Unprecedented – that’s probably one of the most common adjectives for the year 2020. Overused? Yes. Cliched? Yes. Relatable? Also, yes.
The retail industry had to deal with some situations and challenges that they had never witnessed before, especially with the sudden shift in demand for divergent products unseasonably. Categories that are usually high in demand during a particular time of the year was no longer needed during the lockdown months seeing an imbalanced retail demand and supply shaking the structure of retail seasons.
For instance, back-to-school products, which start picking up by the second quarter each year completely lost their significance, as no one was really going back to school. However, home décor and work-from-home convenience categories suddenly saw a surge throughout the year as more people started spending more of their work and playtime indoors. The post-Ramadan season that sees an increase in demand for beauty and colour cosmetics due to returning events and functions, unsurprisingly saw nearly no demand as news about every event of the year being cancelled kept breaking, but now that people had more time to take care of their skin and hair and immerse themselves in longer self-care routines, skincare and bath and body products saw a surge.
You can appreciate what a roller coaster of a year it must have been for retailers trading in any of these segments with balancing demand, coping with the supply chain challenges, tracking inventory and restructuring price points – all while trying to flourish online and expand their e-commerce presence. Now, imagine how a retailer who deals with all of these four categories would’ve gone through.
Lifestyle, the fashion, beauty and home retail arm under UAE-based Landmark Group with 165 stores across the GCC was that retailer who had to deal with the peaks and troughs, demand highs and lows, and supply bulks and shortages because of their diversified portfolio of brands.
“Back-to-school is normally the peak trading period for us. Since back-to-school was virtually non-existent in 2020, our home décor segment went through the roof in July-August. Similarly, the beauty and cosmetics segment was challenged, but skincare, bath and body and hygiene did very well for us. It’s been a mixed year. But because of the diversified portfolio of our business, we managed to sail through”, said Ruban Shanmugarajah, CEO of Lifestyle.
The retailer did witness a single-digit decline in growth in the first quarter of the year but managed to recover towards the end of the year by adapting to the changes in customer behavior and strengthening its digital profile.
“We have a very strong omnichannel business where 10% of our sales come from online. Our ambition is to move our e-commerce sales to 20% soon”, he said.
Shanmugarajah echoes the sentiments of most businesses in saying that the e-commerce shift, which saw an acceleration during the pandemic is here to stay. However, e-commerce isn’t just about price and convenience anymore. Consumers are looking for a seamless, integrated, and differentiated experience both offline as well as online. Apart from the click-and-collect, refund-and-exchange offerings to add the ‘Omni’ element, Lifestyle are also introducing virtual try-ons for their cosmetics and beauty ranges online.
In a market where the competition was already high, e-commerce and social commerce have made it even more challenging for mainstream retailers to stand out and make a mark of their own. The only way to that today, would be to personally know and understand every single one of their customers and cater to their varying and diverse needs. That’s where data comes into play.
All brands and groups under Landmark are at an advantage here because of their long-established Shukran loyalty programme, the largest retail loyalty program in the region. But what is Lifestyle using this data for and how?
“We have a good understanding of what consumers are buying and their changing habits. We are using that data to change the product offering that we are bringing to the floor. We are using data to inform us about our buying decisions. Consumers are asking us to bring the best product at the best prices. We communicate with our customers based on the data we garner and personalize our communication, which has yielded significant results and returns”, he explained.
However, Shanmugarajah is clear on not getting too carried away by the hype around data. “Data will always tell you the history. It cannot really predict the future. So I don’t want to be blinded by data. There are certain things that data will help you with but as a retailer, you’ve got to read the market yourself and spot the trend. If we don’t do that, consumers will walk away”, he added.
The beauty retail landscape has changed dramatically in the last, and it remains to be seen if the industry will return to its pre-covid glory days. However, Shamugarajah believes that the beauty segment will be first to rebound ahead of some of the other categories.
Lifestyle is well on its way to expanding its presence in the region. With a flagship store that recently opened in Dubai Mall, three more stores in the pipeline for Saudi Arabia, and a few more in the works across the UAE, Lifestyle aims to be the ultimate beauty destination of the future.
“We have nine stores in Qatar already. So it’s a fairly well-covered geography for us. Similarly, in Kuwait, we have nine stores so it is quite saturated. A lot depends on the mall developments that come up. Today, customers are very choosy so the location needs to be right for the customers. It’s not just about getting into every mall”, he said.
“In the UAE, Al Zahia mall is opening up and it’s a great catchment and we are looking forward to opening up there. Riyadh Park in Saudi is a very strong mall where we don’t have a presence so if an opportunity comes along we will look at opening a store there”, he concluded.
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