Young People and Mega Mall Preferences: The Shift from Shopping Bazaars to Mega Malls in Dubai

Subject: Economics
Pages: 9
Words: 3894
Reading time:
15 min
Study level: PhD


General overview of the shift shopping culture

Dubai, one of the fastest growing cities in the modern world, has experienced a rapid change in its business culture over the last few decades. The retail sector is one of the most significant sectors of the city’s economy that has experienced significant change in style and methods, especially as the city continues to host a large foreign population made of expatriates, business community, corporate employees and other middle-income populations (OPEC 4).

Noteworthy, the increased rate of shift from the bazaar and small shop retail system to Malls and Mega Malls is an important feature of the city. As the population of the working, business and expatriates increase significantly, the number of mega malls has continued to increase. It is clear that the main factor contribution the rapid shift to the Mega Mall culture is the need to provide retail services and products to the large population of the middle-income community (Eastlake, Lotz and Shim 16).

In addition, the small bazaars and retail shops traditionally common in the city can no longer accommodate the large population, especially because individuals prefer to do shopping in large spaces where they can pack their cars, which is not possible in the small retail units. Noteworthy, one of the most significant features of the Dubai population is the large number of young people aged between 15 and 40 years. In fact, studies have shown that this population makes the largest population in the city, especially because they provide labor and corporate leadership in the huge number of organizations present in the city.

Moreover, studies have indicated that they make a large portion of the middle-income population in the city, thus providing the local retail sector with the largest customer base. Therefore, their behavior, preferences and trends are important aspects in examining consumer behavior for the retail sector in Dubai. According to a number of studies, this population segment tends to be the heaviest users of enclosed shopping malls in most cities.

In addition, the young people are the most spenders in retail products in any society because they not only have the required economic power to access services, but are also enthusiasts of obtaining products and services to meet their basic and leisure demands. Moreover, the generation within the 15-40 year range is the first to embrace technologies as well as the “experience economy”, an important feature associated with the Mega Mall culture. In particular, the young population is composed of individuals with a high preference of a shopping experience that provides a combination of shopping, leisure and urban entertainment.

When examining the shift from the shopping bazaar to the Mega Mall Culture in Dubai, it is worth noting that the consumer behavior in the city is one of the most important aspects that drives and determines the trend. Therefore, the “experience economy” that has motivated the shift towards the Mega Mall culture in the city is a product of the consumer behavior exhibited by the young people in the 15-40 age brackets (Haynes and Talpade 34).

There must be a good understanding of the consumer behavior associated with this group of the general population, with a clear focus on the link between the young people’s shopping preferences and the design of the Mega Mall (concepts, retail mix and formats). This means that the developers of the Mega Malls should be customer-centered and develop a good understanding of the total customer experience, which is associated with the mall culture (Ibrahim and Ng 357)

Background to the shift in Dubai

The retail scene in Dubai is slowly changing from bazaars to Mega Malls as city is transforming into one of the leading business hubs in the region. The city of Dubai has become one of the most important business districts not only in the region, but also in the entire world. In the past, bazaars were very common along the streets of this city. Many business transactions were conducted in these small business stalls, and this was able to sustain the needs of the residents at that time. Things have, however, been changing rapidly as this city is gaining relevance in the global map. Investors started streaming into the city as the region became attractive to the world, especially because of the abundance of oil (OPEC 8). The bazaars were no longer able to sustain the needs of the city residents as the population was rising steadily.

The city planners and real estate investors realized that there was an urgent need to restructure the city plan in order to accommodate the increasing population. It was because of this pressure that the retail scene has been experiencing a consistent change over the years, from bazaars to Mega Malls.

Study problem

Previous studies have shown that shopping mall preferences in any population are the major cause of the shift from the small retail centers to mega mall culture. In particular, an increasing population of the young middle-income population has been found to have a high preference of closed shopping malls that provide “shopping experience”, where retail services are offered along with urban entertainment and leisure services (Finn and Louviere 242).

However, previous studies have focused on traditional methods such as surveys, desirability rating or sampling based on convenience. None of the previous studies has attempted to use conjoint study design to examine more than one aspect of the shift towards the mega mall culture (Green and Krieger 26). Moreover, it is clear that the studies carried out to examine the shift has been carried out in other parts of the world, with few, if any, attempting to examine the phenomenon in Dubai. Thus, this knowledge gap will be addressed in the proposed study, which will take an empirical approach to answer the study questions.

