Alshaya Group uses Adobe Commerce to drive a digital retail transformation in the Middle East.
How a 130-year-old franchise powerhouse connected online customers with the brands they love most.
Fast track e-commerce presence to stay connected with customers during COVID-19
Deliver a frictionless customer experience online, on mobile, and in-store
Become a true omnichannel player across Alshaya’s brand portfolio
30 e-commerce sites and 2 mobile apps launched in 12 months
15% jump in online conversions across Alshaya’s e-commerce sites
268% year-over-year growth in online transactions
A digital home for Middle East retail
Shopping malls are big in the Middle East, not only in square footage but also in how many people they attract. From Dubai to Riyadh to Kuwait, millions of Middle Eastern shoppers regularly spend their time wandering, shopping, and socializing in some of the world’s most impressive retail spaces. In most cases, they have Alshaya Group to thank for the rich brand experience they find.
Alshaya is one of the world’s largest brand franchise operators, offering an unparalleled choice of well-loved international brands to customers. Shoppers outfit their wardrobes with American Eagle Outfitters, H&M, Debenhams, and Victoria’s Secret. Some refresh their skin and beauty routines with Bath & Body Works, The Body Shop, Boots, and M.A.C. Others design their living spaces with Muji and Pottery Barn. They also visit Starbucks, P.F. Chang’s, and The Cheesecake Factory — with all experiences curated through Alshaya’s vision.
These brands fill prime shopping locations across the Middle East and are hugely successful, even in a highly competitive market.
But people’s buying habits are shifting and Alshaya has been progressively moving online in response. A wave of digital disruption and a rise in social media have seen more shoppers choosing to shop online and on mobile. Retailers now have to think beyond the mall and strengthen their digital offerings.
“Social media came to the Middle East relatively late, but places like Jeddah and Riyadh now rank among the top 10 cities in the world for usage,” Alshaya’s CTO, Marc van der Heijden says. “This usage, combined with COVID-19, which forced almost all retail purchases online for a significant part of last year, has led to a massive and enduring shift in the way consumers spend their time and money.”
These factors created a perfect storm for change, accelerating Alshaya’s plans to create a true omnichannel model where customers can seamlessly shop in store and online.
Ready to act
Digital sales initially represented a small but growing portion of Alshaya’s business when it first started using Adobe Commerce in 2017. Traction for major shopping events like Black Friday soon began to drive more traffic. This steady growth gave the company an opportunity to test and refine its digital experiences, ensuring they could stand up to large-scale demand.
Fast-forward to 2020, Alshaya had to think differently. They had been working with Adobe Consulting Services to implement Adobe Commerce and support its growth path in building a robust digital offering. But challenges of COVID-19 meant the team had to act quickly to accelerate the planned roll out of new sites. Alshaya tightened its partnership with Adobe Consulting Services to make it happen.
Adobe first collaborated with Alshaya’s business and IT teams to create a roadmap of strategic and operational goals. While the franchise had been building its e-commerce platform for years, they had been doing so on a legacy version of Adobe Commerce. Given the scale and speed at which Alshaya was planning to expand its online presence, they worked with Adobe to seamlessly migrate existing sites to the latest version. During the migration, Adobe technical experts ensured the site code was optimized to reduce maintenance and eliminate downtime during rush order periods. This way, Alshaya could reallocate maintanence recources to technical innovation.
With its existing sites migrated, Alshaya could shift its attention to bringing new brand sites online. Continuing its strategic partnership with Adobe, they collaborated to define the customer journey across different business types and laying out the kinds of experiences customers could expect from Alshaya’s brands. From there, they worked together to build the sites — and to launch them quickly to keep up with customer demand.
“We were seeing orders increase exponentially, for example they grew 1,700% in March 2020, year-over-year. Thankfully, when COVID-19 hit we had already built up the digital framework to launch new websites quickly and we could act fast in response,” says Van der Heijden. “And because we had built our approach on the Adobe Commerce global reference architecture, we were able to leverage parent configurations and layouts rather than building new sites from scratch. With IT complexity removed from the equation, we were able to roll out the new sites in a matter of weeks.”
