Spending patterns of UAE residents revealed

What determines how, where and why we spend on the things we do? When we talk about consumer segmentation in the UAE, the focus is typically on demographic-based information, such as age, income, nationality or occupation. While these characteristics are important as a first step to understand consumers, I believe there are psychological factors that have a large impact on segmentation, and can produce unifying behaviors even among a seemingly diverse group of people.

I’d like to explore the concept of spending patterns in the UAE through the creation of 5 behavior-based personas, which are purely based on observations of behavior patterns when it comes to spending habits.

Super Savers

Favorite Quote: Save big, spend wisely

These are cost-conscious individuals that make saving a priority. Typically family-oriented, and could live with family in the UAE, or send money back home. Prioritize affordable yet comfortable housing, but prestige is not important. Engage in frequent leisure outings, such as meet-ups with family and friends at familiar locations, but heavy spending is reserved for special occasions. When it comes to shopping, value for money is key. Investing in long-term goals and stable, low-risk strategies for financial security are significant drivers.

#YOLO Experiencers

Favorite Quote: Spend well – you only live once

These individuals live for the moment, and spend on experiences they find unique and interesting. This could be the latest restaurant, a new outdoor activity, a coveted vacation spot, or anything else that pertains to their interests. Time is valued, hence they seek out the best opportunities available. Saving is not a big priority, as the focus is on short-term goals; however, a level of financial independence is maintained to sustain spending activities. Fulfilling individual goals and supporting peer group aspirations are strong drivers.

Image-driven buyers

Favorite Quote: Spend to be seen

These individuals spend to achieve and maintain prestige, reputation and peer admiration. Typically spend larger amounts, but in a planned manner– whether it be on shopping, leisure activities, housing, or other investments. Brand recognition and loyalty are the strongest within this group, and ample research is done before a brand becomes a regular staple in the individual’s buying pattern. Financial security is a priority, but typically takes the form of targeted investments versus long-term saving schemes.

Deal Hunters

Favorite Quote: Spend smart

These individuals are generally on the lookout for the best deals to spend in a smart, efficient manner. Cost-conscious to an extent, but also interested in a variety of luxurious or thrill-seeking experiences. Trust and transparency from brands are most important to this group, as the quality of deals is valued very highly. They are the key audience for deal-based sites, along with radio/social media competitions and sweepstakes. Typically have a tight-knit social circle to share experiences. Focus on achieving a balance between spending, saving and investing.

Casual Spenders

Favorite Quote: Spend on small luxuries

These individuals spend on routine, but enjoyable experiences. Typically have fixed spending patterns for big-ticket items, but can be prone to impulse buying for smaller purchases. Aim to maintain a casual, relaxed lifestyle, and put in some thought to plan finances accordingly. Quality and reliability are of key importance, hence this group is strong on repeating purchase patterns and behavior – be it restaurants, shopping, housing, vacation destinations etc. Focus on maintaining a fairly steady pool of financial resources, hence are careful with larger purchases to avoid disrupting these patterns; appreciate convenience and value over prestige.

It can be possible to identify with more than one of the five personas, based on your current circumstances. As this is a purely observational study, there is definitely scope for more in-depth research into the characteristics and causes behind each persona.

Also published on Kipp Report


The Evolution of Brand Dubai

With the recent launch of Dubai’s new brand logo and identity, it is only fitting to examine the social, cultural and economic factors that have shaped Dubai’s image. Rapid growth and development over the past decades has established Dubai as a global trade, tourism and finance hub, and set a new lifestyle precedent in the region.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a prominent psychological theory that seeks to understand human motivation & behavior. This theory views human needs in the form of a pyramid, divided into 5 key stages: biological/physiological, safety, belongingness/love, esteem and self-actualization needs. These needs are arranged in an ascending order, wherein the needs at the base of the pyramid have to be fulfilled in order to advance to higher levels. The lowest needs are the most basic such as food, air and shelter, followed by safety, which includes security, law & order, protection and stability.

Love and belongingness come next, which include relationships with family, friends, and the community. These are followed by esteem needs, such as achievement, status, reputation and responsibility. The highest needs are those of self-actualization, or personal fulfillment – think of this as “being all you can be” and reaching your full potential. These needs can be represented by any number of activities, from volunteerism and spirituality to entrepreneurship. We can also fluctuate between these need-states based on our current circumstances. For example, when searching for a new job or promotion, esteem needs are triggered. Thinking about volunteering, or turning your passion into a business? That’s the self-actualization talking!

Brands often tap into these human drivers. For example, Coca-Cola’s long-standing “Open Happiness” campaign specifically targets love and belongingness needs. When it comes to cities or countries, I believe they too, like humans, go through these stages as they evolve, and position themselves in one or more categories. Dubai is currently at the esteem stage, and on the precipice of entering the self-actualization space.

Let’s go back to 1990: Dubai was an up-and-coming city, with sectors such as banking, telecom, aviation and healthcare beginning to grow and flourish. This could be seen as the “safety” phase, where the city was established as a safe, secure environment to live & work. By this time, most regional banks had established a presence, government hospitals were thriving, and the telecom networks were in place.

Over the next decade, the “social/belongingness” phase began, with the establishment of major family-owned retail outlets, restaurants, community clubs, schools, parks and more. From retailers such as LuLu Group & Spinneys to community malls such as Burjuman and Al Ghurair Centre, from the proliferation of SMEs to the increase in schools & cultural associations for locals and expatriates; this phase strengthened the presence of various communities within the city.

The year, 2000 marked the beginning of Dubai’s ascent into the “esteem” phase, with business hubs such as Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City being established. This decade also marked the development of major commercial, tourism and residential areas including DIFC, The Dubai Mall, Jumeirah Beach Residences, Palm Jumeirah and Downtown Dubai, to name a few. This phase continues even today, with new developments taking place all around us.

With a range of unique experiences being made possible in the city, Dubai will enter the self-actualization phase very soon. The first indoor air-conditioned city was recently announced, along with the Dubai Design District and the first mall by the beach. I’m sure many more experiences will encapsulate this phase going forward. Of course, it is important to note these phases can co-exist; think of your neighborhood grocery store, or a traditional souk, or even your favorite shawarma joint – the belongingness aspect definitely remains an integral part of the city.

As a proud resident of this wonderful city for the past 20 years, I look forward to seeing what comes next as Dubai enters into the stage that fulfills the highest level of needs for itself and its residents.

This article was also published in Communicate