Metro opening to change mall shopping experience

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    By Cleofe Maceda,  Staff Reporter   www.gulfnews.com

    Dubai: The opening of the Dubai Metro will not only change the way many people commute, it will also transform the retail scene in the emirate, as a huge segment of Dubai’s riding public is expected to migrate to shopping areas that are within striking distance of train stations.

    The Metro station near the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. The mall is undergoing the largest expansion to add several facilities for customers.
    The Metro station near the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. The mall is undergoing the largest expansion to add several facilities for customers.

    Eagerly awaiting the new facility, owners of shopping malls have expanded their retail space and laid out plans to attract an anticipated high influx of commuting shoppers. The positive impact is not expected to happen overnight, though, but some mall operators are hoping to increase footfall numbers by 10 per cent within the next few months.

    In anticipation of the Metro’s opening, Mall of the Emirates is undergoing its largest ever expansion programme that will see the addition of increased facilities for shopping, dining and parking.

    The mall earlier unveiled plans to open a link, which will directly connect the shopping centre to the train stop and transport passengers using a completely covered air-conditioned travellator system. It will have retail stores as well as ATM machines, a separate customer service desk, bathrooms, trolley bays and courtesy parking crews to assist shoppers. Another customer services desk will be placed at the station itself.

    Fareed Abdul Rahman, vice-president for divisional asset management at Majid Al Futtaim Properties, said the opening of the Dubai Metro will definitely bring more shoppers to Mall of the Emirates as well as to Deira City Centre, which is also right next to the railway.

    “The opening of the Metro this month will be a historic event for Dubai and it will provide a convenient and inexpensive way for people to visit our two malls&The Metro is going to be much more accessible to those who live some distance away or who do not want to use their cars,” Abdul Rahman told Gulf News.

    “For tourists, who form a significant part of our shopper profile, it will become a lot easier to visit us, as the Metro is connected to Dubai airport and major hotels. We anticipate a very positive effect of the Metro on our malls in the long term,” he added.

    Likewise, BurJuman is hoping to attract high footfall. The mall has upgraded and renovated its retail area on the north ground floor, which is adjacent to the Dubai Metro station, to allow for convenient access and enhanced shopping experience.

    But unlike Mall of the Emirates, BurJuman does not see a need to construct a link to the Metro station since the exit of the new transport facility is less than five metres from one of the mall’s entrances.

    “It is far too early to gauge the overall effect of the Dubai Metro on BurJuman’s footfall, but we anticipate a marked increase primarily due to the fact that we are along the main junction connecting the two lines and, therefore, expect a large number of residents to use the Metro to conveniently get to and from their homes, workplace or the mall,” Eisa Adam Ebrahim, general manager of BurJuman, told Gulf News.

    Ebrahim, who also heads the Dubai Shopping Malls Group, said the opening of the Metro will likewise lead to an increase in footfall in other malls that are located along the railway, but the effect may not be immediate. He commended the RTA’s efforts to educate residents about the benefits of the system.

    Oasis Centre, which recently re-opened on Shaikh Zayed Road, is equally optimistic. With the nearest Metro station about 1.9 kilometres away, the mall is planning to introduce free shuttle buses running every 15 minutes from 10am to 11.30pm daily.

    “It is difficult to be precise at the moment, however we are hoping for an increase above 10 per cent [in footfall],” Emma Farrel, marketing manager at Oasis Centre, told Gulf News.

    However, all these anticipated positive effects will materialise only if residents in Dubai adopt the concept of public railway transport. A cause for concern is the implementation of parking charges in malls, a move that might drive away prospective shoppers who won’t take the Metro.

    “Clearly, easier public access will increase footfall by the segment of the market that is close to a Metro station, have no vehicle, or are motivated by logistics, convenience or cost issues. However, the requirement to pay for the parking and vehicle congestion to enter and exit will push some consumers to local or community retail centres,” noted Colin Beaton, managing director at Watt International, a retail design and strategy consultancy.

    “Also, you may find it more appropriate to take your vehicle to a community mall if you are shopping for heavy items or have a large family to transport. The fundamental factor that will decide the net effect on consumer behaviour is, will Dubai embrace the concept of public transportation? If it does, malls will certainly realise a net increase in traffic,” Beaton added.

    Beaton did not discount the possibility that malls outside the periphery of Dubai Metro might lose some footfall, but he says by employing the right strategy and programmes, shoppers will keep coming.