Digital experiences at Saudi Arabia’s malls set to boom


Immersive experiences will become part and parcel of Saudi Arabia’s malls, according to Harrods managing director Michael Ward.

“The integration of digital experiences with physical stores in Saudi malls was a key theme at the Retail Leaders Circle Mena Summit and with a number of next-generation mall developments currently underway in the Kingdom, international retail will no doubt in the future be learning from how these have incorporated digital technologies and immersive experiences,” Mr Ward told Arab News.

Malls in Saudi Arabia must keep pace with the growing competition.

“The future of brick-and-mortar retail is experiential – whether that is providing dining or wellness services or the more creative and immersive experiences, all retailers need to be challenging themselves on how they delight and reward the customer in order to remain competitive.

“Innovative collaborations should be considered as they can play an important role in creating first-class experiential retail.”

Two trends are shaping Saudi Arabia’s retail sector, said Mr Ward.

“Firstly, a demand for unique experiences that delight the customer and secondly, a demand for rarity and exclusivity.”

Harrods has been able to cash in on these trends by setting up creative pop-up stalls and unique brand collaborations.

The company also focuses on bringing the rarest items to its customers, the managing director added.

The industry is asking a critical question about what machine learning and artificial intelligence can do for retail, according to Ward, and there will undoubtedly be changes in every country.

“At Harrods, we are using machine learning currently as part of our SVC to help analyse immense quantities of data and there will undoubtedly be more and more use cases in the future,” he said.

Mr Ward was part of the speaker’s list at the ninth Retail Leaders Circle Summit held in Riyadh on March 7 and 8.

According to the summit statement, the rapid pace of retail development in Saudi Arabia has created vast opportunities for global and regional developers to invest in digitally enabled, immersive mall experiences.

Some crucial mega-developments include Cenomi Centers which is adding 728,000 square metres of gross leasable area with seven new developments in the pipeline, including three new flagship projects Jawharat Riyadh, Jeddah and Al-Khobar.

Moreover, mixed-use developments such as Majid Al Futtaim Group’s Mall of Saudi are bound to launch new integrated lifestyle options across the country. Once completed, the Mall will feature approximately 700 retail units.

The Avenues – Riyadh, a project being developed on an area of 1.8 million square metres by Shomoul holding, a joint venture between Mabanee Company of Kuwait, Al Fozan Holding and Alshaya Group, can become one of the largest commercial malls in the entire Middle East with a gross leasable area of 400,000 square metres.