What were the landmark achievements in the last 12 months for Virgin Megastore?
We have done a great deal at Virgin Megastore over the last 12 months. We accomplished our short-term expansion plan by: Opening six new branches: Salaam Mall, Mall of Arabia, Panorama Mall, Riyadh Park Mall, Riyadh Airport, and Makkah Train Station. Launching our e-commerce business and will finalize the Arabic version in mid-2020. We are just implementing SAP all-in-one in addition to the BI - Business Intelligence. Launching our loyalty program, reaching 70% Saudization and 25% female personnel, though we are looking for much more. Our aim is to reach 40% female workers at Virgin Megastore. We are turned into one of the leaders of the ticketing sales in the entertainment industry.
What recent economic and retail trends have you noticed in Saudi Arabia?
The landscape of the retail is changing. Consumers are price conscious and are looking for experience, quality, and value for money. Experience that speak to them, that show retailers understand what they want and need and feel. Customers are shifting from brand loyalty to personalization. Unlike the older generation, who were loyal to the brand itself. Individualization is one of the biggest shifts taking place in today's retail market. any product in Virgin Megastore can be customized. Customers are mature focusing on responsible consumption. Our buying team apply some criteria to procure only the products that add value for the consumer.
How do you address the economic realities of COVID-19 at the operational level?
This is the most significant crisis that the world has seen in perhaps the last 100 years. Business has been deeply affected. We are in a massive battle to survive. We are not thinking about profitability; it is just about surviving and cashflow. Virgin Megastore had to close all its branches. Our brave sales team are now our delivery team. They are doing the last mile of our e-commerce activities and deliver in two hours max. We are applying lots of preventative measures and controls for the safety of our team and the consumer. At the operational level, most of the company is working on real-time data to identify which products are most in demand now. For example, there is no need for tennis shoes at the moment, though home sports equipment, e-learning products, musical instruments, and board games are in high demand. We are monitoring the data and sales. The long-term social and economic impact of COVID-19 is still unknown, though it will change the economy. Even Vision 2030 will be affected. The crisis will slow down the economy in general, and while new opportunities will happen, they will be few for several industries.
Virgin Megastores has a Made in Saudi section. How do you continue to pursue collaborations to extend these local brands portfolio?
Young Saudis are extremely passionate about local art and crafts and have developed their own spin that fuses formal art while upholding local culture and tastes. Due to the unique combination of Saudi's local arts and crafts, we have taken a similar focus at Virgin Megastore. Also, one of the main drivers behind Vision 2030 is highlighting local content. Therefore, Virgin Megastores in Saudi has created a section called Mahali, in Arabic means both “local” and “my store.” We are addressing all the designers and talent in Saudi Arabia; Virgin Megastore is their own shop. The purpose of our Mahali section is to support these local heroes. One of the ways we support, taking less than the usual commercial margin on their products. Educate them about operating commercially, doing packaging, and how to do business and manage their finances properly.
We give them exposure on the right platform. We biography about the producers/designers of each item.
These local heroes include Saudi brands in fashion, jewelry, and household items. Anything that local artists, designers, and talent can produce. We launched Mahali as a demonstration in our Red Sea Mall store in Jeddah and the concept is still in the testing phase.
Saudi Arabia has recently opened up for concerts and events with big international artists. What is Virgin Megastore doing to capture more opportunities and trends in the entertainment and retail sectors?
Over the last two years, Virgin Megastore has led the events ticketing business in Saudi. In addition to ticketing sales, we have been providing some services related to events. We take care of the entrance the meet and greet and merchandizing. Before Vision 2030, one could not get neither signing sessions nor merchandise related to artists such as figurines, posters, T-shirts.
What are your strategic priorities and short- and long-term goals at Virgin Megastore given these extraordinary times?
Many things will change in the long term. The short term, things will stay as they are, especially in terms of technology. Virgin Megastore is a customer-centric brand, and our short-term goal is to focus on customer service through our loyalty program and e-commerce platform which is omnichannel. We seek to provide the fastest delivery time within the Kingdom. Virgin Megastore delivers in two hours. We are upgrading our website to add AI and, at the same time, add a human touch. When a customer shops online, they can connect with one of our expert sales team consultants through a video call and have an item explained and be shown different colors and options. We will offer a combination of technology such as AI together with the human touch. Our loyalty program is called Limitless, we are trying to do a limitless offer for our customers. We will also open the largest Virgin Megastore in the world in Riyadh; it is a beautiful shop. This will include a coffee shop, music academy, and a music and video studio that customers can use to do their own recordings. This is a whole new concept for Virgin Megastore, and it will be the biggest of our stores in the world. The most important part of our strategy is we are localizing our brand and speaking the local language through our brand. With 70% of our team being Saudi, we are part of this society. The beauty of Virgin brand is that it is an international brand with a local flavor.