The retail sector in Saudi Arabia has been in recovery mode since outbreak of the pandemic. The market is resurging, supported by a heavy pipeline of planned and upcoming entertainment events, as well as various government initiatives. The kingdom’s Ministry of Investment reported that it granted 1,481 new licences to foreign firms in H2 2021 to undertake investment projects in the retail and e-commerce sector, representing a record-breaking second half of the year.
This comes as no surprise, given the driving force of the aspirational Saudi Vision 2030 to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil and to diversify the economy. Through this, the country is committed to building a thriving economy and vibrant society that improves the quality of life and empowers its citizens.
As landlords in Saudi Arabia assess and reposition their assets to retain tenants and attract higher footfall in retail developments, it is time to step away from this traditional mall concept. Instead, we need to expand the retail experience with a more dynamic and diverse mix of memorable lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality experiences that go beyond pure play retail.
The modern consumer
Drawing the modern Saudi consumer into a traditional shopping environment and away from the digital stores or the metaverse involves creating a multi-layered, multi-service and interactive offering that cannot be replicated virtually.
As a result, single-use, destination retail is becoming less and less viable; instead blended spaces are becoming the norm with real estate now transforming into a service industry that can be more responsive and flexible. This means homogeneous malls with generic anchors will not survive. Fixed structures bound by long leases are being carved up to make way for more flexible models that incorporate residential, hospitality, workplace, healthcare, education and transit offerings that deliver new, ready-made audiences to retailers.
Immersive environments curated to attract, serve, and fuel their local communities first and visitors second are the future. Take for example, Riyadh Front, a new outdoor retail destination in the heart of Saudi Arabia’s capital. The development, by Kaden Investment Company, aids the economic, cultural and societal pillars of Saudi Vision 2030 in attracting modern, local, regional and international brands that contribute to the economy through modern trade.
Located on King Khalid International Airport Road, the retail development is built on more than 180,000 sq m and includes top brands and restaurants, along with a premium movie theatre. The first-of-its-kind outdoor retail resort integrates smart architecture and human-centered design to host innovative modular offices, stunning green spaces and water features. This is in addition to world-class shopping, entertainment and food and beverage (F&B) experiences. Riyadh Front is designed to engage visitors and create excitement with separate luxury, wellness and entertainment plazas as well as a central plaza.
Going forward, it will remain essential to design spaces with people in mind, right through its architecture, design and technology, all to elevate the human experience, combining extensive local intelligence with global cross-sector expertise.
Focus on sustainability
The latest edition of PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey showed that Middle East shoppers are becoming increasingly influenced by sustainability issues and are also more likely than ever to take into account sustainability considerations during their retail journey. This will continue to be a key area of focus in the long term, meaning retailers need to start incorporating sustainability principles into the planning phase of development.
For instance, to meet sustainability goals in Riyadh Front, the lighting design for the Grand Masjed was planned with the goal of achieving energy efficiency through a three-fold strategy – these were through the selection of efficacious lamps and efficient fittings and the overall approach to the design. In addition, a digital lighting control system was implemented to conserve energy throughout the space.
Lagoons, plazas, gardens and pavilions were designed and stretched along the central spine of the lush landscape feature to mitigate climate challenges, driving footfall from one end of the 900-m active street to the other. The arcade running in front of the shopfronts can be closed off and air-conditioned during the summer months but left open to enjoy the weather for the rest of the year.
By focusing on key themes of escapism, sustainability, access to nature and multi-sensory experiences, the stores must aim to elevate the conversation beyond any one purchase and tap into the lifestyle and well-being aspirations of its clientele through seamless and responsive technology. The more experiences a place can offer, the more consumer traffic it can generate. The aim should be to create a fluid mix of flexible, programmable spaces that cohesively provide moments to gather, celebrate, heal, eat, restore, work, convene, live, make and buy.
Exactly what this looks like should vary based on the location and the specific needs of the target people, with consideration given to how the development can supplement and complement existing community services. The community should be involved in the process to help inform the brief and decide what is the best fit when it comes to future amenities and attractions – whether that be a bio dome, micro forest, urban farm, amphitheatre, ropes course, co-working space, music venue or something entirely unforeseen.