By FAZEENA SALEEM & MOHAMMED OSMAN
More than a dozen big shopping malls have sprung up in Doha and its outskirts over the past 10 years, and many more are on their way.
At least nine new shopping centres costing a whopping QR20bn are planned in the next three years, according to some reports.
The UAE-based Al Futtaim Group has announced plans to open Doha Festival City, its first shopping mall in Qatar, which is expected to cost QR6bn. Ezdan is planning three malls in Gharrafa, Al Wakra and Wukair under its new arm, Ezdan Mall Company, which will be launched soon.
The North Gate Mall, a luxury shopping facility in Khairtiyat, Marina Mall, Doha Mall in Mesaimeer and Tawar Mall are among the other projects in the pipeline.
Al Meera Consumer Goods, a leading Qatari company that runs a chain of shopping facilities across the country, has embarked on an ambitious expansion plan which includes opening of several new shopping malls.
Many of the existing Al Meera outlets are being expanded with a modern design.
Over the past decade, the opening of several shopping malls and hypermarkets has vastly changed the shopping scenario in Qatar. The traditional souqs and the multitude of neighbourhood stores that once dominated the market have lost their attraction with the arrival of big shopping centres that offer customers “everything under one roof”.
Following rapid urbanisation, the traditional souqs have become near extinct, with the renovated Souq Waqif and some remnants of the old souq being the only survivors. A number of neighbourhood stores in residential areas are also being closed down in accordance with a new rule that seeks their abolition.
“To facilitate our future expansion plans in the country, we are going for the shopping mall concept, which might be differentiated into two types: community and neighbourhood ones,” said Al Meera’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Dr Mohammed Al Qahtani, while unveiling the company’s expansion plans recently.
“Essentially, the community model can be described as a large-scale supermarket that, in addition to traditional groceries, will include additional services such as banks, food court, laundromats and so forth. The neighbourhood model is a convenience store catering to the immediate vicinity with groceries and basic services such as dry cleaners and pharmacies. Using this model, 2013 will see more Al Meera outlets opening throughout the country,” Al Qahtani said.
Al Meera has community and neighbourhood shopping centres covering more than 60,000 square metres already under development and most of them are expected to open in the next three years, he added.
The new facilities will be located in Al Laqtafia, Al Dakira, Al Wajba, Jeryan Njema, Muraikh, Azizia, Rawdad Al Qadeem, Muaither, Rawdad Al Hamama, and Al Wakra.
The state-backed Barwa Real Estate company has come out with an innovative shopping concept that was first introduced in the sprawling Barwa Village in Al Wakra. The Village offers a modern alternative to the traditional souqs and accommodated a number of shops relocated from the Meshaireb-Share Kahraba area where the Msheireb project is under way.
The eight-kilometre Barwa Commercial Avenue, which is nearing completion on the Abu Hamour-Industrial Area road, is one of the largest and longest shopping facilities in the world, offering a mix of commercial and residential space.
Looking at the burgeoning shopping malls and commercial complexes, one would wonder if there was scope for more such facilities, especially when many of the existing ones have failed to attract enough customers and are struggling to make profits.
Businessmen and consumers have varying opinions on this issue.
“I am in favour of opening more shopping malls. We need Al Meera to open big shopping malls and hypermarkets instead of competing with small supermarkets because they can cater to the low- and middle-income segments with relatively low prices,” leading Qatari businessman Ahmed Khalaf told The Peninsula.
He said he was against closing down stores in residential areas since they were providing an important service to the community.
“I visit a shopping mall two or three times a month, but I go to my neighbourhood grocery many times a day. I can also place orders to them by telephone and they will be functioning until midnight, while most shopping malls close earlier,” he added.
He said there was scope for more shopping malls in Qatar if they were located properly.
“Why are so many new shopping malls concentrated in some areas like Al Shamal road while important locations like Al Wakra do not have a single shopping mall or hotel?” Khalaf asked.
He said the location of new shopping malls should be based on the requirements of various localities rather than the interest of investors.
Mohammed Altaf, regional director of Lulu Hypermarket Group, said location was a vital factor in the success of a shopping facility but more important was how the facility was managed.
“Shopping malls will continue to flourish in Qatar and there is nothing unusual about it. But the success and survival of such facilities depends a lot on how efficiently there are managed and operated,” said Altaf.
He said there was no real competition between neighbourhood stores and big shopping malls because they provide services that were totally different in nature.
“The concept of shopping malls first gained popularity in the US, and then spread to the Far Eastern countries. In some European countries, commercial streets featuring branded products are more popular than malls. The extreme weather conditions in the Gulf is the main factor behind the popularity of shopping malls in this region, because they can provide all goods under one roof, along with recreational facilities for children and ample parking space,” said Altaf.
Mohamed Kateeb, Advertising and Marketing Manager at Carrefour, said, “It’s good if more malls and hypermarkets are coming. Of course, there will be more competition, but that challenge is good for business. It would be even better if new brands are being introduced, so people will have a better choice.”
Firoz Mohideen, General Manager of Hyatt Plaza, said good planning was necessary before establishing a new mall.
“We could see many malls coming up. But the authorities should ensure that they are properly distributed according to the population. At the end of the day, we should not be having just many buildings; they should be built according to the requirements of the country,” said Mohideen.
He said there was enough room for more shopping malls.
“They (the existing malls) are fully crowded during the weekends, and it shows the need for more malls. But the authorities should decide how many malls and what kind of malls we need. There is also high demand for retail space that is still in short supply,” he added.
Many residents The Peninsula spoke to said that for a lot of people, malls are a place to hang around rather than do shopping.
“There are not many places to go to in Doha, so people are forced to go to malls. But big malls are not found in all areas. We live in Al Wakra, and there are no malls there. And if you look at the existing malls, only the very popular ones are full and have all facilities. There are some with many closed shops, so just having many malls is not going to help you,” said Rajani Ranjoth, a housewife.
Aysha Ali, a Qatari youngster, argued against opening more malls with similar goods and facilities.
“Shopping malls are the most popular places in Doha. It’s good more of them are coming, so the places will not be too crowded. But shopping malls should be different from one another not only in facilities like restaurants and play areas, but also in things they sell. If the same things are going to be sold at the same price everywhere, it may not make a big difference,”
Anna Niclas, a European expatriate working in Doha for the last two years, said, “Here malls are popular because people have no other places to go. Malls have become places to hang around. Malls are overcrowded during weekends. If more malls are coming up, it could ease the crowding.
“In other countries, people go to malls to buy things, but here it is more to hang out and dine. When more malls are built there will be more choice, it gives the opportunity to get many things under one roof. Now more brands are being introduced in Qatar, so maybe it will be a good opportunity for the shoppers to have better choice.”
Mohamed Yousef, an Arab expatriate living in Doha with his family for over five years, said, “It’s true many new malls and hypermarkets have opened, and some are coming up. But not all of them provide a real shopping opportunity. There are some places where only the food court and the play area for children are crowded, not the shops.”
Despite the popularity of shopping malls, a number of citizens still opt to travel to neighbouring countries for shopping on a regular basis.
Asked about this, Abdullah Al Jafri, a Qatari consumer activist, said, “This is mainly because of the low prices there and the availability of some special items that cannot be found in the local market. Many Qataris travel to Ahsa and other border cities in Saudi Arabia to buy wedding items.”