With global revenues of $4.7 billion annually, Landmark Groups are among the giants of the retail and hospitality sectors in the Middle East and Asia. The group has been in the Lebanese market since 2011, with stores in Beirut’s City Mall and others. In December, the company went online, launchings “Landmarkshops.com” with the aim of using the United Arab Emirates as a launchpad before moving into other markets in the coming years. Savitar Jagtiani, business head of the group’s e-commerce branch, talked to Executive about online retail in the Middle East.
Currently Landmark Groups have three of your 17 retail companies online. Are you planning on putting all of them in one portal?
Over a period of time that is the plan. We believe to really succeed in the online retail space we have to do very well in multi-concept, multi-channel, multi territory, multi-lingual, multi-currencies — a whole lot of multis!
Over what period are they going to go online?
I am not able to reveal the specifics but we will be doing so as and when we are ready.
Are you worried that you may be entering the online market a little late?
As a matter of fact, from a traditional retail perspective, we think we are one of the earlier ones to do it. As part of us differentiating ourselves from the rest of the pack, we have really thought hard about what our unique selling points will be and why.
The first part of that is building a great interface for a great user experience, to bring a great selection of our products — focusing on the best of our stores — online.
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One other feature we have is a beautiful ‘lookbook,’ which is our online version of an offline consumer [catalogue], and through that customers can look at goods for any of our fashion businesses.
For electronics we have the ability to compare technical aspects of products — for everything we have you can write a review. In today’s world we know how incredibly important user-generated content and users’ views are.
When you have a successful offline retail company, how do you avoid taking away your own customers as you go online?
One way to avoid that is by maintaining price parity for online and offline. That way you are kind of setting up the online businesses to complement offline and you want offline to complement online as well. So it is a very symbiotic relationship. In 99 percent of the cases, you are going to see price parity between online and offline and the only exceptions is if we want to do an online-only offer. But these will be more the exception than the rule.
With regard to markets, you have said that after the UAE you are focusing on expanding to Saudi Arabia and India. Does that mean you are not going to be offering your services in other parts of the Middle East, such as Lebanon any time soon?
We have 19 territories already that we operate in physically. The beauty of digital is that not only does it allow you to reach those countries where you have a physical presence, but to reach into countries where you do not have a physical presence. I think that is the challenge of online, the countries we decide to reach out to will be a business decision.
How developed is the online retail market in the UAE and the Middle East in general?
We think it is a rapidly growing market right now. E-commerce in the Middle East is worth over $1 billion and is set to grow to $15 billion by 2015.
In a region where many people still don’t have bank accounts, how important are cash payments?
When we started three months ago we started with pure online payments because we know that that is the most popular form of online payments. But we also know that there is a section of our target audience that may prefer paying in cash as opposed to paying with credit and debit cards. So it is an area of interest, we are keeping our eyes and ears open to it.
Moving forward, where will the site be in 10 years time?
The vision is to become an incredibly successful online retailer, in addition to the great amount of success our online business have experienced. [We want] to really make our online an incredibly relevant channel for the group and for our customers and 10 years down the line to be lord and master of the different multis I talked about.