Published on June 21st, 2015 | by Varuna Singh5
Sharaf DG unveils one of the best retail experiences
Sharaf DG is an award winning electronics retail store in the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar. They turned 10 recently. But 10 years is a long time in internet years. With rivaling offline retail stores as well as online e-commerce stores, Sharaf DG announced their multichannel retailing strategy.
“New way of doing things- a place where technology meets customers”
This is Sharaf DG‘s effort to innovate and they are putting their ideas in action. Multi-channel or Omni channel strategies are just a term for any retailer that is available in more than one channel. Online and offline stores are a starting two. What Sharaf Group’s electronics retail store Sharaf DG put out, is frankly quite remarkable.
Sharaf DG has a new store experience in Dubai. It also has an app, and an e-commerce presence online. Their latest efforts include experiencing products in store, buying products directly from their app, collecting in store, automated vending machines and a lounge where you can discuss and check out the latest in tech in their store.
“The experience is frankly quite remarkable”
The new Sharaf DG is bigger and bolder than ever. It took them 2 years of work to arrive where they are today. Their flagship store, located at Times Square in Dubai, UAE is their vision of retail and e-commerce’s marriage. According to CEO Nilesh Khalkho, Sharaf DG looked into customer shopping behavior research to understand what customers wanted out of their shopping experience. This is what I thought.
As you enter in the store, it’s really hard to miss what is the largest retail Screen in a mall, the power wall. This screen set up is capable of displaying over 6 times 4K resolution. Hooked on top of the screen wall are 2 Microsoft Kinects. Currently there is a selfie contest going on and Sharaf DG will be using this display for product launches, presentations, video and other customer interaction scenarios. It really welcomes you with a bang. Currently the Kinect sensors aren’t being used but I can think of many intuitive and interactive ways by with it might sway customers in.
What’s missing: The Kinect sensors are not being put to use currently and the wall is pretty much a big selfie competition screen. This screen represents the first initial attraction for old or new customers.
Right behind the huge screen is the gaming section which puts both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers and consoles side to side. This wall seems it was designed to ignite the console wars that’s on-going. You also have a custom racing rig set up with its own dedicated screen that is connected to a PlayStation 4.
What’s missing: There seems to be no mention or dedicated area for PC gaming and a lot of the products that are gaming related.
Sharaf DG is also introducing a lounge and social environment in front called DG Lounge. It has seats across with a dedicated coffee machine. The intent is for customers to actively start discussions around technology that would be curated by Sharaf DG staff. Sharaf DG seems to want to have some form of community to be built around the latest in electronics and it would be interesting if they arrange meet-ups in this direction. The DG Lounge would also serve as a central point for presentations, product launches as well as general discussion. Mr. Nilesh Khalkho CEO Sharaf DG gave media representatives a briefing at this very spot.
TVs are conventionally always experienced before they are bought. The TV section is arranged by size in a long wall and featured 4K TVs have a dedicated area. Everything seems to be focused and spaced well, while mimicking a home set up.
Customers will be able to choose from non – stock video to actually judge the TV performance. “Creating an experience where a customer can choose a TV based on comparison of performance of display will help customers arrive at a purchase decision”.
Business and Education
A new concept introduction is Business solutions with its own dedicated area. The products shown here vary from productivity workstations, POS products to Server and IT infrastructure hardware. The initiative will serve SME businesses with products from biometrics, Infrastructure monitoring, security and CCTV products. While corporate IT infrastructure might not sound as interesting as consumer, Sharaf DG seems to have laid out an interesting apparatus that make sense. On display were servers, Printing solutions, the Microsoft Surface 3 workstations and corporate level Video calling solutions.
We had covered how Intel was working with technology in education earlier this year. The products and showcase are available to demo at the Intel & HP Connected section. We suspect the Surface Hub to be presented here this year.
“The cameras come alive when you pick them up”
The camera section at Sharaf DG is a well-spaced arrangement of cameras with their specific details. If you pick up one camera, the screen beside it would highlight the camera you have in your hands and give you additional information. This was by far the most helpful bits of experiences.
Automated Vending machines
“The largest automated vending machines in the world”
A unique feature to the store is automated vending machines. You can walk to the vending machine, and pick up your product in less than 30 seconds. This is as fast as it can be according to the demo we saw. The vending machines are the largest vending machines in the world. They can dispense Laptops, MacBooks, Tablets, Cameras and Phones using a robotic arm. If you need a little bit of Japan in the UAE, it’s here.
The purpose behind vending machines is to reduce the time it takes to serve their customer. After the customer has the product, the staff can assist the buyer in unboxing the product and going through it.
Would we see Sharaf DG vending machines outside their store? In certain European countries and the USA you have BestBuy and other retail vending machines in public areas and airports. While CEO Nilesh Khalkho didn’t reveal plans, it was supportive of that direction.
