Friday, 4 March 2011

Tales from the other side of the till - Arab Season

To normal people there are four seasons. In the life of luxury retail - in London - there are five.

Repeat after me: Winter, Spring, Summer, Arab, Autumn

Remember this famous scene in Sex and the City 2 when the mysterious ladies all reveal themselves to be wearing head-to-toe designer gear in the backstreets of the souq?

When this scene came up in the movie all of my girlfriends laughed in a 'Yeah RIGHT' way - not me. That kind of thing happens every day during Arab season in stores all over London. No REALLY.

Arab season is basically what retailers call the period of High Summer when a large number of Middle Eastern visitors converge on the capital city because A: it is too hot in their country and B: they can afford a nice holiday to get away from A and finally C: they can have a nice jolly before the strict observance of Ramadan begins.

This is serious stuff for London retailers. Although most high-end stores will benefit it's really the big 3 that get paid the most attention. Selfridges because of its proximity to Edgware Road and well, it's Selfridges - and Harrods and Harvey Nichols because they are - at least in Arab shopper terms - Ground Zero.

And their needs are catered to, planned for, budgeted against and have a wide reaching affect across all divisions of the store - dictating opening hours, marketing, launches, exclusives and even sale dates. Most of the big retailers traditionally start their Summer sales the first week of July. Not this year. This year they will all have their sales in full throttle by mid-end June latest. Why? Because Ramadan is scheduled to begin somewhere around the beginning of August (Ramadan is dependent on the lunar cycle) which means the visitors will all have flown home by the last week in July. So bring the sale forward - longer time for visitors to shop. And boy do they shop.

Middle Eastern Ladies have very particular tastes - all of which are taken into consideration by brands when planning launches and exclusives for that period. Because the traditional muslim dress requires that the Ladies cover at least their bodies and hair - makeup and especially fragrance, are the only ways left for them to express themselves while still respecting their religion.

It is for those reasons that the fragrances of choice are heavy - this is not a group of customers that want a light, zesty fragrance. Favourite key ingredients are oud, amber, vanilla, patchouli, musk and rose. Any type of rose - the bigger and stronger - the better.

It's no coincidence that Jo Malone launched the Cologne Intense range - 'inspired by' the Middle East in Harrods.

Photo 'borrowed' from Jo Malone's website.

Likewise if you were in Harvey Nichols when the very savvy Estee Lauder launched Tom Ford's Private Blend exclusively during Arab season you would have seen a scrum of burqa's not unlike a group of certain beauty bloggers at an open bar.

And why do they have such an effect on business? Volume. I once had to ring round every Chantecaille outlet in the UK and arrange for every single available bottle of their Rose de Mai to be sent to the Dorchester for the attention of a certain middle eastern customer who was buying them for his wives. I did my monthly sales forecast in one hour. If it's new, expensive, designer and/or unavailable in the Middle East - it will be on their shopping list.

So come the Summer, head to Knightsbridge, grab a chair in Noura's - the best baklava in London - and say Marhaba!


  1. Perfect time for CHANTECAILLE KALIMANTAN! :D

  2. Fascinating post, I love getting the inside track of things I would never normally have known about. Can only dream of the kind of wealth you are talking about, but can easily imagine the untold benefits of wearing a burqa, gym membership would be the first thing I'd cancel!

  3. I love Noura! I ate there with my my fiance and the food was amazing, we had the best service too. The night after we had a disastrous meal at an Iranian restaurant nearby, we went back to Noura for dessert.

  4. hoo yes, I shopped late in Harrods during The Season a few summer's ago. The amount of bullet proof cars outside surpassed the best Harrods usually has outside. I was trying to buy my son a pack of Petit Bateau undies - boy did I feel POOR amongst the whole WARDROBES of Burberry baby that were being bought! A real eye opener.

  5. fantastic post, i'm doing modules this term on international branding and marketing and this is very useful! it's also so interesting to imagine the world in a few decades as so many developing countries are so wealthy now, and how tastes and market will change! i doubt arab ladies will have to travel so far then! xx

  6. Great post. Although it's interesting that it happens for a few weeks in the UK, it's like that every day here, sale or no sale. The Bahraini women love to shop but it's the Saudi ladies who are really impressive, coming here for 3 day sprees every week! It's another world..

  7. I know that this posting is a little dated at this point, however, it's still very very helpful and rich! :D

    I'm wondering if you have any experience with le metier de beaute? I'm hearing that it's really great stuff and thought you may have a insightful opinion on it.

  8. I've seen this for myself and it's very mind boggling to say the least. I'm always visiting the Middle East to countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE but you really don't see the obvious level of wealth like you do in London. Many of my Arabic speaking friends who work at the beauty counters of department stores like Selfridges have to fit their holidays around Arab Season and the stories they have are just crazy; ordering 10 £260 Jo Malone candles and a whole lot of demands!