Luxury retail: add to cart

By Marriam Mossalli, Founder of Niche Arabia

Marriam Mossalli

Marriam Mossalli is the founder of Niche Arabia, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s premier luxury consulting agency, where she offers strategic planning, communication services and marketing implementation for international brands entering or re-establishing their position in the Saudi market. A self-made female entrepreneur, she began her career in the fashion industry as a lifestyle editor and journalist, developing a global network of contacts that has allowed her, as a publicist and branding guru, to build a portfolio of blue-chip luxury companies, among them Mercedes-Benz, Fendi, Piaget, Harvey Nichols and Christie’s. Marriam, who has the unique distinction of being the only Saudi national on the prestigious Business Fashion 500 list, recently published Under The Abaya: Street Style from Saudi Arabia, a photography book that explores the progressive attire of the contemporary Saudi woman.

Long before words like lockdown and pandemic became part of our everyday vernacular, retail was already struggling to find its place in a world that finds itself increasingly divided between digital interactions and IRL (aka “in real life”) scenarios.

With the spread of COVID-19 upsetting worldwide markets and crushing even the strongest economies, it was inevitable that the luxury market would be one of the first segments to be hit hard. But what may surprise most is the bold resilience of the luxury consumer. Trust me, no global pandemic can stop her from getting her hands on the latest Bottega Veneta clutch if the intrecciato weave is what she wants! Just ask concierge shopping companies, who have all seen a significant rise in inquiries for luxury items.

Luxury brands that were late to the e-commerce game found themselves left behind. Even Dior and Chanel had to compromise their anti-e-commerce stance, with both offering distance purchasing through their VIP client services. But what happens when you remove that physical VIP service – one of the main differentiators luxury brands use to sell their offerings? And what happens to travel spending, when all the planes are grounded on the tarmac? In the Gulf States, for example, we are spending zero on international travel due to the travel restrictions, with consumers increasing their spend on domestic travel or “staycations” instead. But even then, the amount spent regionally doesn’t come close to usual international spending, and many luxury brands in places such as London, Marbella, and the South of France – meccas for Gulf travelers – are feeling the loss.

Again, to the shock of many brands, consumer spending seemed to spike in the second quarter of the global lockdowns. Perhaps the restlessness finally won out, and luxury addicts found it easy to justify unnecessary spending by rationalizing the savings from not traveling for spring break or summer vacation. At least, that’s what I told my husband.


Amount of sales in a single day at the Hermes flagship store in Guangzhou, China, post-COVID-19 lockdown

Thankfully for us self-confessed addicts, luxury brands have found a way to be accessible, even if not entirely adopting the e-commerce approach. Today, you can WhatsApp your LV sales staff and order that monogram bikini with a few messages, the same way you would purchase a cake from a bakery. The VIP service that has long defined luxury brands’ bricks-and-mortar experience has now become obsolete, thereby evening the playing field for the low-hanging fruits of retail.

Another surprise for retailers was the sudden spike in purchases once these luxury items became available. We saw this on the day Hermes opened in China after the lockdown, where a single boutique brought in a record $2.7 million in sales in one day. But these spikes are just that: not trends, nor long-lasting behaviors. And they definitely don’t make up for months of complete shutdown. In fact, they simply prove one thing: In times of uncertainty and pandemics, the only real cure is indulging in a little retail therapy.

Retail versus e-tail – the next chapter

Reem AlDaghfaq

eCommerce Product Manager, DHL Express Saudi Arabia

Going global: a lifeline for SMEs amid Covid-19

Mike Parra

CEO, DHL Express Americas

Published: December 2020

Images: Mostafa ElGameil; DHL; private