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Dubai’s online portals take to the physical

Dubai: From virtual to a brick-and-mortar presence — that is the direction at least some of Dubai’s recently launched e-commerce portals are taking to these days.


By doing so, they are flying in the face of conventional wisdom which suggests that an online sales presence is an end in itself. Instead, it is a hybrid model that vendors aspire to.

The online apparel vendor, theDRESSroom.com, recently opened its first physical store in Dubai’s JLT (Jumeirah Lakes Towers) cluster, and earlier the promoter of SheMovesOnline.com decided to back up the existing virtual presence with a location at the Citywalk retail destination off Al Wasl Road.

Such transitions — or in these portals’ case, the co-opting of brick-and-mortar — does affirm to an extent that Dubai, and the UAE’s by extension, retail space will continue to be led by the physical. It also explains why leading local retail groups have preferred to take a more gradual approach towards shifting some of their operations online.

n Dubai, the mall is still right up there at the top in a retailer’s wishlist. Failing that, they would do with a high-street.

But not all online vendors should contemplate making a move to adding a physical presence, more so as retail rentals can only be had at a steep premium.

Intangible qualities

“I think this applies only to stores that offer products that have many intangible qualities that cannot be explained on a website,” said Devayani Dayal, founder of SheMovesOnline.com. “These include the senses such as the feel of the fabric, the actual colour of an item, the fitting, the texture, etc.

“If you are buying a book or a cellphone, it is the same no matter where you buy it from. But garments, fragrances and make-up sell largely based on the way they make an individual feel through its intangible attributes. If your product has such attributes, you need to be in a physical shop.”

For the promoters of theDRESSroom.com, the new store offers the chance to double up as a social hub for clientele, especially like-minded ones. It is a “social space” and “Having a physical location in addition to the online core offering opened up new consumer groups to us who were not necessarily our online target audience,” said Samantha Kayruz Chami, who launched the brand with Dina Abdul Hadi Daryani.

“The showroom also acts as a springboard to our online offering — for those that are still dubious of e-commerce — and allows us personal interaction to walk people through the online process and provide reassurance through added value benefits such as free tailoring, free returns, try it before you buy it, etc.

“We always had plans to have a physical office and a component of the showroom, but the idea of a welcoming social space and cosy hangout place came as we understood our customer’s experience wants.”

Regional expansion

Having done the hard yards on the first outlet, theDRESSroom.com is planning on Saudi Arabia to be the next logical step. Logical because it is another regional marketplace where the online can work seamlessly with brick-and-mortar.

The portal/retailer has also built up momentum by winning the Afkar business incubator programme. “With the win will come three months of mentoring with the Afkar team, and we are sure our business will benefit from that and take us on an interesting new path.

“Our business model is designed to explore new opportunities, be it online or offline, to help us manage our working capital. We have our eyes on growth and scalability and that’s always the best way to keep your expenses in check, rather than a defensive strategy.”

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