Study questions

Within the phenomenon of the shift from the bazaar to the mega mall culture in Dubai, the issues of attributes that the young people consider when choosing among the shopping centers, the appearance of the malls and the trade-offs between different shopping will emerge. As such, this study will answer the following questions using a conjoint analysis study design:

  1. What important attributes do the young people consider when choosing among the shopping centers in Dubai?
  2. What is the appearance and experience of the ideal shopping mall for the young people?
  3. What are the “trade-offs” that the young people consider when examining the different attributes attached to the malls?
  4. What demographic/psychological characteristics do the findings in questions 1 to 3 above demonstrate?

Importance of the Research

Conducting research requires the investment of time and resources in order to come up with a quality report. For this reason, it is always necessary to state the importance of the research clearly in order to justify the need to conduct it. In this research proposal, the focus is on analyzing the changing retail scene in Dubai, from bazaars to mega shopping malls. This is an important topic when it comes to analyzing the changes that have been taking place in the international markets. Dubai has increasingly become one of the most important cities in the Middle East (Daniels, Radebaugh and Sullivan 14).

This city has received massive attention from not only the regional players, but also the international business society that considers it strategically located. This topic will help in understanding how this city has been transformed over the years in order to meet the increasing demand of international players. It is also important to investigate this area of research in order to understand the path that this change has taken, the impact on the business environment, and the possible trend that this will take in the future. With this knowledge, it would be easy to predict the future and, therefore, plan for it adequately.

Consumer Purchasing Behavior in Dubai

Although the United Arab Emirates is regarded as one of the emerging economies, the living standard in the city of Dubai is high. Most of the city dwellers fall in the middle class, with a high percentage being wealthy and ultra-rich (International Markets Bureau 1). The booming business in this city has enhanced the standards of living. This means that the consumer purchasing behavior reflects that of the middle class members of the society. Their purchasing decisions are always based on the superiority of a product other than the price. Although the price is a factor that cannot be ignored by the business entities, it does not play a leading role in defining the decision of the buyers in the market.

Theoretical and conceptual analysis: Debates related to the business issue (the evolution of the Mega Mall culture)

A number of studies have attempted to examine the motivating factors that have made business developers come with an idea of a closed shopping center as opposed to small retail bazaars and shops. From a number of studies, the evolution of the mall culture began in the western world in 1950s as the economies of most nations in Europe and North America experienced rapid boom, while the population of the people in the youth bracket increased significantly. Within the consequent decades, the mall culture spread to other nations as similar phenomenon occurred. In the Middle East, cities like Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and others are experiencing this change.

Their economic potentials, which are largely driven by the huge oil and natural gas resources, have been attracting other industries that in turn attract a high population of the working and business groups. The Mega Mall culture, like in the western world, has been a major product of the population and economic trends in these regions. As such, it is worth noting that the consumer behavior is a necessary aspect that should be studies.

The consumer behavior is a concept associated with the growth and development of any business practice. In general, studies have shown that shopping malls, as opposed to retail bazaars, have a number of advantages that attract the consumers. First, consumers tend to consider financial benefits associated with purchasing. For instance, they expect to save on the expense of going from one store or street to another looking for different or related products.

They prefer “all under one roof” system of service production because it provides them with an opportunity to compare products and product prices within a small area. Customers prefer to visit at least one region of a city to obtain almost everything they need. They expect to save of time and space and avoid the tiresome associated with shopping.

Secondly, consumers expect to find food and beverages served within the areas they seek for retail products and services. They need to meet with other people, eat and shop with friends. In fact, young people have a tendency of consulting with friends and peers to determine the products they need to purchase. Studies have shown that the “group shopping” is one of the major aspects associated with the mall culture (Finn and Louviere 248). The malls allow individuals to walk or drive along the paths within the mega malls and carry out an analysis of the products and services they need, consult with friends and make effective decisions. The mega mall culture provides the required space and equipment for this behavior.

In addition, consumers prefer shopping malls in their shopping because there is a likelihood of looking out for special offers common in the retail giants. In fact, it is evident that several retail chain giant normally occupies the Mega Malls, where special offers, discounts and other price reduction methods are common. Young people are price enthusiasts and normally look for areas where special offers and discounts are available.

