UAE: ‘Digital disruption to transform retailers into tech companies’, experts say

Most retailers will soon become e-tailers engaged in storage and door-to-door deliveries to consumers, experts told more than 250 delegates at the 9th Middle East Retail Forum ‘The Masterplan of Retail Transformation’ held on the 25 November in Dubai.

While the whole world is suffering from the COVID-19 fall-out, the technology companies are flourishing and they are also disrupting the US$25 trillion global retail industry by transforming them to become tech-driven e-tailers delivering consumer goods door-to-door.

COVID-19 is changing the global economy forever. While vaccines might bring back normalcy in life, the retail sector might not be the same again, due to the technology-led disruption where data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, perceptive analytics, changing consumer behaviour will reshape the retail industry landscape to strengthen customer experience.

“The year 2020 has been a roller coaster year full of new learnings, quick pivoting and unprecedented challenges, as the pandemic has created a new set of rules for the survival and success of retail industry,” Renuka Jagtiani, Chairwoman and CEO of Landmark Group, told the delegates.

“But we as a team take COVID-19 as an opportunity to prove ourselves in tough times. It is only possible if we do proper teamwork, as the customer expectations have been changed, and the way we have to approach them should be far more creative and personalised so that we can easily develop the trust and interest in our customer.”

The GCC’s e-commerce sector is expected to more than double to $50 billion in the next five years, up from $24 billion this year, as pandemic-related movement restrictions lead to a shift in shopping habits in the region, according to a new report by global consultancy firm Kearney.

Amazon, a relatively new player in the region, saw its sales in the GCC grow by 26 per cent to $76 billion (Dh278.92 billion) in the first quarter of 2020.

Patrick Chalhoub, CEO Chalhoub Group, said, “As the term “new” gives way to “next” normal, the very definition of normalcy has changed. It has changed as retailers are rewiring business models, rethinking revenue centres and readjusting plans to adopt in a changed business environment. I hope the industry will soon get normal.”

Hozefa Saylawala, Director of Sales at Zebra Technologies, said, “COVID-19 has changed the retail industry forever and in a way it has created history for the retail industry. The year 2020 will go down in history for transforming and digitising the global retail industry, among other things. Retailers have started to change and are witnessing the evolution of a new retail experience where flawless and seamless customer experience will determine their success.”

The year 2020 will go down in history as the most remarkable year in the history of the retail industry due to the transformation and the opportunities it brings.

Justina EitzingerChief Operating Officer of Images Group Middle East, organiser of the Middle East Retail Forum and RetailME Awards, said, “The success of retailers will rely on technology adaptation, embedding data analytics, artificial intelligence and analysing consumer behaviour. Retailers will have to analyse the consumer behaviour through data analytics that will tell them what type of food to store, what brands customer prefers and the preferred price point – in order to remain ahead of the competition.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the retail sector and transformed consumers as it is rapidly changing the US$25 trillion global retail landscape, so much that the global e-commerce sales are set to grow from US$4.13 trillion in 2020 to US$4.8 trillion in 2021.

Majed M. Al Tahan, Founder and CEO, AYM and Co-founder and Managing Director, Danube Online, said, “The year 2020 will be remembered as a very special year for all of us for a number of reasons. First, it was a year full of challenges and it pushed all of us to the edge. However, it has forced consumers to shop online and that helped our online grocery business to flourish. Secondly, the year taught us many important lessons – how to adopt technology – to change the industry, as consumers have also begun to change due to the COVID-19 social distancing and health risks. As a retailer, we learned that the consumers are looking at three important things – speed, reliability and affordability – that will determine who remains ahead of the curve in future.”

However,COVID-19 has also helped the industry realise some fundamental facts.

Neelam Keswani, Director, Glamazle, said, “Following the COVID-19 pandemic, I realised that profit is not the most important thing in business, it’s people. Retaining human talents and happy and healthy people are more important than money! I have also realised that I do not need an office to run a business. All my colleagues are working from home and their productivity level either remained same or increased. But most importantly, their happiness level increased as they remained close to the families.”

The 9th Middle East Retail Forum hosted a number of keynote speakers, presentations and five panel discussions in which 35+ speakers shared their insights on the changing retail landscape.