After promising essential products at fair prices, the pressure was on Aswaaq for its Nad Al Hamr debut.
Fresh tactics to engage shoppers could position Aswaaq at the controls of revitalising Dubai's increasingly competitive supermarket landscape.
After shouting off the rooftops about its plans to provide essential commodities and services at fair prices at what is tipped to become the UAE's biggest retail project, the pressure was on Aswaaq for its Nad Al Hamr debut.
And the 1500m2 store filled with 17,000 SKUs has certainly delivered on its promises since its doors swung open in October, with a string of surprises to boot. Global sourcing, technological ‘firsts' and in-store display innovations have already prompted encouraging sales and feedback from shoppers, according to Eric Poiret, COO, Aswaaq.
We had 2000 Wafa loyalty cardholders three weeks after opening, which has totally surpassed our expectations.
According to Poiret, the investment in the speciality foods and fresh produce areas has evoked the souk-like atmosphere "in a disciplined way, balanced between authenticity and modernity," with the unique presentations differentiating the store from other supermarkets in Dubai and resulting in strong sales of fruit and vegetables.
The modern edge has been achieved with electronic price labels, which he claims are another ‘first' for the market.
Hydroponics, a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions without soil by using running water, has been implemented for the store's range of herbs, while the fresh section of the store also features a significant range of pre-packed products for convenience, such as melons, pineapples, watermelons and fruit salads.
"One of the intentions of Aswaaq's launch was to be fair with price, and when we are selling onions at AED 1 per kg and tomatoes at half the price of the market in addition to permanent promotions, it's clear we are really slashing the prices," Poiret says.
The in-house bakery has been developed to meet the customers' profiles in Nad Al Hamar, with the Arabic oven responding to the high number of UAE nationals living in the area.
"We wanted to develop the street market ambience so we needed to create a show at the bakery and we are working towards HACCP certification," he says.
In a bid to focus on nutritional products, the company has joined forces with Right Bite to offer a wide range in the bakery and delicatessen. Across the store, from the traditional-style butchery to the fishmonger, the store has "done far better than the competition when it comes to employing UAE nationals, 25% of staff are UAE nationals," Poiret claims.
In its bid to serve a multitude of nationalities, products have been sourced from "Europe, Asia, the UK, the US, all parts of the world, in order to serve every single customer".
"In this catchment area, around Nad Al Namr, there is Rashidiya with competitors and we are not far from HyperPanda at Dubai Festival City. Saturday is our best day for business," he says. Committed to customer safety, the store features screens on which customers can check the temperatures of the chillers, whilst area around which the fishmonger works is protected by state-of-the-art technology that captures odours and bacteria, and "we are only retailer in the UAE to have this green light installed".The electronic price labels spread across all of the shelving at the store, so "whenever we change a price, it changes instantly. We have concentrated on achieving the highest standards in category management, necessary with the huge number of products on offer."
Poiret says that it is "the need and not that the brand that is the key to entering a category, reflecting our intention to answer to different tastes".
Aswaaq has secured an exclusive range of 80 Pâturages products from France's Intermarché, from yoghurt to cheese and caramel products.
We offer refunds on any products within seven days of purchase and we trust customers so there is no need for them to show their receipts.
As part of its fairness model, the supermarket also plans to heavily promote its private label range, Aswaaq, which is currently available for commodities including tomato paste, mayonnaise, sugar, tissues and mineral water.
"Our own brand products cover quality, basic items, selling at a cheaper price to the market," he says.
The efforts for special offer gondols stand out as they extend across the categories.
"We will apply the best international practices in order to reduce operating expenses and keep focus on the fairness of the retail selling prices."
"We are not a hypermarket, but since the intention was for people to not need to travel to do their shopping, we have a big assortment in each section, including household appliances, toys which are doing extremely well, DVDs, tools, gardening products and stationery."
Non-food currently represents between 10-12% of sales, social responsibility is a major priority for the chain and alongside screens at the POS showing customers their list of purchased items, the store offers oxo-biodegradable plastic bags.
To encourage repeat custom, the retailer has invested in its loyalty card scheme. "We had 2000 Wafa cardholders three weeks after opening this store, with the demand for the flexible card to collect points, receive discounts and load with cash surpassing our expectations," he says.
The home delivery service has also brought some surprises, Poiret says, as "we people would call for water or bread, but they are calling for big deliveries".
As "99.9% of clients are honest and can change their minds" the store offers them the chance to bring any items back, including fresh produce, if they are dissatisfied. We refund any products within seven days of purchase and we trust customers so there is no need for them to show their receipts," he adds.
For all the latest retail news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.