Population growth, increased tourism, and demand for
medium- to high-end brands are supporting demand for
retail space in the Saudi capital.

In the past five years, changes to the demographics of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, and an influx of Western expatriates have increased demand for medium- to high-end international brands, which has, in turn, affected the type of retail offerings that have been developed. To satisfy this demand, retail concepts have started moving to large-format destination malls, main street stand-alone locations (such as Olaya Street), and community/neighborhood malls in the city’s suburbs (especially northern Riyadh) that can satisfy a range of consumer needs.

The outlook for shopping malls in Riyadh is likely to remain strong going forward because they are the primary source of entertainment for Saudi families. The mall-based retail space has increased significantly over the past three years, with supply rising from 6.5 million square feet (600,000 sq m) of space in 2005 to 11.8 million square feet (1.1 million sq m) this year. An additional 4.5 million square feet (417,000 sq m) of mall retail space is likely to be delivered by 2015, bringing the total to 16.3 million square feet (1.5 million sq m). That would be close in line with estimates based on population growth projections that demand for retail space will top 16.1 million square feet (1.5 million sq m) by 2015.

As development of Riyadh continues to push north of the city with the construction of large master-planned areas, the retail market will begin to be dominated by retail malls that serve each master-planned scheme.


Riyadh’s New Business Districts


PandeyLeisure_2_250Riyadh, which is primarily a business destination, is now starting to implement strategies designed to lure more leisure tourism to the city from within and outside the kingdom.

Along the northern periphery of Riyadh, four new developments will help create demand and provide Riyadh businesses and residents with a new form of urban environment. The differentiating attributes of these developments are their scale, cohesive master plans, mix of uses, abundant parking, landscaped public spaces, and secured environments.

Mixed-use developments have proved successful in Riyadh, as shown by Kingdom Centre and Faisaliyah Centre. Kingdom Centre, the second-tallest skyscraper in Saudi Arabia, is a mixed-use tower with 13 floors of office space at the bottom, a ten-story Four Seasons Hotel above the offices, and five levels of luxury apartments and condominiums. Faisaliyah Centre, the kingdom’s third-tallest tower, is located in the business district of Riyadh and has a retail mall, a Rosewood hotel, and offices. And the recent leasing success of Riyadh Business Gate—a commercial complex that offers high-quality office space as well as retail and restaurant businesses in a low-rise business park near upper-income residential compounds and the airport—shows that strong demand exists for this kind of product.

The Rayadah Investment Company (RIC), the property arm of the Public Pension Agency, is undertaking the most ambitious of the four new projects north of the city: the International Training Center Complex (ITCC), a planned mixed-use technology complex; and the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD), a large mixed-use development focused on the financial services sector. Both should see their initial phases completed by the middle to end of 2013.

Both projects will include a wide variety of environments for offices, training, conferences, research and development, and start-ups designed to create a cluster of Saudi technology businesses.

The ITCC is located in the emerging corridor in the Imam Saud and Prince Turki neighborhoods, close to the offices of the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) regulatory agency; King Saud University (KSU), the largest higher education center in Saudi Arabia; Riyadh Techno Valley, an 18.3 million-square-foot (1.7 million sq m) science and technology park located at the KSU campus; and the King Abdullah Centre for Science and Technology (KACST), the Saudi national science agency and its national laboratories.

The King Abdullah Financial District is expected to emerge as the new city center of Riyadh. More than 60 buildings will be linked by air-conditioned skywalks, and the district will offer Riyadh’s first pedestrian zones and public transportation. Several attractions, such as a national aquarium and a science museum, are intended to make this an interesting destination for local residents and tourists.

The other two developments north of the city are the Princess Norah bint Abdul Rahman University, the first women’s university in the kingdom, and Granada Housing and Business Park (GBS). The GBS, located on the East Ring Road and North Ring Road and being developed by the Saudi government’s General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI), will house ten office buildings with 1.4 million square feet (130,000 sq m) of space upon completion, expected later this year. It will also include townhouses, an 830-room Hilton hotel, and the existing Granada Shopping Center, one of the largest in Saudi Arabia, housing 235 shops in 1.5 million square feet (140,000 sq m) of space.


