E-commerce and omnichannel top Retail Summit agenda on day one 

Regional and global shopping trends was the overarching theme at this year’s Retail Summit. 

Taking place at Dubai’s Atlantis hotel on Monday and Tuesday, more than 70 global executives discussed the post-pandemic retail world and the essential role technology plays, among other key topics shaping the sector today.  

Monday’s ‘The Winning Formula for Middle Eastern Retail’ panel explored omnichannel strategies and how the ‘phygital’ world can meet customers’ needs.  

CEO of Gulf Marketing Group (GMG), Michael Chalhoub, president of strategy, growth, innovation and investment, and joint venture at Chalhoub Group, and Abdulla Al Hamshi, head of business intelligence at Dubai Ports (DP) World, discussed how their organisations responded to customers’ behavioural shift during the Covid-19 pandemic with editor-in-chief of Arabian Business, Scott Armstrong. 

Mr Sethi said while digitalisation has always been key for GMG, Covid-19 certainly underlined its importance. 

“Digitalisation has always been our strategy. But because of the pandemic, we’ve accelerated the investment into digitalisation,” he said. 

Digitalising their frontend systems helps GMG give customers the immersive experience they seek: “What we’ve seen and is becoming readily available is people are more tuned towards the omnichannel perspective.  

“The trends are moving towards digitalisation and as digitalisation grows, we will be standing on that.” 

To accommodate this growth, the company’s sports division, GMG sports, has become an omnichannel seller across all its verticals, Mr Sethi said.  

Mr Chalhoub said digitalisation being a primary focus at Chalhoub Group was beneficial during the pandemic and allowed them to react quickly to consumers’ changing needs.  

“We understand that our competitors are not just the brick-and-mortar competitors they used to be, so we need to play in an omnichannel way,” he said. 

“When the pandemic hit, we were ready. In a fortnight, we had to launch about 20-plus websites and make sure all our stores went digital to e-commerce.”  

Since doing so, the retailer has recorded a 123 per cent increase in e-commerce sales for prestige beauty products and a 113 per cent increase for high-end fashion, Mr Chalhoub said.  

With such omnichannel retailers retaining business through e-commerce and product shipments and ahead-of-time technology implementations, DP World maintained trade, said Mr Al Hamshi.  

“During 2020, volumes grew by 10 per cent and trade value grew by 5 per cent,” he said.   

‘The Evolution of the Retail Store’ session also explored omnichannel. It was chaired by Claire Hutchinson, global division director of HMY Group’s travel retail division, with Andrés Contreras, CEO of fashion retailer Bestseller’s Portugal, Spain and Latin America division, Antonis Kyprianou, executive committee member of fashion retailer Tendam, and Rami Helali, co-founder and CEO of sustainable home décor brand Kotn, on the panel.  

Discussions centred on the role of physical stores after the pandemic saw e-commerce boom.  

“When we needed to close stores, not only were we already strong in e-commerce, but we also had strong relationships with platforms and marketplaces that were selling a lot at the time, Mr Contreras said.  

Bestseller operates equally across three channels – wholesale, retail and digital. 

“Our business model has proven to be successful for times like this and now we continue to do our best to strengthen all different channels,” Mr Contreras said. 

Mr Kyprianou praised this omnichannel distribution of sales, saying: “Digital by itself is a channel; it is not the tradition.”  

Going omnichannel helped Tendam to grow during the pandemic, Mr Kyprianou said.  

“We needed to optimise without stores losing profits because of e-commerce. We needed to put everything together and that is what we have done – we enhanced the omnichannel.” 

For Kotn, 90 per cent of its sales were made online before the pandemic, so the company’s digital infrastructure was already in place to accommodate sales in 2020 and beyond.  

Post-pandemic, Kotn is venturing into opening physical stores, while still promoting e-commerce.   

Mr Helali highlighted the balance between e-commerce and physical stores is key.  

“Pure play e-commerce, pure play stores – that sort of rigidity creates issues,” he said. 

“It’s not about a store, it’s not about online. It’s about understanding the behaviour of the customer and meeting them where they are.”   

“For us, [stores] are not sales and revenue and profit drivers, they’re a place for us to acquire customers online and create omnichannel customers,” Mr Helali said.