Disclaimer: this post is the long confession of a shopaholic disoriented by the change of environment.
I love shopping.
Being Parisian, shops are part of the scenery, full of treasures to ferret out. They awaken the hunting and gathering instinct in me. In short, they are my favorite playground.
And as a beauty blogger, I have the perfect excuse to go shopping!
Coming to Dubai, I expected to land in the magical world of a Thousand and One Nights, shops like the cavern of Ali Baba, a place where shopping centers are bursting with products from all around the world, side by side with novel products unavailable anywhere else.
I naively thought my good old Parisian shopper strategies would work here, allowing me to indulge in my passion and benefit my readers.
But life is not a fairy tale and I had to adapt and evolve to survive!
Expectations of a beauty addict who has just arrived in Dubaï:
Moving to Dubai, I was expecting a high class, totally exceptional beauty shopping experience!
The coquetry of women in the Middle East is not a legend. They love cosmetics and are very big consumers of everything beauty related. Sophisticated fragrances, innovative skincare products, bold make-up trends, they want to, and do, try everything!
They are highly connected, always on Instagram or Snapchat sharing their latest makeup looks or exchanging information on a new cosmetic trend.
Dubai is famous around the world as a major destination for shopping. And shopping is a real touristic activity here. The Dubai Mall is even part of the ‘City discovery’ tour along with 4×4 sand dune bashing in the desert and visiting a camel farm.
With malls here being gigantic, like everything else here, I was hoping to find plenty of exclusive brands and some very different products to those I know from Paris.
My expectations in terms of quality of service were to see the same level of service as you would in the magnificent palace hotels that fill the city: impeccable! The UAE like to define themselves as a nation obsessed with quality of service, making it a popular destination for tourists.
So naturally, I expect well trained and qualified sales assistants in the shops able to answer my (many) questions, aware of the latest and upcoming releases from their own brands.
Finally, Dubai is very focused on digital, promoting the integration of new technology in its stores, with multiple initiatives to become a “smart city” it makes sense that purchasing needs to be ultra simplified, easy and accessible.
Knowing that tourism and shopping are constantly growing in this city, I imagine the huge economic stakes behind this…
So I was expecting to find in stores a digital appearance allowing me to live a unique and innovative “shopping experience“.
From the dream to the reality: what a disappointment!
The least I can say is that it was a bit of a shock…
In Dubai, there are many brands that you can find anywhere in the world, however product launches or makeup collections are usually released very late compared to the rest of the world.
And when they arrive (not always the case), it’s often several months late.
For example at the moment, MAC has in store ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show‘ collection that came out for Halloween in the rest of the world… Great timing, don’t you think? wink
I tried looking for brands I’d never come across before, but hunting for new products has been really complicated and unfruitful so far in the region.
Many brands don’t have a website just a simple Facebook page, which is not practical at all to gather information! It’s quite difficult to learn about products, launch dates or any other specific information.
I was ultra disappointed with Sephora’s lack of communication which, despite its presence on social networks, hardly uses them. Its Facebook page is a bit more lively than the rest but its Twitter page, that is 4 years old, is currently empty… What’s the point of having a Twitter account if you don’t use it at all, really?
When I think about the conversations and amount of information that can be shared this way with customers, it’s such a waste!
As a blogger, I’m basically hunting for news from beauty brands, new releases announcements… If there is something going on in the store, it’s really interesting for me to know about it!
I arrived in the UAE at the end of 2013 and at the time, in the beauty sphere, it was all about the launch of the Naked 3 Palette by Urban Decay. So I naturally visited the Sephora store at the time of its launch (early December 2013, if I remember correctly) as they distribute the Urban Decay brand.
The palette was not yet available in the UAE. I asked the Urban Decay sales assistant (in Sephora, Dubai Mall) for the launch date in the region, she told me April 2014 (yes, I was shocked! What a long time to wait!!!)
Yet in early January, I realized that a Dubai beauty blogger, Aseya of Pretty in The Desert (who has become a friend) announced on her Twitter account that she had seen the Naked 3 palette was available at Sephora in the Dubai Mall.
So thanks Aseya for doing Sephora’s job for them! uneasy
Of course you can leave your phone number for a call back when they receive your dream product.
