Car parks may also become redundant, as the real estate footprint for car parks is currently extensive and costly. In the future, therefore, we will see more sophisticated transport offerings, with an increased choice of public transport and autonomous vehicles that reduce the need for large areas of land dedicated exclusively to the housing of private cars.

Such trends will contribute to the drive for sustainability within areas such as Dubai, which are working towards the smart city vision. The buzz around driverless vehicles has the potential to result in alternative transport options, which could reduce the population’s dependence on private vehicles that need to be stored in physical structures attached to malls. And, of course, less space for cars means more space for retail opportunities and revenue generation.

A mall for all seasons

While technology presents numerous opportunities to the region’s retail sector, this evolution will not be without its challenges. Unlike their more developed counterparts, shopping destinations in the Middle East have one major obstacle to overcome: the climate. With temperatures regularly passing 45°C during the summer months, how can retailers respond to the natural environment?

The region’s high ambient temperatures pose both an opportunity and a problem for retailers. On the one hand, customer footfall tends to increase during the summer, as tourists and residents seek sanctuary in the cool environments of the malls. On the other hand, engineers and designers must ensure that all adjoining infrastructure is equipped to cope with the unforgiving climate.

At a fundamental level, customer experience and comfort remain key considerations. Most amenities need to be enclosed, with covered walkways and transport infrastructure located close by. Shopping areas that include outdoor elements, such as Dubai’s City Walk and Boxpark developments, require considerable and careful thought and planning to ensure they remain attractive, year-round destinations.

Future-proofing retail

The future of retail in the Middle East will require more than a one-size-fits-all approach. The digital world is fundamentally changing the way we shop. No longer are malls simply a collection of physical stores, or somewhere to go for a few hours at the weekend; they are becoming fully integrated communities that fuse social and urban environments.

If the Middle East’s retail sector is to compete on the world stage, it is vital that it embraces and integrates digital innovation within both the physical and online realms.