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The 9th Middle East Retail Forum

Retailers to prepare for the massive windfall from digital transformation

Dubai–The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked and brought the future to present – in terms of the digital transformation process that has and is changing the US$25 trillion retail sectors forever. Experts at 9th Middle East Retail Forum that took place at the Conrad Dubai Hotel on November 25, 2020, said in a way, the COVID-19 put the retail industry on steroid and changed it forever.

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 Eitzinger, Chief Operating Officer of Images Group Middle East, organiser of the Middle East Retail Forum and RetailME Awards, said

 The retail industry is undergoing tremendous transformation and we are pleased to address this at the 9th Middle East Retail Forum, the only such industry conference in the Middle East!

This year MRF is all about agility, responsiveness and being future-fit – themes that we thought could instigate some thought-provoking conversations led by the movers and shakers of the industry. Since notions like omnichannel, hybrid, and phygital are the new norms – we have incorporated the same principle with our event this year. Today you will see a few speakers join us virtually, from not only the region but also beyond.

Data is the new oil or new soil. Data is perhaps the most important resource today, speakers stressed at the conference.

“In all GCC economies, e-commerce originally was expected to witness growth above 50% from 2019 to 2030, as a result of which e-commerce that accounted for 0.4% of GCC GDP in 2018 was set to increase well over 2 per cent of GDP by 2030, according to a report by Frost and Sullivan,” Justina Eitzinger underlined.

“This year we saw that number go further up, with 49 per cent of UAE consumers surveyed by Dubai Economy and Visa – revealing that they have been shopping online more because of the pandemic.

“So does that mean that the GCC’s retail sector, which is expected to grow to $554.13 billion by 2030, is going to solely be dependent on e-commerce operations? The answer to that is, of course not. But equations between physical and digital retail are going to change and so are the functions and functionalities of the actual and virtual spaces. With the ongoing internal debate of ‘convenience versus experience,’ consumers have today, retailers have had to modify their offerings.”

COVID-19 is accelerating the digital transformation of the Middle East’s retail sector as e-commerce sales set to jump to US$48.6 billion in 2022, up from US$26.9 billion in 2018, according to recent research.

Key industry officials including Renuka Jagtiani, Chairwoman and CEO of Landmark Group, Patrick Chalhoub, CEO of Chalhoub Group; Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jacky’s Group of Companies and Jacky’s Retail LLC; Piyush Kumar Chowhan, Group CIO of Lulu Group International; Hisham Al Amoudi, Group CEO of Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group; Hozefa Saylawala, Director of Sales at Zebra Technologies; Mark Tesseyman, CEO of LIWA Trading Enterprises; Marwan Moukarzel, CEO of Fawaz Alhokair Fashion Retail; Tapan Vaidya, CEO of PJP Investments Group; Phillip Smith, Group Head of Digital at Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group; Ryan den Rooijen, Group Head of Data and Analytics of Chalhoub Group will join Amitabh Taneja, Chairman of Images Group at the inaugural sessions.

Both Patrick Chalhoub and Renuka Jagtiani will deliver keynote speeches on Unprecedented Opportunities of an Unparalleled Crisis in their respective fireside chats. Both spoke at length on their experiences on how they have led the transformation of their businesses to remain on top.

Hozefa Saylawala, Director of Sales at Zebra Technologies, said, “Since the pandemic, we have invested heavily in perceptive analytics and made some acquisition on machine learning technologies to offer flawless, seamless retail experiences through the use on advanced technologies. So, for us, the year 2020 has been one of the most successful.”

Hisham Al Amoudi, Group CEO of Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group, said, “From bricks-and-mortar, we are shifting towards bricks-and-clicks – and that’s how the retail industry has changed.”

Tapan Vaidya, CEO of PJP Investments Group, said, “In March this year, physical sales at Papa Johns was 63 per cent while online order represented 37 per cent of the total sale. However, in two months, it changed to 63 per cent online order versus 37 per cent physical sale. Currently, our online sales represent 5 per cent as opposed to 46 per cent physical sale – and this will go up in favour of online order. This is how the market is changing. COVID-19 pandemic has really forced us to embrace technology that we would probably do in phases, later.”

Running concurrently at the same venue, the 10th RetailME Awards, honoured the region’s best-performing retailers across 21 categories. These are some of the first such physical events taking place in the UAE after the COVID-19 pandemic stopped events since March this year.

Aptly titled The Masterplan of Retail Transformation, the Middle East Retail Forum hosted more than 250 delegates – restricted to 40 per cent of the ballroom capacity – to ensure social distancing. This will be the first such event to take place maintaining social distance protocol and all health and safety regulations stipulated by the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) – and reflect the organiser’s strong determination to defy the odds. This also reflects the resilience of the region’s retail sector that has been dominating the economic landscape of the Middle East.

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 so that the global eCommerce sales are set to grow from US$4.13 trillion in 2020 to US$4.8 trillion in 2021.

The 9th Middle East Retail Forum, the region’s most prestigious and the only such event for the retail sector, will host several keynote speakers, presentations and five-panel discussions in which 35+ speakers will share their insights on the changing retail landscape.

The morning sessions – Tech-ing it Forward and Purpose-fitted Digital Transformation – saw retail leaders share inside stories of how they rejigged operations through enhanced digitalisation initiatives. The sessions will point towards technology being ‘the’ enabler for retail transformation.

In the afternoon session, Cameron Mitchell, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim Leisure and Entertainment and Cinemas joined Halima Jumani, Director, Kibsons; Ian Ohan, Founder, KRUSH Brands; Isobel Abulhoul, Co-founder, Magrudy’s; Kiran Karanki, CEO, Semnox Solutions; and Raed Hafez, CEO, elGrocer at a panel discussion on Engagement and Loyalty: How Data and Service Upped the Ante.

E-commerce has been one of the main focus areas within the retail industry in 2020. The session titled Growing in Power: The E-commerce Surge saw experts Heba Al Fazari, Founder, Coveti; Majed M. Al Tahan, Founder and CEO, AYM and Co-founder and Managing Director, Danube Online; Mona Ataya, CEO and Founder,; Neelam Keswani, Director, Glamazle; and Jeremy Density, Customer Director – Operational Lead MENA, Scopernia discuss the future of online retail.

RetailME Awards is also the only such international awards programme for the retailers. In its tenth year, it is the most sought after awards programme in the Middle East.

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