Thirdly, the social aspect of the shopping malls is more than meeting friends and peers. In fact, celebrities and prominent individuals in the modern society are some of the most frequent visitors of Mega Malls (Finn and Louviere 242). In particular, the young people commonly admire celebrities in music, film, theatre, sports and games and other arts (Chapin 57). Since it is more possible to meet these celebrities in the shopping malls than in the streets, the shopping mall culture has become popular among the young people because they seek to purchase products from the same places that their role models are likely to appear.

Although the situation in Dubai is similar to the phenomena observed in other regions where the mega mall culture has taken place, it is worth noting that a number of differences are evident, especially in terms of the population composition and characteristics. Currently, the largest population of the young people is foreigners or those born in Dubai by foreign parents. In fact, statistics indicate that the foreign population accounts for more than 70% of the city’s total population, with the majority coming from India, Pakistan, China, the Philippines and Africa as well as a significant population of westerners.

The majority of the foreign populations are employees in the multinational companies and business organizations in the city. Therefore, the cosmopolitan nature of the young population means that the diversity of culture, behavior and beliefs affects the general consumer behavior in the city. In turn, this has a significant impact on the preference of the shopping malls and the shift from bazaars to the Mega Mall culture.

For instance, it is hypothesized that the diversity of languages, cultures, behavior and beliefs towards retail products and services makes the consumers prefer the Mega Malls because the businesses therein offer products and services under the consideration of the cultural and behavioral diversity. None of the existing studies has attempted to examine this phenomenon in Dubai. This means that additional research studies are needed to fill this gap and provide policy makers with additional information on how the current generation of shoppers behaves.

Shift to International Brands

It is important to note that the constant exposure of the city of Dubai to the world as a central trading center in this region has introduced many international brands into the local market. Many multinational corporations have ventured into this market through either strategic partnerships or direct market entry approaches. It means that the locals are exposed to products from various parts of the world. Consumers in this market go for the best products, and one of the ways of determining the quality of a product is to analyze the strength of its brand.

Modernization and Cultural Changes in Buying Patterns

Dubai remains one of the cities most exposed to the modernization that is taking place in the Middle East. The government of Dubai has been keen on promoting this city as a center for trade, and this attracted many Western investors (Government of Dubai 1). This has brought massive changes as the members of this society accepted technology and some of the changes that come with it. The UAE in general is home to the largest expatriate community anywhere in the Middle East (International Markets Bureau 1). The modernization has been witnessed in various sectors of the economy, especially the transport and communication sectors.

As the movement into and out of the city became easy, the society has been interacting with people from all over the world (Wright and Underwood 11). Some come as tourists while others come for business purposes. They come with their own cultural practices, and this influences the locals that are constantly interacting with them. The interaction has brought some clear cultural changes in the buying patterns.

Tourist Hub

The city of Dubai has become one of the leading tourists’ attraction destinations in the world. The government of Dubai has worked tirelessly to change the face of the city, from a small town that was strategically located for those looking for oil to the city with some of the best amenities. Burj Khalifa, the tallest building on earth, has been a major tourists’ attraction site that has seen people coming from Europe, the United States, and Africa just to see it.

The government has worked on the issue of security in the city, making it a safe destination for visitors (Goldman and Nieuwenhuizen 64). The city also has some of the ultra modern means of transport, even to remote locations, making the movement of tourists memorable. They can use electric metro trains, metro buses, or water transport. The state-of-the-art communication system has also attracted tourists from various parts of the world. Another factor that has seen Dubai replace many cities in Africa and Asia as the desired destination is the fact that the community has embraced the Western culture (Mediaquest 1).

Most of the Dubai residents are Muslims, but this has not stopped them from interacting freely with the visitors (Moors 176). This has made many tourists believe that this is the only region in the entire Middle East where religious beliefs and culture are not allowed to injure positive interaction. Tourism is one of the leading income earners for this country. Currently, Dubai is a leading entertainment city in the Arabian Peninsula (The Oxford Business Group 4).

Benefits of the Research

As mentioned above, this research is very important not only to the researcher, but also to other relevant organizations and the academic community. To the researcher, the study will offer the perfect environment to analyze and understand some of the changes that have been taking place in the retail industry. It will make the researcher understand the trend that has been taking place and the possible future of the industry. It will also increase the knowledge of the researcher on this topic. Business organizations in the retail sector may find the research helpful when making decisions about their plans in the future. To the academic community, this document will help in providing a body of literature that can be used to understand this topic by future researchers and other academicians.

