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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Majid Al Futtaim hires data scientists to capture growth

Bricks and mortar retail sectors embracing analytics to expand online presence

Majid Al Futtaim, the owner of the Mall of the Emirates, is heavily investing in data analytics for both its online and bricks and mortar retail operations. Sarah Dea / The National
Majid Al Futtaim, the owner of the Mall of the Emirates, is heavily investing in data analytics for both its online and bricks and mortar retail operations. Sarah Dea / The National

Dubai's Majid Al Futtaim, the Middle East operator of French retailer Carrefour SA, is hiring 200 people as it rolls out an ambitious strategy to expand its digital and e-commerce operations.

Majid Al Futtaim, which in June acquired the franchise owner of Geant supermarkets in the Gulf, is bringing data scientists and engineers from Silicon Valley to make best use of its data, chief executive Alain Bejjani told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The business has started hiring people who have worked for Yahoo, Facebook and Google to staff the effort, Bejjani said, and has launched a school of data and analytics that will enable everyone, from supermarket cashiers to the chief executive himself, to learn to code and understand algorithms.

Dubai's retail sector has been slow to embrace data science compared with regional counterparts, but the recent acquisition of Dubai online retailer Souq.com by Amazon.com may push businesses to think about how to expand online.

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"Technology is the currency of the future," Bejjani said. "People need to understand why data is important and basically how can data help us ... do better business."

The strategy is already bearing fruit for Majid Al Futtaim, which has 7.5 million uniquely identified customers in the United Arab Emirates alone.

In its Carrefour stores for instance the company crunched data related to its biscuit assortments. "We discovered a number of counter-intuitive insights, that when we implemented them they had a very big impact on productivity," he said.

"We even discovered that there was one specific biscuit brand that actually had a big impact of people walking out of the store if they don’t find (that brand).

"The biscuit brand wasn’t highly promoted by the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) companies or the suppliers, and typically our people wouldn’t buy it, so they wouldn’t have it on the shelves as much as they should."

Majid Al Futtaim, which holds exclusive rights to the Carrefour franchise in 38 markets in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, according to its website, plans to take Carrefour in the United Arab Emirates online by mid 2018, and across its other territories in the next 24 months, he said.