‘Connect, Share, Evolve’. That was the theme of the fourth edition of the annual Middle East Retail Forum (MRF) this year, which took place on October 27-28 at the Conrad Hotel in Dubai. The reigning idea being to foster collaboration between retail businesses to connect, share knowledge and evolve.
Today’s consumers are ‘always connected’. Retail businesses need to reinvent themselves if they wish to meet their evolving expectations. The key to do this is through knowledge collaboration. Retailers need to share information and insights into customer behaviour if they wish to actively influence shopper inclinations, motivate them and manage their paths-to-purchase in conjunction with their peers and channel partners.
‘Connect, Share, Evolve’ crystallises this thinking, which essentially means always being a step ahead of highly savvy, well-informed customers and anticipating their demands. MRF 2015 was designed to promote this knowledge collaboration among retail businesses.
Six high-energy, power-packed roundtable discussions
Feedback from speakers, supporters and participants in the 2014 edition also sparked some innovative initiatives to make this year’s forum discussion agenda more engaging and interesting. Over two days, six power-packed roundtable discussions followed the inaugural session, addressing all areas within the broad spectrum of retail. They included the Retail Business Owners and CEOs Conclave, Logistics Conclave, Technology Conclave, Marketing Conclave, Retail Design Conclave, finally closing with the Shopping Mall Conclave.
Retail Business Owners and CEOs Conclave: Learning from the experience of peers
The Retail Business Owners and CEOs Conclave attracted over 20 speakers representing diverse facets of retail – from traditional five-decade-old family business to e-commerce concepts, from globally known retailers and cinemas to technology solutions providers, and from F&B experts to beauty specialists.
The roster included Adel Rashid – CEO, Hidesign Middle East; Anita Baker – business director, Lush MENA; Debbie Kristiansen – CEO, Novo Cinemas; Essa Behbehani – founder, Chewy Goowy; Furqan Athar – managing director, Spret Retail; Hannes Liebe – co-MD & COO, SAP MENA; Ian Ohan – founder & CEO, Freedom Pizza; Jeremy Johnston – CEO, Zuhoor Al Reef; Khurshid Vakil – co-founder & executive director, Marina Home Interiors; Kunal Kapoor – founder and managing director, The Luxury Closet; Lama Bazzari – serial entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder, NStyle International; Mark Thomson – director of retail & hospitality solutions EMEA, Zebra Technologies; Mona Ataya – founder & CEO, Mumzworld.com; Nisreen Shocair – president, Virgin Megastore Middle East; Raju Shroff – managing director, Regal Group; Sarah Appleton – founder, Mini Exchange; Shivam Sharma – CEO, Sana; Thomas Lundgren – founder & CEO, THE One; Ulugbek Yuldashev – founder and managing director, Awok.com; and Ziad Matta – founder & CEO, Boutique 1 Group.
The distinguished speakers were joined by multi-award winning marketing expert Michael Leander – CEO, The Michael Leander Company; researcher Mahboob Murshed – managing director, Alpen Capital (ME) Limited; and Nasif Kayed – managing director, Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.
There were common threads in the flow of ideas and thoughts from this diverse array of speakers – how to optimally meet fast-changing consumer behaviour with innovative retailing; how to ‘outsmart’ today’s highly savvy, well-informed and demanding customers by deploying advanced technology solutions to foster meaningful interaction; and, above all, to gain useful insights and meaningful learning from the success and failures of peers.
That’s not all. The session saw the launch of the inaugural edition of RetailME’s coffee table book – Vision and Views – featuring 30 regional retail stalwarts.
Logistics Conclave: Is digitising supply chain the way ahead?
‘Always connected’ consumers are impatient and unforgiving. They want products and services to be available anytime, anywhere. Stock out is no longer an acceptable option for them. If a customer enters a Louis Vuitton store to purchase a particular green handbag, that green handbag must be available then and there. Similarly, if customers place an order online for the latest iPhone 6S, they must receive it the very next day.
To meet and match such high expectations, retailers and e-tailers must ensure seamless connection and flow between all points of the logistics chain – from inventory to transportation, packaging to delivery, storage to stocking. They must ensure seamless communication at all retail touch-points. The Logistics Conclave saw logistics experts and specialists sharing their experiences and learnings in addressing the challenges posed at every step of the logistics chain, so crucial to retail.
Among the distinguished speakers were Joy Ajlouny – co-founder, director of business development/partnership, Fetchr; Mahmoud Adham – founder, Munchbox; Maartenjan de-Wit – senior industry advisor – retail & consumer industries, SAP MENA; Mark Anthony Lack – COO, Retail Arabia; Mohammad Shoaib Hai – director of supply chain and logistics, Majid Al Futtaim Fashion; Nisha Varman Shetty – founder, The Urban Yogi; Rohan Bhardwaj – partner & general manager, Radix Wears; Sajan Alex – general manager, Tablez Food Company; Sarah Appleton – founder, Mini Exchange; Shailen Shukla – head – logistics division, Jumbo Electronics Co. Ltd; and Tapan Vaidya – general manager – restaurant division, Jawad Business Group.
Technology Conclave: Fashioning new horizons in retail
Technology has transformed the way retailers and consumers interact with each other. That needs no reiteration. This infusion of technology has catalysed the creation of new business models. So it wasn’t surprising that technology was a dominant topic of discussion at MRF.
