Changing consumers to customers, baqala style

Author: Alain Bejjani — CEO, Majid Al Futtaim — Holding

If you’ve lived in the Middle East for any length of time, you’ve hopefully experienced the magic of a baqala.

These indispensable neighbourhood grocery stores were not only masters of logistics, squeezing arrays of goods into small spaces, they were almost prescient in anticipating customer demand. I’ve shared earlier about my experiences as a child at my local shop with shopkeepers who knew what I liked and needed, often before I knew myself. They were all about the personal.

Baqalas also perfected the art of super-fast and small-volume delivery. Many homes have been saved by the rapid arrival of missing meal components, bottled water, detergent or other urgent household need. Former expats miss being able to call for and receive soft drinks, snacks or batteries quickly at almost any hour of the day. Only those who grew up around a baqala can truly appreciate the integral role they play in a community, from keeping an eye on wandering children and keeping tabs for regular clients to remembering individual and family preferences. They were champions for their customers.

The age of the baqala has not passed — it has simply evolved. In the face of urban growth and retail sophistication, the connections and knowledge that defined those relationships are key today in turning consumers into customers. At Majid Al Futtaim, for example, we invest in data analytics to help us know our customers and their preferences better.

Super-fast delivery services for minimal volumes are also making a comeback, as this FT article points out. We are pioneering in this space also, not least through our Carrefour Now service that offers doorstep delivery within 60 minutes. This Ramadan, our Carrefour Now service is free, another step in our effort to make sure our customers have what they need when and where they need it.

In an age of glocalisation, urgency and more choice than ever before, it is worth remembering that the simplicity of being known and being served as individuals still goes a long way. There’s a reason why there’s an old-fashioned baqala in THAT concept store, one of our most recent retail innovations — it’s a reminder that they knew and practiced instinctively then what we strive for now.

Even though it may take us more effort, more technology and more resources to achieve now, genuine and personal baqala-style service that champions our customers will remain integral to our future — even when the actual baqalas that inspired it are long in the past.