Area of Interest and Its Benefits

In this doctorate program, the chosen area of interest in this proposal will enable the researcher to develop an independent body of knowledge on the changes that have been taking place in this industry. The researcher expects that by the end of this study, it will be possible to develop a theory that may explain the changing retail scene that has been taking place in Dubai and other similar cities. It is important for the researcher to develop such theories that can help in the development of other smaller cities in this country and other cities in the region. The area of interest will also offer the researcher an opportunity to bridge the gap of knowledge that is visible in this area of research.

This way, other researchers, young academicians, the business society, and many other relevant stakeholders may get the knowledge they need on this topic. To the young academicians, this document will offer a strong footing into the field of international business (Finn and Louviere 249). To other researchers, this will be an important piece of literature, which has the capacity to provide them with the proper insight into the topic. To business organizations, this document will provide the best knowledge to guide them in their decision-making processes.

Research methodology

Conjoint analysis design: A critical analysis

The proposed study uses a conjoint analysis approach to examine the shift from the bazaars towards the mega mall culture in Dubai, UAE.

In research, the use of conjoint analysis is gaining popularity in the modern context for a number of reasons. For instance, it is a multivariate technique for carrying out research in marketing and market issues through an examination of the consumer preferences (Haaijer, Kamakura and Wedel 94). In particular, conjoint analysis allows the researcher to carry out a realistically examine multiple-choice processes. According to Caroll and Green (386), the study techniques involved in conjoint analysis are based on the principle of consumer’s tendency to evaluate the overall utility of a given product prior to combining the distinct or separated values of utilities that each product provides.

For instance, the method will allow the researcher to examine the utilities of “cool stores” “entertainment stores” and “convenience” (Chrzan and Orme 2). Therefore, the consumer’s purchasing decisions can be portrayed as a realistic trade-off between the various types of services and products that are displayed and offered at the mega malls. For instance, it is likely to examine the reality behind the young people’s preference of “going to a certain mall because it has a lot of cool stores and entertainment options” (Haynes and Talpade 39).

Using this method, the internal validity of the research is enhanced. The technique uses the questionnaire to examine the overall evaluations that consumers have, which makes it possible for the researcher to find out the utility value placed on every attribute within the consumer’s minds.

Research Design

The proposed study will use a Choice-Based Conjoint Analysis (CBC) with 200 respondents selected from two major shopping malls in Dubai. The respondents will be asked to choose (make a preference judgment) between a series of two or multiple competitive product profiles. One of the most important aspects of this research design is its ability to measure consumer preference of a shopping center (Walker 127). It does this through a combination of the discrete choice responses with a fraction of a factorial design. An advantage of this technique is the ability to reduce the number of choices that are expected to emerge from the large number of responses obtained through the questionnaire.


The study will focus on working with 200 respondents aged between 15 and 40 years and living in Dubai. The respondents will be a mixture of both males and females from different backgrounds, origins and nations. The study will also seek to examine respondents who have been living in the city for more than six consecutive months. The study will also be a random selection of the respondents living in the city and shopping in at least one of the malls within the city.

The respondents will be provided with the questionnaires through their emails or by postal delivery. They will be expected to provide the responses within three weeks of delivery. They will be invited to provide some brief background information on their shopping behavior. The study will examine the mall attributes that tend to attract the consumers in the targeted age bracket. The attributes are analyzed and simplified in the table below.

Mall Attribute Examples and definitions Attribute levels
Number of different types of shopping stores/stalls/shops Number of different products- food, clothing, music, household products, drinks etc. Hardly any, few, some, many, a lot (of different types of stores)
Young people’s friendliness level The ability of the mall to make a friendly and welcoming environment None, Poor, Good, excellent
Number of cool mall shops/stores/stalls The ability of the mall to provide hip, fashionable, friendly, trendy stores None, hardly any, some, many
Interior design of the mall (aesthetic value) Colors, lighting, decorations, siting comfort Not attractive, fairly attractive, good, very attractive
Entertainment experience Presence of movie theaters, fashion shows, live music, recorded music etc. Not present, few, a good number, many
Educational experience Whether the mall has science museum, zoos, animals Hardly any, a few, some, many
Sports and game experience The presence of theme, amusement, sports field, skating activities Hardly any, a few, some, many



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