Best of both: hybrid shopping

As retail returns transformed by Covid, Sofia Serrano looks at how Mall of the Emirates is embracing hybrid shopping.

By Sofia Serrano

With the new rules and lockdowns during the height of the pandemic, there was a digital acceleration that pushed people to buy online and stay safe at home. As people have started going back to physical stores, however, they are now looking for the convenience of digital plus the experiential aspect of physical. Customers are asking for hybrid shopping.

There are many examples on how retailers had to adapt to the new demands. The shopping, property and leisure company Majid Al Futtaim is one retailer that has embraced this digital acceleration and innovated to provide its customers with hybrid experiences within physical stores. One example is the Lego store that recently opened in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates.

Fahed Ghanim, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Lifestyle, says the Danish toy company’s outlet falls firmly into the ‘concept store’ category. It has a gigantic working model of Ski Dubai, and another of a small town – with a giant magnifying glass so visitors can see the details. There is a photo booth, and customers can make their own Lego figurines from a massive range of plastic body parts.

The store has Lego kits on the shelves, but if you don’t feel like buying them on the spot and taking them home with you, you can scan the items’ QR codes to buy them online. The store will deliver to Dubai addresses within two hours.

Ghanim says: “The future of commerce is omnichannel, as customers want to see the classic model evolve; it is not only digital, nor bricks-and-mortar. This is part of our evolution.”

He says online and offline channels each have their own customer journey and experience. E-commerce represents an opportunity for growth in both channels, as it is now possible to understand customers better to give them memorable experiences. “We are pushing the boundaries in innovation,” he says.

Another example of how the retailer has implemented digital aspects within the classic brick-and-mortar format is the Carrefour City+ shop. Customers in this convenience store, also in Mall of the Emirates, use only their mobile device to complete a transaction with the use of the Carrefour app. There is no cashier, but a network of cameras and a backbone of artificial intelligence means you are charged automatically when you leave the shop.

The World of Fashion event saw fashion experts discuss styles and trends at a custom-made booth in the mall’s main atrium. The physical audience was encouraged to get digital by ordering any of the garments discussed through the ‘Digital Concierge’ section of the Mall of the Emirates app, and have the pieces delivered to their door. The same service also offers personal shopping advice and assistance.

Michelle Walsh, senior director of marketing and communications for Majid Al Futtaim Shopping Malls, says: “Customers’ behaviours have changed drastically in the last two years because of the pandemic.”

She adds: “As Majid Al Futtaim, we adapted and have been working on delivering a seamless omnichannel experience, so that means we want to give people the opportunity to shop if they want to do so online in digital, or if they want to do so in our mall in the physical environment. If they want to be online while in the physical environment, that’s also something that we want to cater for.”

Majid Al Futtaim has enhanced its customer experience with the launch of two VIP lounges. The 9 calls itself a “luxury private members’ club” and offers services such as a barbershop, tailor, personal shopping, meeting rooms and a restaurant. A second lounge will open soon.

“The marketing used by Majid Al Futtaim aims to go beyond the traditional strategies and implement the use of advanced analytics and data from the customers, allowing the mall to offer more personalised experiences in order to achieve higher customer satisfaction,” says Walsh.

Hussein Moosa, director of Mall of the Emirates, says the retail landscape has come a long way since the mall opened in 2005. “Today the demand of the customers is really high, and it is our duty to supply, in terms of more experiential concepts in the mall,” he says. “The customer journey has completely evolved from just a buying behaviour to an entertainment, food-and-beverage, experiential behaviour. The malls need the experiential element to stay competitive, such as The 9 lounge, Carrefour City+ and other experiences like Ski Dubai, as well as F&B.”

Today shoppers have a wide variety of choices. Moosa says, “The customer is the king and the ultimate decision-maker. In this context, e-commerce has grown but there are experiential elements that cannot be replaced. … Our purpose is to create great moments for everyone every day.”