“It definitely tries to address the wife-acceptable factor”
About half way through the store, on display is Sharaf DG’s vision of a Smart Home. The SmartHome experience showcases various independent sensors on display interacting with each other. There doesn’t seem to be a direction or talk on any standard. In fact is more showcasing individual automated products from smart locks, smart lights and temperature control.
There isn’t much of a sign of ecosystem, but it is presented in a way that you would understand the general vision behind home automation. It definitely tries to address the wife-acceptable factor. Some of the products on display were Belkin Nigh vision security camera, an automated Samsung washing machine, a facial recognition door lock, a Belkin smart cooker, Quirky multipurpose sensor and a ridiculous looking fan from Samsung.
Collecting in store
They are connecting 6 stores across UAE – Dubai Mall, Times Square, Ibn Batuta Mall, Mega Mall Sharjah, Abu Dhabi Mall and Alain Mall stores for in-store collection. This enables you to make a purchase on their app and collect it at any of the above stores. This is a feature of their app and their inventory is managed centrally.
Why is this important today?
A lot of the set-up is pleasing to the eye. The inventory is new, tech savvy and some experiences are very helpful. There are dedicated Displays on every section and desks to allow the customer to learn more about the product range in addition to staff carrying dedicated tablets for comparisons.
“Product placements make the store”
There are also a lot of brand areas that seem to have no intention of being there. Think of these as promoted pop up ads. This is exactly what I felt was wrong about the new Sharaf DG store. The store lacks direction. It was very good in luring me to different areas of technology but I somehow didn’t know how to get to a section if I wanted to.
Sharaf DG might have rightly assumed that customers make decisions prior to buying at their stores and its using its latest app (on iPhone and Android) and iBeacons to help navigate a customer to that very section. But I felt slightly lost if in the product placements.
A lot of areas are clear collaborations and that’s not a bad thing as such. I’ll give you an example. At one extreme corner is the Audio Experience where the likes of Bose and Cambridge Acoustics speaker systems are set up. The kind of experience in these spots are next to the best kind you will get in any store. But you can easily miss this.
“The store can lack guidance”
Sometimes all I want is to go and grab what I am looking for. This is where the new store sort of fails at. It feels as though Sharaf DG is trying to focus a little too much on the avid window shopper. That’s not a bad thing at all, but as a instantaneous buyer, I want the plain good old traditional experience. Heck maybe even a big sign at the entrance.
“Buying experiences that are technically innovative and practically smart”
Sharaf DG’s concept can go anywhere from here. What you will experience is a beautiful mix of retail and ecommerce and certain buying experiences that are technically innovative and practically smart.
With its new app and online presence, Sharaf DG is officially in competition with other largely successful e-commerce websites. A lot of products are still cheaper online than the official prices Sharaf DG has. A lot of online products from souq and jadopado are directly shipped from international sellers at lower than UAE retail prices. Sharaf DG has however has partnered with a third party price check company that periodically checks the price of many products and Sharaf DG guarantees you the best price from the lot. This does not currently cover e-commerce.
“We are trying to change the way consumer s shop” Nilesh Khalkho, CEO
I asked Mr. Nilesh Khalkho if their e-commerce store is being treated as a standalone product or if it’s just complimentary to their retail experience. His response was almost certain that they are in active competition with the other e-commerce websites in the region.
“The foundation and design of the store isn’t architecture, it is experience”
In fact he added that architecture was not the forefront of the new store, but it was their research into how customers behave and want from shopping at an electronics store. Nilesh Khalkho started his speech by commenting on the fact that industries take roughly 10 years to scale traditionally, but the Internet just took 3 years to reach 50 million. Sharaf DG is celebrating its 10th Anniversary and declared 2015 as their “Year of Innovation”.
“We are trying to change the way consumers shop.. The internet, smartphone and apps have changed the way our consumers shop… We just don’t want to show the product and turn it on.” Added Nilesh.
The Sharaf DG store has managed to put me in a situation where I am eager to shop in. I feel like I WANT to get my next electronic from their store. The experiences that they talk about are both visually appealing, but are also down-to-earth useful. It’s a great start for the store. The store does have its weaknesses and frustrations, however.
“Yes, your electronics destination”
Sharaf DG’s latest efforts are mirroring where the consumers are today and adding an elaborative experience focused store to keep bringing them back and shop. Nilesh Khalkho echoed speculations from 2007 when they were opening up their largest store. They slogan remains the same with their 2015’s latest efforts: “Yes, your electronics destination”.
Sharaf DG has plans to change their other stores across UAE and the GCC in the coming year. They are continually adding new stores. I highly recommend you check their new store experience at Time square center in Dubai.