Tales from the other side of the till – Middle East 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 the Middle East season in stores all over London. No REALLY.

Middle East 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!