But I wasn’t very lucky with that strategy either, because when I did it, I rarely heard back… I’m still waiting for a call about the Defining Eye Liner Pen by Tom Ford from Harvey Nichols in the Mall of The Emirates. I left my phone number 4 months ago.
And speaking of which, I had the unfortunate opportunity of experiencing the incompetence of some sales assistants, desperate to sell, going as far as lying to my face to sell something!
They sold me a Tom Ford a limited edition lipstick from last year telling when I was asking for new releases. I know, I should have known better but I wanted to trust them…
It was a very nice lipstick but as beauty blogger I try to always feature products that readers should be able to find in stores. It’s a #bblogers law!
So I took it back.
And yes, it hurt to take a Tom Ford lipstick back. (for non lipstick-addicts out there: Tom Ford lipsticks are like the holy grail for us. You need to try it at least once in your life time, it’s like a rite of passage… wink )
Being lied to has happened to me many times here. Sales assistants who don’t know the answer to a question, just lie to my face in general.
To tell you the truth, it basically infuriates me. Why not ask a manager, not a problem for me if you get back to me later?
I guess that the sales assistants are under pressure to make their sales fast and don’t want to risk loosing a sale. People are also in a hurry here in Dubai in general.
But I just can’t stand it. When somebody lies to me, it gives me the creeps and I don’t go back. Ever.
Another thing I noticed when I wanted to buy some products that I used in France: the prices are much higher!
Of course, there is a cost to import products from France, but clearly, to pay my Avene thermal water spray 5 times the price I was paying in France, it really hurts!
My counter-attack strategy: online shopping
Obviously, I didn’t wait to be in Dubai to diligently engage in online shopping! ^^
In France however, I was used to purchasing clothes online, not really beauty products.
Indeed, in Paris, I had an amazing choice of beauty products and I haven’t really had bad experiences with sales assistants. Not everything was ideal of course, but sadly, the “lie to your face when I don’t know how to answer you” strategy is really something I discovered here. In France, it’s not a drama if you can’t answer a question. You go and ask to someone who knows, that’s all. No big deal.
So I started doing research online and I found some quite original online shops distributing very exciting foreign cosmetic brands (American, Korean, etc). I could finally get access to brands that beauty addicts know very well: Tarte, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Kat Von D, ColourPop etc
The shops I used the most are Alshop.com, Estilo.ae and also Souq.com. I called them my “cosmetics dealers.” wink
These shops are certainly not authorized retailers for all of these brands (I doubt it very much) so they don’t stock everything and the selection of products is quite random.
It’s better to take a look quite regularly, and quickly decide if you want a product: stocks go fast!
I really feel that the choice of brands available on these online shops is closely related to the beauty gurus on YouTube… It actually provides an accurate measure of the impact of YouTube gurus on cosmetics clients in the region.
Each time a brand is buzzing on YouTube, it quickly appears afterwards on these online stores.
And then a few months ago, I had a revelation. I discovered a service called Shop and Ship.
The principle? You subscribe to this service for a few dirhams and they provide you ‘drop point’ addresses in different countries to deliver your online orders to.
Basically, you just do your online shopping on the site of your choice, in any country, and when you have to give your address of delivery, you give the address provided by Shop And Ship corresponding to the country where you’re making your shopping.
This location contains a code that allows Shop And Ship to know who you are and where to send your order (aka your place).
You pay for a national delivery, which is often free of charge, as well as the cost of the delivery provided by Shop And Ship (Aramex), which is very reasonable: the price depends on the weight. For 1 parcel of a little less than 1 kilo, I paid 77 AED ($20 or 19 euros), still far cheaper than an international delivery, especially for small orders.
This system provides access to shops that are not available here, but also to the local prices in these markets. I can find my dear French ‘pharmacie’ products at a price I’m used to (my beloved Avène thermal water for 5 euros: yeaaah!)
Delivery is quite fast, it generally takes less than 10 days, often a week.
All this allows me to avoid waiting for beauty products that I have on my radar. Otherwise I would have to wait 3 to 6 months longer than the rest of the world for the products to launch here in Dubai! wink
Why I still keep on going to the malls:
I still have had good experiences in the stores here, I don’t want to make the situation appear worse than it actually is. wink
I noticed that very often, I have been very well advised in more technical makeup brand stores: MAC (not always but some shops have some great sales assistants, like those,in the Marina Mall for example), or Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier (sales assistants in Harvey Nichols or Bloomingdales are extremely helpful and professional).
