekend? Brand arrogance I believe. I am sure that Victoria's Secret are making a fortune here, but that fortune could be so much greater if they listened and adapted to the market - just like MacDonald's have.