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Saudi retail market faces unique challenges

Jeddah, December 12, 2011

Opportunities are abound in Saudi Arabia’s fast growing retail market but is constrained by several unique challenges including seasonal aspect of religious tourism, recruitment issues, supply chain constraints as well as cultural limitations, said a report.

Saudi continues to attract strong interest from global retail brands as they respond to the many opportunities available, principally driven by the Kingdom’s relatively youthful population, the Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a leading real estate investment and advisory firm, said in its report.

In a special report titled "Saudi Arabian Retail Landscape – Undoubted Opportunities: Unique Challenges," JLL  focuses on the Kingdom’s retail real estate market.

Saudi, the report stated, is subject to many of the same issues impacting the retail sector at the global and regional levels, but the local market is characterised by a number of unique challenges.

"While retail spending continues to grow rapidly, new retail space is being developed to the point that there is retail saturation in some areas which is leading to a growing polarisation of the winners and losers," it added.

A number of global brands as well as ‘up and coming’ retailers from the UAE, Lebanon, Turkey and Asia are currently looking to increase their presence in the country.

Responding to this strong demand, the amount of retail floor space in Saudi Arabia has increased rapidly, with the area of mall based retail space increasing by almost 80 per cent in Jeddah and 65 per cent in Riyadh since 2005, it added.

According to the report, this rapid development has created challenges as well as opportunities as parts of the market are increasingly reaching saturation point.

As the sector continues to mature some of the older malls are now starting to lose market share to more modern centres that offer international shopping environments in terms of brand mix facilities, and amenities along with complementary leisure components.

This means that some centres are starting to struggle and now require repositioning or possibly even conversion to alternative uses, it added.

David Macadam, head of JLL’s retail team in Mena said, “Despite its unique challenges, Saudi remains an exciting retailing opportunity. Retailers across the spectrum are looking to enter this market to cater to a large and growing domestic demand, driven by its sizeable young population."

Those retailers and retail centres that can create a uniquely Saudi experience will be the ultimate winner as they will be able to fully capitalise on the market potential and increasing levels of spending power available to the Kingdom’s consumers, he stated.

"We also see tremendous opportunities for retail asset managers in Saudi. A key take away from our report is that retailers and mall operators need to work more closely together to create environments that provide an enjoyable experience rather than just a shopping trip."

"With the market becoming more competitive, consumers and retailers have a greater choice and centres must continue to evolve to match consumer demand or face becoming obsolete."

"We also see the opportunity for more mixed use projects that combine retail with offices and hotels such as the Jabal Omar project in Makkah and the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh," Macadam remarked.

The JLL report highlights a number of key characteristics that contribute to the unique nature of the Saudi Arabian retail market, each of which will have implications on both existing and proposed projects.

These characteristics include:

Cultural Considerations: Visiting malls has developed into a favourite Saudi pastime as there is a limited range of entertainment venues and public spaces in the Kingdom.

The attraction of indoor air conditioned malls is further enhanced by the harsh summer weather conditions, said the report.

Although these factors represent an opportunity for the growth of the shopping and indoor leisure/recreation sector, the retail market is constrained by cultural factors such as the inability of malls to offer cinemas which are a mainstay of their entertainment offer in other markets, it added.

Women represent a significant opportunity for retailers in Saudi but the ease of shopping is reduced by current restrictions on their ability to drive, the report pointed out.

"Another unique cultural consideration is the limitations upon single men visiting malls during week-ends where access is only available to families. This has resulted in the growth of street retail and showroom formats, especially for categories targeting single men such as electronics, menswear, sportswear, watches and fast food," it added

Importance of Religious Tourism:

The 2.5 million pilgrims performing Hajj each year (with many others visiting Saudi to perform Umrah during other times of the year) provides a major boost to the Saudi retail market as well as a challenge due to its extreme seasonality.

The Makkah and Madinah markets have traditionally been underprovided with retail facilities but large new mixed use developments are now being built around the Grand Mosque incorporating major retail components.

While Makkah and Madinah will be the primary beneficiaries of retail spending from the millions of pilgrims that flock there for Hajj and Umrah, Jeddah is the principle international gateway for such visits.

Many of the pilgrims spend a few days shopping in Jeddah after their journey and this provides a huge boost to the city’s retail sector that is not currently being fully exploited, said the JLL report.

The other key factor is the concentration of franchisors and operators. "A handful of groups control the vast majority of the retail brands in Saudi with some being among the largest shopping centre developers and landlords in the country.

This unique situation creates both barriers to entry for aspiring independent retailers and also potential conflicts of interest in the relationships between retailers, landlords, investors and lenders, the report stated.
 
This concentration element has resulted in many malls ending up not only carrying the same brands, but also looking exactly the same which is increasingly becoming unsustainable.

Recruitment: The ability to attract and retain a knowledgeable and qualified workforce is becoming a key differentiator of retail brands globally, so this is not a uniquely Saudi issue.

In Saudi Arabia the human resources challenge is increased by workplace segregation, complex labour regulations, the unique permit system for foreign labour, and skills gaps among local and expatriate candidates, the report stated.

According to JLL, the underlying theme here is that human resourcing restrictions -  whether gender based or otherwise - will pose a challenge in attracting the right talent across the entire retail sector. 

On top of all this is the logistics and supply chain management challenge, said the report.

"While there have been improvements in these areas in recent years, the supply chain infrastructure in Saudi Arabia remains less advanced than in other markets in the region."

Soraka Al-Khatib, co-head of JLL Saudi Arabia pointed out that shopping centres in the kingdom will need to offer activities beyond shopping to sustain or maximise consumer footfall.

"Some of the unique cultural challenges cannot be addressed directly by retailers or mall operators but there remain opportunities to ‘add value’ to the overall shopping experience and differentiate both brands and malls more effectively."

"Proactive asset and property management is required to overcome a feeling of ‘sameness’ caused by the concentration of franchisors and operators. It is important that the quality and design of a shopping centre creates a sense of belonging and has a ‘soul,’ he added.-TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Saudi | Makkah | malls | Madina | challenge | supply chain | JLL | retail market |

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