“Thankfully, when COVID-19 hit, we had already built up the digital framework to launch new websites quickly. And because we had built our approach on the Adobe Commerce global reference architecture, we were able to leverage parent configurations rather than building new sites from scratch. With IT complexity removed from the equation, we were able to roll out the new sites in a matter of weeks.”
Marc van der Heijden
Chief Technology Officer, Alshaya Group
The result over 12 months was the launch of 30 new brand websites, alongside the migration of over 30 other existing sites onto a newer version of the platform. To deliver multichannel experiences to its customers, Alshaya also launched apps for 2 brands during this time. These efforts ultimately helped the company see a 15% jump in online conversions across its e-commerce sites and increase online transactions 268% year-over-year. But the success doesn’t stop there. Adobe Consulting also helped Alshaya to expand across the region, with the pace of that roll-out continuing in 2021.
To ensure Alshaya could support this expansion, Adobe recommended they invest in training around Adobe Commerce capabilities. The ongoing partnership with Adobe Digital Learning Services means developers are building the right foundational skillsets with courses curated by solution experts. As their skills advance, developers will earn three certifications that will equip them to grow the technology alongside Alshaya’s transforming online presence.
“Recent events have not been easy for anyone, but in some ways, they have been a blessing in disguise. Alshaya’s leadership team has never been more committed to our digital proposition, and the speed with which we are evolving is impressive,” says Van der Heijden.
Adapt on the fly
When most of shopping went online, Alshaya’s teams went to work. The new site launches saw teams collaborate across the business, with brands, Alshaya’s central e-commerce function and IT innovating together to respond quickly to customer needs.
As CTO, Van der Heijden was inspired by the team’s ability to galvanize and find their footing in a challenging environment. “We found ourselves in a pressure cooker that forced everyone to work fast and tackle new challenges,” he says. “It was dramatic, but it has also been one of the most interesting times of my career.”
Van der Heijden found that pivotal moments can bring out the best in people. With their backs against the wall, there was no time for bureaucracy or questions about roles and responsibilities on his team. Everyone simply joined forces to achieve a common goal.
“People just wanted to get the job done. We learned that when we work as a team, without falling into the trap of overthinking things, we can make good decisions. Even when we made mistakes, we were able to come together remotely, learn, and adapt on the fly, knowing that we would get there in the end,” says Van der Heijden.
“We need to deliver easy, frictionless experiences, but we also need to ensure those experiences represent what customers want to see in the moment, no matter which channel they are using.”
Marc van der Heijden
Chief Technology Officer, Alshaya Group
Set sights forward
To support its omnichannel goals, Alshaya is continuing to strengthen its e-commerce platform with Adobe and improve its data capabilities with Microsoft Azure.
“We are launching more brand websites on Adobe Commerce and a growing number of apps, all the time using data to ensure we align our digital properties with our in-store proposition,” says Van der Heijden. “It all starts with the customer. We need to deliver easy, frictionless experiences, and ensure that those experiences represent what customers want to see in the moment, no matter which channel they are using.”
About Alshaya’s future ambition, Van der Heijden has a clear vision. “We are focused on being truly customer-centric, always putting customers at the heart of everything we do,” he says. “Alshaya is in a stronger position than ever to get close to its audience, both through its stores and now through its ever-growing web and mobile offerings. Working with Adobe is a key part of the equation, helping us innovate together and make this change happen at pace.”
Having the right technology in place means Alshaya can continue to lead in-store and online. With the habits of retail customers constantly shifting, Van der Heijden is confident in Alshaya’s ability to stay ahead.
“Alshaya is one of the region’s leading retailers. Our scale means that in many ways we are leading this shift to omnichannel retail," Van der Heijden says. “We have an incredible opportunity before us, and I look forward to building on the momentum we have achieved so far.”