The growth of online and mobile commerce has transformed shopping behaviour and fast-forwarded the evolution of brick-and-mortar. Such rapid-fire changes have forced retailers to think of innovative ways to reap the rewards of this retail convergence.
The speaker line-up at the Technology Conclave included names like Abdulkhader Pattilath – regional IT director, LSH Holding Co; Arvind Sahay – regional director, Vinculum MEA; Ashish Panjabi – COO, Jacky’s Group of Companies; Beatriz Carrera – retail lead – UAE & Gulf, SAP; Charbel Sarkis – sector lead for retail, e-commerce, technology and telecom, Google MENA; Mark Thomson – director of retail & hospitality solutions EMEA, Zebra Technologies; Pravin Hungund – global head – Technovation Centre & chief technologist – India & Middle East, Wipro Ltd; Ruwan Manjule De Silva – CTO, The Luxury Closet; Sammar Farooqi – VP – IT, Al Tayer Group; Shankar Balan – president – CORE business, QwikCilver Solutions; Sheriff Rizwan – founder & CEO, Alshop.com; Sumit Bathla – general manager – EIT , Al-Futtaim Group; Ulugbek Yuldashev – founder and managing director, Awok.com; and Vic Bageria – CEO, Sávant Data System.
Marketing Conclave: The customer is, and always will be, king!
What is the new customer experience all about? Customers today are spoilt for choice, which makes the phrase ‘customer is king’ all the more compelling. They care little about loyalty and much more about experiences. It’s clearly a buyer’s market retailers have to contend with, unlike many years ago when sellers dominated.
The Marketing Conclave focused on ways and means of devising a game-changing experience for customers to gain their loyalty. It drew speakers from diverse segments of retail, marketing specialists and media personalities, each bringing a different perspective to the discussion.
The roster included Abdulla Mahmood – director – marketing and corporate communication, Al Ahli Holding Group; Abhish Chandok – general manager – marketing Russia, Middle East and Africa, Himalaya Drug Company; Kritika Rawat – managing director, Kkompany; Lennard Otto – general manager, IMG Worlds of Adventure; Michael Leander – CEO, The Michael Leander; Mustafa Sadek – founder & CEO, UrbanBuz; Nandakumar Vijayan – chief communications officer, LuLu Group International; Narain Jashanmal – head of direct response advertising, MENA, Facebook/Instagram; Natasha Rockstrom – co-founder, Injoy Giving; Nisha Varman Shetty – founder, The Urban Yogi; Shawn Sipman – executive: customer engagement and commerce, UCS Solutions; Simon Hathaway – president & global head of RX [retail experience], Cheil Worldwide; Srikanth Parthasarathy – senior vice president, Homes R Us; and T P Pratap – chief marketing officer, QwikCilver Solutions.
Retail Design Conclave: The art of story telling
Do retailers ever ponder on why consumers shop when they travel even though the same brands are available in a city shopping centre? The answer is: the ‘shopping experience’. For brick-and-mortar, store design is the key. It’s got to be innovative, eye catching and inspiring yet comfortable and relaxing, even therapeutic.
Design is crucial to retail. Consumers today don’t just shop for products. They look for shopping experiences they can remember, whether at a luxury store, value fashion store or even a consumer electronics outlet. Why even restaurants, cafés and everyday grocery outlets require design. It’s what makes for experiential retail but the caution is to keep things simple and user-friendly. So even if the interior is plush or futuristic, the design must favour ease of navigation and viewing, with broad walkways to move trolleys and strollers around.
The speakers at the Retail Design Conclave included Gary Wells – property manager, Lush; Luca Cappuccitti – head of global business development, Design International; Marcus Käss – art director, Schwitzke & Partner GmbH; Mark Anthony Lack – COO, Retail Arabia; Markus Beyr – owner & managing director, Attraktion!; Nisreen Shocair – president, Virgin Megastore Middle East; Rob Canning – general manager, En Vogue; Shahzad Gidwani – general manager, Morad Yousuf Behbehani Group; Shuja Jashanmal – managing director, Lucrae General Trading LLC; Sidiqa Sohail – founder, Spontiphoria Boutique & Café; and Stephen Holbrook – member of the Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group executive board.
Shopping Mall Conclave: The mall of the future
In a way, the learnings over two days of discussion coalesced in envisioning the evolution of the regional shopping mall landscape in the closing session.
Today, the shopping centre is at the core of every consumption vertical – fashion, food, lifestyle, entertainment, leisure, wellness, pretty much everything. Add to that a heady mix of in-mall entertainment, free Wi-Fi, interesting shopping and lounge areas and you have the makings of a highly fulfilling shopping experience.
The speakers in this conclave shared their experiences and insights on key elements that make a shopping mall successful.
They included Fuad Mansoor Sharaf – senior director – property management, Majid Al Futtaim Properties; Karen Staley – senior vice president, International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions MENA; Louay Moursel – food & beverage retail manager, Eataly; Mazen Qandeel – leasing manager, Hamat Property Co, Saudi Arabia; Mohamed Galal – managing director, Tasweeq Shopping Malls Egypt; Furqan Athar – managing director, Spret Retail; Prakash Vivekanand – managing director, Amusement Services International; and Shavak Srivastava – managing director, SQ.FT Consulting.
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