Simon Cooper, Head of Centrepoint, GCC/Mena, Landmark Group, at Mall of The Emirates. Click and collect could, potentially, turn out to be a hit with regional shoppers as they become more tuned towards buying fashion and accessories online. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Click-and-collect is finally coming to mass retailing in the UAE. The Landmark Group is looking to a May 15 launch for the value-add service in the UAE and then follow it up with a roll-out in Saudi Arabia. Qatar is to be added next year.

With a big-name retailer putting its weight behind click and collect, this could speed up the intersection of online selling with the more traditional conveniences that a brick-and-mortar store can provide.

The process has taken off in the US and Europe, seeing it as another way to win over consumers, who can go over to the stores to pick up at a predetermined time of their choice. (If need be, they can even change their minds and pick up another piece, if they do decide.)

Market sources are hoping that a repeat will be possible in the Gulf markets, at least in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to begin with, being the most advanced in terms of adopting online buying.

Click and collect could, potentially, turn out to be a hit with regional shoppers as they become more tuned towards buying fashion and accessories online. As of now, tech gadgets make up the predominant share of what people are willing to pay for online. But the mix is starting to change.

What click and collect essentially offers is straightforward convenience — the shopper makes a purchase online and then picks up the merchandise at the retailer’s store. For traditional retail groups in the UAE, it is one way to ensure shoppers keep coming back to the stores and that they are not lost to the online vendors for good. (But even e-tailers are getting into the act; recently a Dubai-based online vendor launched consumer “experience” centres to put in a human interface between them and shoppers.)

So, what’s in it for the Landmark Group? Its Centrepoint brand will be the focal point on which its future success in click and collect will be measured. The Centrepoint stores club three of the Group’s “category killers”, with dedicated areas for Babyshop, Splash and Shoe Mart. With apparel and shoes in the mix, click and collect services can be an obvious fit for the store network.

Landmark now has dedicated portals for each of its key brands. “Initially, the click and collect volumes will be reasonably modest to begin with,” said Simon Cooper, who heads the Centrepoint business in the region. “In the West, click and collect is pretty much settling into retailers’ business. In the Gulf, we are in the early path of a well trodden journey.

“But we need to know how GCC shoppers respond to the availability of online buying and click and collect. And how much they will keep coming to the stores. Only the future can tell where it going to peak and plateau.”

Cooper makes an interesting point. Heading for the malls and the stores is part of the GCC resident’s social fabric. Online buying has been making fairly big strides, but the visitor traffic to the malls is yet to see a sharp erosion. (It is another point whether they are actually buying at the same pace given the weak consumer sentiments that have been around for nearly 18 months now.)

Centrepoint — which is going in for a major revamp of the way its stores look inside and out — will use its click and collect service as a learning experience, both for internal operations as well as knowing what consumers want.

“In the West, online shopping gives you time to do everything else ... people are time-poor,” said Cooper. “But even in the UK, internet selling was incredibly slow to begin with.”

Centrepoint operates both in-mall stores and standalone destinations of its own. The first store with the new look will debut at the Doha Festival City and existing locations will be made to undergo the changes in phases. Average store sizes tend to be between 45,000-55,000 square feet.

“There are economies of scale from taking a large space and ensures we get a good location,” said Cooper. “Mall developers see Centrepoint as a footfall driver into their space. In a mall, you are not the only one responsible for creating footfall.

“Saudi Arabia is by far the most significant part of the biz. What we did was open large format stores in the larger cities and the take the format into the smaller cities. We now have 87 stores in the kingdom compared to the 19 in the UAE.”