Having been a trainer for a cosmetic brand for almost 10 years, I really think that what makes a difference from one sales assistant to another is clearly the training he or she received, especially from the brand he or she works for.
A qualified and trained sales assistant is more effective because he or she will help build customer loyalty. With a solid professional in front of me, I will trust him or her and I will definitely come back to the store!
As I said earlier, Dubai is obsessed with the service, and here, almost everything can be delivered directly to your home.
However, none of cosmetics online shops I have spoken above (Alshop, Estilo etc) provide a super-fast delivery (same day or next day delivery) even at a premium, the option just doesn’t exist.
These same sites don’t have any arrangements with physical shops, so that you can pick up the product in their store, after shopping and purchasing online. The fastest way to get something still remains the good old in store purchase.
The swatches I can find by searching on Google Images or on a website like Temptalia help me a lot in my choices before buying a makeup product for example.
But sometimes it’s complicated to choose a product without trying it first.
I recently ordered the new Clinique foundation online, Beyond Perfecting, trusting the Temptalia’s swatches and I ended with a product that made me look like a giant orange… #epicfail
Buying online in some cases remains quite risky.
Digital technology to the rescue of the stores:
Recently, some new digital systems to make purchases easier have begun to appear in stores.
The Dior example in the photo above is just a tablet in a large mirror to introduce the new products for the latest collection, so not really groundbreaking.
But some other solutions and systems are very innovative.
Two examples (from the fashion industry but it can be relevant to beauty as well):
– some screens in the fitting rooms of a clothing store to allow you to know if the item you are currently trying exists in another color, or is available in other sizes (photo above),
– applications for your smartphone that are used to make a selection of articles before you even enter the shop and that you can show directly to a sales assistant via your phone so he can just prepare your order for you. Of course, it will be delivered directly to your place.
When it’s difficult to get good advice, these new ways to buy via digital ‘smart store’ solutions make sense and will probably be successful.
But I’m still convinced that promoting more appropriate training of the sales team around product knowledge, and sales methodology will be more efficient and guarantee the human side that is really part of the experience of an in-store purchase.
In my case, when I see the complexity of taking faithful product photos for this blog, I still have big doubts about the effectiveness of digital systems such as ModiFace, for example.
ModiFace produces smartphone and desktop applications to simulate cosmetics tests on yourself by taking a picture of the person.
If the system can suggest colours based on skin tone/eye & hair colour then this may be interesting but a good sales person would generally have an eye for this kind of thing and would not be fooled by bad lighting etc.
But from my own experience, the sunlight in the morning and the evening or artificial light change dramatically the color of my skin but also the color of the products I shoot. So I’m really not convinced how efficient this technology currently is…
Recommendations need to be precise and a perfect fit for the customer not roughly what may be a match.
Here is how this technology can be used in a store like Sephora:
For now, I have not seen anything like this in the shops of the region, but given the interest in digital here, it probably won’t be long before it arrives!
The keys on my keyboard are exhausted (me, never!) But thank you for staying with me so far! smile
I understand that the UAE is obviously very different from France beauty shopping wise and I have to find my way and create new habits to devote myself to my favorite pastime.
There are probably all kinds of reasons for these differences and the country’s legislation on cosmetics are probably not unrelated.
For a cosmetics company to establish itself in the UAE, a cosmetic brand has numerous procedures to complete for the registration of each and all of its products and it’s not an easy process (and it’s not free either!). I experienced this when I worked for the distributor of the brand I worked for in France for several years.
I also know that the digital revolution is in process, so stores will certainly evolve in that direction in the future. And I look forward to taking part in these changes!
However, I hope that brands will not neglect the human aspect and that the training of their ambassadors will always be at the heart of their development strategy. Because even if the convenience of shopping online is undeniable, I am convinced that a screen will never replace real good and personalized advice from a professional.
I’d love to know your thoughts, you beauty-addicts who read me.
Do you also think that shopping online is the only way for you, even if you don’t live in Dubai? What is your favorite place to shop: in-store or online?
Give me your opinion on this topic, I’m very curious to read it! wink
Photos credits: bonnie-garner.com
Cet article est aussi disponible en français: Shopping en ligne: la seule option pour une beauty addict à Dubaï?