DSF survival guide

Our guide to bagging bargains at the Dubai Shopping Festival


If ever there was a time when you needed to employ the quick-witted survival skills of adventurer Bear Grylls, Dubai Shopping Festival is it (though best to leave the stuffed camels intact). The 32-day consumer bonanza will run from January 5 to February 5 this year and offer shoppers the chance to win prizes such as luxury cars (an astounding Dhs1.4 billion worth of prizes have been given away since the festival launched in 1996) and, of course, snap up some mind-blowing bargains across the city’s malls and boutiques.

According to a consumer confidence survey conducted by MasterCard in March 2011, UAE consumers are more willing than ever to part with their cash: while spending in the UAE took a dip during 2010, it’s now at its highest since 2004. In that case, you’ll need our tips on how to beat the rush, hold on to your sanity and survive the sales while nabbing some ridiculous deals.

Get to the shops before breakfast
It’s no secret that Dubai is a city of late risers. To beat the inevitable sales rush, arrive at the mall as close to opening time as possible (usually 10am, but turn to page 96 to see each mall’s timings) – at this time, most heads will still be on pillows. When you arrive, consult the information board so you can pick up a brochure and map out a plan of attack.

Go from bottom to top
Consider yourself Ethan Hunt: manoeuvring the mall is your mission. Arrive early, start on the lower-ground floor and gradually move up the levels as the crowds flock in (they will be most likely to start downstairs, so by that time you’ll have the upper levels to yourself). If you have specific shops to visit, call ahead to find out which parking area will provide the nearest access, so you can dive in and out.

Use time-saving tricks in store
Be smart, savvy and one step ahead of the pack. If possible, confirm with the stores on your hit-list what and when they will be marking items down, then go into the store to try them on the day before (January 3 or 4) to save time – and try to hide your chosen items at the back of the clothes rack (we joke – but it works). Likewise, to avoid queueing up for fitting rooms and wasting precious shopping time, wear lightweight items of clothing so that you can try things on in front of the store’s mirrors without offending anyone (see our ‘before’ boxout, right). If you can’t be bothered to try things on and want to wing it, try this: instead of trying on trousers, take the waistband and wrap it around your neck. If the points meet at the back, the trousers should fit. The same applies to shoes held alongside your wrist to elbow.

Think ‘Big Occasions’
If you follow trends with more enthusiasm than Kanye West, keep those eagle-eyes peeled for new-season essentials such as snakeskin (on shoes, clothes and accessories), blazers (a wardrobe essential) and basics such as T-shirts. Think ahead for special occasions that you’ll be attending later in the year and buy accordingly. Be sure to examine items from head to toe – if you find a defect, ask the sales assistant for a further discount, otherwise small repairs can be made with a needle and thread at home or from Dhs10 at a tailor – try Dreamgirls Tailors, Sheikh Ahmad Building, Satwa Road (04 349 5445).

What to leave
What should you leave on the rack? While your heart is telling you to buy braces, you should listen to your head – it knows best. Trends that will have been shunned in a couple of months (fur vests, neon, power shoulders) are of no use to your wardrobe. On the same note, if something doesn’t fit, there’s no point in buying it, even if it is super-cheap and you’ve convinced yourself to wear extra socks or
shed a couple of kilos before the week’s out. Be ruthless! They’re only clothes – you won’t hurt their feelings.

Keep your cool
Main objection: to leave the mall (and other shoppers) in one piece. Sales can be a stressful time, so if you see another pair of hands suddenly appear on that pair of jeans, relax (play their bluff to see if they let go first) and then back off. If you’re the type of shopper that works best alone, tell your friends so and meet them for lunch instead. If you’re planning to spend the whole day at the mall, dedicate some time to put your feet up. Pampering spots such as N-Style (04 341 3300) at Mall of the Emirates and Nivea Haus (04 434 0777) at The Dubai Mall offer feet or neck and shoulder messages, and they take walk-ins without bookings.

Set a budget and leave the credit card at home
Sales are fun, but buyer’s regret is not. There’s a huge difference between nabbing a couple of bargains and taking home the whole store (most of which will remain in the back of your closet with tags attached). Sales assistants can be pushy, but if you stay firm on your priorities and play it cool (blue steel, cold shoulder) then it will be easier to stay focused. Set yourself a spending limit and take a set amount of cash with you, unless of course you feel like you’ll cry if you walk away from the garment in question. Finally, always ask about return policies first in case you change your mind.

For our top 10 boutiques in Dubai, click here

Ladies should dress in a lightweight singlet and leggings under a cover-up, so that you can pull on pants, tops and dresses.

For a sit-down meal with swift service and a guaranteed seat, try Pars Iranian Restaurant (04 341 1666) at Mall of the Emirates. Escape from the crowds and fawn over your bargains at healthy Arabic outdoor venue Zahr El-Laymoun (04 448 6060) overlooking the Burj lagoon at The Dubai Mall.

As a general rule, most independent boutiques won’t allow you to return or exchange items, although chain stores have more relaxed policies. For example, Diesel will not allow returns, but will exchange items within three days of the purchase date. S*uce will not exchange or accept returns on sale items, while Al Shaya stores (including H&M and Oasis) have a new scheme in which customers will no longer receive cash or credit card refunds, but will instead be given store credits. Check with the store before you buy.

Die-hard shoppers

Three big spenders give us their tips for bagging the best bargains.

Caitlin Murphy, musician
‘Almost all clothing stores mark up the original price on their garments a couple of weeks before placing the item on sale. This lures you into a false sense of saving. Try to check the old price on the tag if you can, so you know exactly how much you’re saving.’

Zaal Nodjoumi, Student
‘Expensive stores such as Harvey Nichols have the best sales. You can often pick up designer clothes
on the cheap.’

Shawn Stephens, Account Director
‘At Zara, you can go shopping one day ahead of the sales and book all the clothes you want, after consulting the manager. That way you set aside all the good stuff.’

For our top 10 boutiques in Dubai, click here

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