As Arabian Centres, the Fawaz Alhokair Group has one of the widest retail footprints in Saudi Arabia. Now, it wants to elevate that physical presence into greater possibilities with an online marketplace ''. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Saudi Arabia’s biggest retail operator, Fawaz Alhokair Group, has gone in for a complete makeover of its operations under a new branding ‘Cenomi’. This is part of a move that sees the Group - which operates Arabian Centres - take to more of an omni-channel experience as Saudi shoppers go for a mix of online and offline experiences.

This will be done through a new ecommerce marketplace - - and a loyalty program, incidentally, the Group’s first such. As for its malls and shopping centres operating arm, Arabian Centres - listed on Saudi Tadawul - will be Cenomi Centers, while Alhokair Fashion Retail Co will start trading as Cenomi Retail. will be going live in the first-half of 2023. The ecommerce marketplace will provide other brands an ‘opportunity to offer Saudi customers the very best choice and convenience when online shopping’. The Saudi online marketplace - as is the case elsewhere in the Gulf - is dominated by Amazon and noon. Cenomi's plans to create its own marketplace does open up possibilities for more intense competition for consumers.

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“We firmly position ourselves at the heart of consumer lifestyle in the Kingdom,” said Fawaz Alhokair, Chairman, Cenomi Group. “For three decades, our companies have grown and transformed alongside the country and its people to deliver access to the best brands, in world-class platforms. Cenomi signifies an even greater amplification of that vision, and firmly sets us up for the next 30 years of success and beyond.”

The new identity is extracted from Ceno – ‘new’ in Greek – and Mi for ‘me’. The Group will chase new opportunities - in physical and online - retail, said a top official.

“Riyadh remains at 0.4 square meters of mall GLA (gross leasable area) compared to the 1.6 of Abu Dhabi or 1.3 of Dubai, while demographic growth and a predominantly youthful population support further demand." - Mohamad Mourad, Group Managing Director and CEO.

“We currently have eight projects in the pipeline, with around 600 thousand square metres of GLA coming online by 2026. Saudi Arabia’s GDP growth in 2022 and 2023 is expected to be the highest rate amongst all G20 countries.”

Destination building

Saudi Arabia is on a destination building spree that should keep it busy for decades. Rooted in all these city expansions and creating new ones, retail forms a core element. Expanding its brick-and-mortar footprint comes as a natural for Cenomi and others in the space.

But it will go in-sync with online. “A report last month found 91 per cent of Saudi consumers shop online, which is similar to other developed ecommerce countries,” said Mourad. “According to this same report, 14 per cent of Saudi consumers say they shop online at least once per day.

“We know this is a business area with consistent and phenomenal growth prospects. Within Cenomi Retail, our brand franchise operation, we have a solid growing e-commerce business that supports existing and new partners to deliver online retail to customers across the kingdom.

“This includes brands Zara, Mango and Aldo, and we directly manage more than 30 mono-brand websites with millions of visitors every month. This will continue in addition to the launch of the e-commerce marketplace in 2023.”

More space will fit in

Even with online possibilities being expanded through a new e-marketplace, Cenomi will keep creating prime retail space. “There is definitely still significant demand for in-person retail experience and I don’t see that changing in the immediate future,” Mourad added. “However, the onus is on operators to curate the right mix of concepts and brands that address the current and emerging consumer needs. Especially with Saudi Arabia’s increasingly young, digital-savvy population.

“Crucially, it must complement the entire retail experience, and that must encompass online and offline. The relationship between online and offline consumer habits is blurring and a successful retail offering needs to symbiotically leverage both.”

Under its new avatar, Cenomi definitely will straddle both spaces.