It is easy to be impressed by Dubai’s shopping scene: glitzy, glamorous malls featuring designer names and international brands sit alongside quaint souks (markets), where money and goods have changed hands in the same way for decades.
Dubai has many souks, each specialising in a particular type of product. The Textile Souk sells fabrics in all colours and styles, the Spice Souk sells a huge range of herbs and spices in a rich, fragrant atmosphere, and the Gold Souk glitters with shop windows full of high-quality gold and diamond jewellery. There are also the more modern ‘souks’, which have been built recently, but in the style of ancient Arabian souks – Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Khan Murjan at Wafi, and Souk Al Bahar in Downtown Burj Khalifa.
When it comes to shopping malls, Dubai breaks many boundaries in terms of size and style. From Dubai Mall, which is the largest shopping mall in the world and houses an ice rink, an aquarium where you can dive with sharks, and an indoor amusement centre complete with daring rides, to Mall of the Emirates, home to the world’s largest indoor ski slope, Dubai’s malls offer so much more than just shopping.
Most of the larger malls have sections dedicated to Dubai handicrafts and souvenirs. Some of the more popular souvenirs include Persian carpets, carved wooden boxes, trinket boxes made from camel bone, traditional headscarves (keffiyeh), oudh (a scented piece of wood burned to perfume clothes or homes), dates and traditional jewellery.
Prices on many items purchased in Dubai are very reasonable. However, in souks and markets it is customary to bargain with the seller, even if this is not a practice you are used to in your home country. There are certain rules of etiquette when it comes to bargaining: start by offering the seller half of his asking price and work your way upwards from there. Never become pushy, aggressive or insulting: bargaining is a pursuit to be enjoyed by both buyer and seller. But be firm, and walk out of the shop if you feel the seller is not dropping his prices far enough – sometimes that will be enough to get him following you with a better offer. Finally, once you have agreed on a price, it is considered bad form to back out of the sale.
Most shops in shopping malls accept cash or credit cards, and they may accept foreign currencies too. If you don’t have cash in dirhams, you will find numerous money exchanges throughout all of Dubai’s shopping malls. Sellers in souks or markets do not usually accept credit cards, so it is a good idea to carry some cash with you.
Prices in Dubai are not subject to VAT or any other taxes: the price you see is the price you pay. You will not normally have any success if you try to bargain in shopping malls, although it doesn’t hurt to ask, particularly in jewellery or souvenir stores.
Protection of consumer rights is a new concept in Dubai, so it is sensible to ensure that you are happy with the product before you hand over your money. That said, electronic goods usually come with a standard one-year warranty. If you want to return an item, you will find in most cases that cash refunds are not given; instead you are likely to be offered an exchange item or store credit.
There are two major events each year that are linked to shopping: the first is the Dubai Shopping Festival, which is world famous for its discounts and bargains. It runs for a month in January/February, and visitors can take advantage of slashed prices and various two-for-one offers. The second is the Dubai Summer Surprises – there is less of an emphasis on shopping, but many stores hold huge sales during the summer months and there are plenty of bargains to be had. Other times of year when you will find sales throughout the city include Ramadan and the month of January.
If you are buying large items, such as Persian carpets or carved wooden furniture, it may be possible for the vendor to arrange shipping back to your home country. Alternatively, you can arrange this yourself through any of Dubai’s courier companies.
More Information on Shopping in Dubai – Dubai TourismInformation on the Dubai Shopping Festival – Dubai EventsInformation on Dubai Summer Surprises - Dubai EventsShopping malls in Dubai - Dubai TourismDubai’s Main Shopping Malls – Dubai ExplorerSouks in Dubai – Dubai ExplorerConsumer Protection Laws in Dubai – Ministry of EconomyMaking a Complaint About Poor Customer Service – Ministry of Economy