Retail Development


As is the case with the planned developments, the forthcoming retail development will largely be located on the Ring roads and in other suburban areas with easy access from high-speed arteries. As these developments progress to delivery, a substantial migration of employment is expected from traditional, declining business districts such as Olaya, Malaz, and Bathaa.

Saudi Arabia’s low retail gross leasing area per capita, combined with high population and the growth of religious tourism, makes the retail market attractive to both tenants and investors. Recent and upcom­­ing trends include the following:

  • Retail formats involving mixed-use developments and hotels are increasingly being considered as the retail market becomes increasingly competitive and saturated with look-alike shopping centers.
  • Average retail rents are rising, but several centers have be­­come obsolete and are seeing revenues fall. This year, the average estimated rental value for in-line stores in major malls topped 2,300 riyals per square meter ($57 per square foot).
  • Main retail areas of Olaya Street, Tahlia Street, Uruba Street, and King Fahad Road continue to attract retailers and command high rental rates because of their prime positions. However, retail offerings on secondary roads will suffer as higher-quality outlets are delivered to the market.
  • Retailers like H&M, Zara, Home Centre, Mothercare, Splash, New Look, eXtra, Adidas, Givenchy, Aldo, Fred Perry, Emporio Armani, Massimo Dutti, and Alsaif Gallery have acquired units in main street locations outside malls.
  • The 2011–2012 period has been marked by a limited number of retailers setting up their first stores in the city. Among the new retailers that have entered the Riyadh market are Victoria’s Secret, American Eagle Outfitters, Iconic, Boots drugstore, and Destination Maternity.
  • Among the new retailers entering the Saudi market are the fashion stores Tesco and Garage, sporting goods and clothing store Decathlon, and luxury jeweler Tous.
  • The number of showroom and community malls is increasing across the new peripheral districts.
The Faisaliyah Center in Riyadh.

Average mall vacancy rates vary from zero to 30 percent for major malls, depending on location, the age of the mall, the type of mall, and other factors. Rentals and vacancies in secondary locations continue to suffer as retailers switch to the primary locations generating higher foot traffic.

Looking beyond the kingdom’s borders, Saudi Arabia–based retailer Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co. in October 2011 announced plans to open 400 new stores within two years at home and abroad. But company officials do not see demand in the kingdom declining: the retailer, which currently has 75 franchises in the Middle East and 1,300 stores worldwide, still sees 90 percent of its sales coming from Saudi stores.

In the online world, eXtra in July 2011 launched the kingdom’s first online retail website, providing the largest selection in Saudi Arabia of electronics and home appliances, with more than 3,000 products available in 90 cities within the kingdom.

Riyadh’s retail market, as one of city’s biggest sources of entertainment and leisure, has proved resilient during the global economic downturn, with high disposable incomes, strong consumer confidence, and a lack of alternative entertainment helping sustain growth.

Though the market still holds potential for additional retail developments, developers should consider trying concepts that will offer a combined variety of retail and leisure activities. A shift toward community- or neighborhood-sized developments may now take place, which will help boost different retail formats.




The outlook for the Riyadh retail market looks healthy from the perspectives of rents and occupancies. However, because significant mall supply is coming on the market over the next few years, pressure may increase on nonperforming malls with lower-grade facilities because tenants would prefer to upgrade to malls offering higher-quality space, a better tenant mix, and better parking facilities.

Rents in the strongest-performing centers are expected to increase toward the second half of this year. However, average rents are unlikely to increase because many poorly performing centers exist that will need to reduce rents to retain tenants. Other centers may suffer because they are not unique in terms of shopping environment or shopping experience, brand selection, mix of recreational options, quality of staff, or food and beverage options.

We believe that as the city’s size and population grow, the future of retail in Riyadh will be focused more on community concepts that provide service-oriented options in line with the needs of the local market and fast-changing consumer demand.