United Arab Emirates flag United Arab Emirates: Buying and Selling

Advertising and marketing in the United Arab Emirates

Marketing opportunities

Consumer Profile

The increase in the UAE population can be attributed mostly to the high demand of labour in the two main cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Ongoing construction has attracted workers from around the world. The United Arab Emirates’ population will continue to grow exponentially as the country continues to develop its infrastructure. The total population has doubled from 3.7 million in 2005 to 8.4 million in 2010, out of which an estimated 88% were foreign citizens. In 2022, the total population is estimated at 10 million people - of which only 31.1% are women. The median age in the United Arab Emirates is 32.7 years (Data Reportal). As the population of the UAE continues to grow, demand for services such as healthcare and education will increase. The majority of Emiratis fall under the 15-64 age range (83.65%), with men aged 30 to 49 being the most prominent, making them the largest group to contribute to the workforce. Despite the significant increase in the UAE population, household structure remains the same. Couples with children are by far the largest group, accounting for half of all households. They are followed by temporary workers (25% of households) and couples without children (13%). The last category is expected to grow significantly in the years to come, which should be reflected with increasing purchase money, presenting opportunities for higher quality products. Over the past  few years, education has become the top priority in the UAE. The Government of the United Arab Emirates allocates a significant share of the federal budget each year to the development of the education system in order to provide quality education services and improve a knowledge-based economy. In 2022 this reached 26.7% of the federal budget. Nearly 84.2% of the U.A.E. population aged over 25 years old completed at least lower secondary education in 2019; while as for upper secondary education, almost 71.5% managed to complete it (World Bank, latest data available). Despite the government's commitment to the education sector, the gap between men and women in secondary education stands at 5% in favour of men (UNDP). Ambitiously, the government also seeks to improve the UAE’s ranking in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, to score among the top 20 countries. A large number of foreign residents work in construction - which pays lower wages - while a big part of Emirati citizens work in the public sector. The sector with the highest number of employees in the country is the extractive industry, which employs 31% of the workforce in the UAE.

Purchasing Power

GDP per capita has been fluctuating for decades in the UAE. According to the latest available data by the World Bank, GDP per capita reached USD 66,771.5 PPP in 2020. Salaries differ among the seven federal emirates. The average monthly household income of UAE residents is estimated at AED 19,600. A person working in Dubai typically earns around 21,000 AED per month, whereas in Al Ain the average salary is 19,800 AED per month (Salary Explorer, 2022). The wealth gap between rich and poor in the UAE is one of the worst in the world, largely due to the amount of welfare and protection afforded to native Emiratis and the amount of neglect of migrant workers. The UAE ranks second in the Middle East for wage equality for similar work, and considerably improved its ranking in the 2021 World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, climbing at the 72nd position out of 156 countries (compared to 120th out of 144 countries in the 2020). The country has been working towards gender wage equality, and in 2018 a law ensuring women are paid an equal wage to their male colleagues was approved. Immigrants from South Asia, Egypt and Morocco mostly populate the UAE, with expatriates making up 88% of the population. However, this group also makes up the majority of the population living below the poverty line, which is defined by those who earn less than USD 20 a day. Emiratis have the highest standards of living in the country, while immigrants have the lowest.

Consumer Behaviour
Consumers in the UAE are some of the most diverse across the Gulf countries, as only 12% of the population is Emirati and the majority of the population consists of immigrants - mainly from South Asia, Iran, East Asia and the West - with significantly different levels of income. Retailing in the UAE is closely tied to social habits. Shopping malls dominate the retail landscape because they provide a source of entertainment, a social experience, and - just as important - air conditioning. For that reason, e-commerce only accounts for 11% of the retail sector, despite the UAE being one of the most digitally connected nations in the world (Majid Al Futtaim). The COVID-19 crisis and the implications of the lockdowns have accelerated the levels of adoption of e-commerce transactions by UAE residents, as e-commerce accounted for only 5% of retail trade before the crisis (Majid Al Futtaim). Retail e-commerce is projected to grow 60% to more than USD 8 billion by 2025 from 2021 (EZDubai and Euromonitor). Offline shopping remains relevant in the UAE for cultural and geographic reasons, however, as the online and offline channels converge more and more, the market is increasingly competitive, challenging the e-commerce operators already present in the region and bringing more benefits to consumers.
UAE consumers have high expectations and are hard to impress. They expect excellent customer experience and personalised service, and when it comes to online shopping, they prefer single-brand websites because buyers believe they provide the best customer service. The UAE is an attractive market for luxury brands, with Dubai accounting for 30% of the Middle East’s luxury market, and Emiratis spending around 30% of their monthly salaries on luxury goods. Additionally, even though around 30% of the population is female, women influence 80% of all purchases in Dubai alone. Female Emirati citizens spend more than 40% of their income on fashion shopping – triple that of the expat population. And a third of these Emirati women spend over 60% of their monthly income on shopping.
When it comes to food, even though Emiratis still prefer traditional Gulf dishes, the combination of so many foreigners within the UAE and the affluence of a number of Emirati residents has created a country with an international palate, demanding a wide range of international foods.
Consumers in the UAE tended to be big spenders and loyal to their favourite brands. However, the covid-19 crisis has led consumers to rethink their habits. According to Mckinsey & Company, they now tend to plan their shopping, to test new brands, and shop online. Consumers still expect to decrease spending across categories with the exception of groceries, home and entertainment; the keywords are value and convenience.
The Emirate has a relatively young population with the increased demand for affordable hotels, and Airbnb is getting good acceptance and the demand is expected to grow.
Consumers Associations
Department of Economic Development , Consumer Protection Division
Department of Economic Development , Abu Dhabi Consumer Protection Manual
Main Advertising Agencies
Tonic International
Face to Face
Prism Advertising

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Latest Update: July 2024