Middle East Retail Forum 2021: Adaptability key to survival in the $20.3 trillion retail industry


November 29, 2021 | By Shruthi Nair

The 10th Middle East Retail Forum held on November 24th witnessed the confluence of the region’s top retail leaders to discuss the unveiling of tomorrow’s retail experiences. While the integration of augmented reality, NFTs, retailing in the metaverse, and futuristic in-store experiences were the key themes of the CEOs Conclave, the SOLO (Stories, Outcomes, Learnings, Opinions) sessions witnessed retail chiefs sharing their personal anecdotes and emotional stories unheard before.

The 10th Middle East Retail Forum also saw distinguished speakers who engaged in lively dialogue including Sima Ved, Chairwoman of Apparel Group, Raza Beig, CEO of Splash, Michael Chalhoub, President – Strategy, Innovation and Growth at Chalhoub Group, Tawhid Abdullah, Chairman of Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group, Khaled Soliman, Group CEO of Jashanmal Group; Muna Al Gurg Director of Retail at Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group; Kishan Palija – MD at Geekay; Ahmed Ragab CEO of Baraka Retail Group; Tapan Vaidya, Chief Executive Officer of PJP Investments Group (Papa Johns);; Nisreen Shocair CEO of YOOX Net-a-Porter among others.

Adaptability, change management and seamless customer happiness are key factors that will determine the success of the retailers in the years to come, panel experts at the 10th Middle East Retail Forum, told delegates.

By 2025, e-commerce will expand by an additional US$1.4 trillion, and account for half the growth in the global retail sector, according to global market research company Euromonitor International. Global retail industry value exceeded US$20.3 trillion in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the success of the retailers will depend on customer convenience and customer happiness, experts say.

“With the speed the retail environment is changing, the question for the retail industry is about survival. The speed has accelerated and most retailers are finding it difficult to cope up with the changes,” Khaled Soliman, Group CEO of Jashanmal Group, said.

“Earlier changes used to take place every ten years. However, the pace of change has accelerated and changes are happening very fast. So, it is about managing the changes and surviving the changes. The question is: how many of us will survive?”

Muna Al Gurg Director of Retail at Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, said, “The retail industry in this part of the world lacks excellent customer service. It is important to hire the right people so that the customers get great experiences. In this case, software and customer relationship management are not good enough. The people behind the software and system are crucial and we need to take this seriously.

“We, the key executives need to get involved in the hiring process – to get the right talent – because we know what we want from our team members. The recruitment process should not be left with the human resources managers only. It needs our direct involvement.”

Retail is about to go through changes that could dwarf its previous revolutions. Customers are no longer satisfied with just goods; they want experiences.

Tapan Vaidya, Chief Executive Officer of PJP Investments Group that runs the Papa Johns franchise, says, “For me one of the key aspects of our business is Return of Customers (ROC). I tell my team members to focus on ROC, then it will take care of the Return on Investment (ROI).

Welcoming the delegates, Justina Eitzinger, Chief Operating Officer of Images Group Middle East, organiser of the Middle East Retail Forum and RetailME Awards, said, “The global retail trend have changed in a year since we gathered here at the 9th Middle East Retail Forum. Things are changing very fast. We are now discussing what type of robots to deploy in our warehouses, among other trends.

“Amidst this came new business models, diversified revenue streams, and high-tech omnichannel operations – all driven by the goal to give customers exceptional experiences and amazing them at every step of the way. From shop-in-shop concepts to cashierless supermarkets; stores turning into runways for fashion models to shops doubling down as kid’s play area; virtual augmented reality try-ons to digital fitting room mirrors, robots in the front-end greeting customers to robots in the warehouse helping with fulfilment, we have witnessed all this and more in the region.

The Panel Discussion on The New Retail Revolution was participated by CIOs and CDOs of major retail conglomerates discussing the implementation of omnichannel retail, creating the experiences of the future, and ensuring an integrated retail delivery model where offline, online, logistics, and data, converge to enhance customer experience.

Mark Thomson, Retail Industry Director at Zebra Technolgies, lead the conversation with Piyush Kumar Chowhan, Group Chief Information Officer of the Lulu International Group, Daniel Gomez, Chief Development Officer at Al Malki, Phillip Smith, Head Of Digital at Kamal Osman Jamjoom and Sander Maertens, Head of Middle East, Adyen.

A Panel Discussion on Retail Real Estate- Building the mall of the future was moderated by Phil McArthur and participated by Avijit Yadav, CEO of Tamdeen Malls; Jerome Georges-Vivien, Country Head of AZADEA; Amina Flaifel, Head of Real Estate at Alhokair Fashion and Fahad Kazim, Head of Real Estate at KPMG.

To conclude a power-packed day at MRF, the decision makers of the major retail organisations came together on a podium to a quick fire set of questions aimed at instigating debates and thought-provoking discussions, on how retailers in MENA will approach 2022 – featuring Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jacky’s Retail; Tom Harvey, General Manager of Spinneys.

The event was supported by Zebra Technologies – Our Retail tech Partner, Dubai Outlet Mall – our Platinum Partner, Altavant Technologies, Adyen and Board International – our Gold Partners; Ithra Dubai, Dalma Mall, Xeno and Dvio – our Silver Partners, KPMG – our Knowledge Partner, LP Flex – our Branding Parter, Expert Hub Robotics our Robotics Partner and Cion – our Retail Lighting Partner.

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