Dubai enjoys a great reputation for shopping. It boasts many fantastic malls, numerous souks and traditional markets, and the legendary Dubai Duty Free at the airport.
The intense summer heat means that air-conditioned shopping malls have triumphed over the high street in Dubai. In recent years they have become not just shopping destinations, but centres for socialising and entertainment. Almost all the malls built in recent years feature a large number of restaurants, a multiplex cinema, family entertainment centre, and one or two tourist attractions.
The Dubai Mall is the busiest and most famous of the city’s shopping malls. Situated at Downtown Dubai, next to the Burk Khalifa, it boasts more than 1,000 stores, plus great attractions like the Dubai Ice Rink, KidZania, and the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo. In 2011 it welcomed an astonishing 54 million visitors, with owner’s Emaar proclaiming it to be the world’s most visited shopping and leisure destination.
The Mall of the Emirates is another popular mall. Highlights include the largest Harvey Nichols store outside the United Kingdom, the Fashion Dome packed with boutiques of the world’s top designers, and the Middle East’s first indoor ski resort.
Other malls worthy of a visit include the Wafi Mall, Deira City Centre, BurJuman, Mirdif City Centre, the Dubai Marina Mall, Festival Centre, Mercato, and the Boulevard.
Despite low import duties and staff costs, shopping in Dubai is not cheap. This is particularly true in the malls. Although prices of basic groceries in supermarkets are comparable to many developed countries, the prices charged for clothes, electronics, and almost everything else are usually higher than those paid in the EU, Asia, the US, and Latin America. Much of the city’s retail success is based on the variety of products conveniently available under one roof, affluent and price-insensitive tourists and locals, and clever marketing. Only cars, petrol and a handful of other products are inexpensive in Dubai.
Better value can be found by doing a big of haggling in the souks. Gold, spices, perfume, and textiles can all be purchased. There are also discount centres like the Dubai Outlet Mall and Dragonmart.
With annual sales in excess of $1.4 billion, Dubai Duty Free is the world’s most successful airport retailer. More than half of the 50 million airline passengers that pass through Dubai International Airport make a purchase, well above the industry average. It is also worth noting that, outside of Dubai’s hotel bars and restaurants, it is only place in the city where tourists can buy alcohol legally.