By Gavin Gibbon
Carrefour's online sales increased by 300% in the UAE and by 100% in Saudi Arabia during the Covid-19 lockdown period
Carrefour will boast as many as 50 dark stores across the GCC, Egypt and Pakistan by the end of the year as the supermarket giant ramps up its online offering in light of the demand caused through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Carrefour, which is operated by Dubai-based Majid Al Futtaim in the region, opened its biggest dark store (online fulfilment centre) in the emirate on Monday in Garhoud. Spanning 5,000 square metres, it was built in five weeks and can handle up to 3,000 daily orders initially, before gradually increasing to 5,000 orders-per-day.
It takes the total number of fulfilment centres, some of which have been transformed from existing customer physical stores, to 44.
Hani Weiss, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim – Retail, told Arabian Business, that the new centre saw 150 new members of staff employed and a further 50 redeployed from other stores, with plans to increase that further to 250 in the near future.
“We will be building more dedicated online fulfilment centres (dark stores) in the next 15 months or so. So you can easily talk about 1,500 people who will be recruited and probably 500 will be re-skilled to work together under this wonderful e-commerce experience,” Weiss said.
“The target is to become as prominent digitally as we are physically,” he added.
Weiss said that Carrefour’s online sales increased by 300 percent in the UAE and by 100 percent in Saudi Arabia during the Covid-19 lockdown period, and revealed ambitious plans to grow this five-fold in the next three years.
In the kingdom, the company’s online share of the business has increased to around seven percent of its total sales; the UAE has reached around three percent.
“This year, since the pandemic, we have seen a major shift in the region. In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, we’ve seen the online groceries rise a little bit more than seven percent, close to three percent here in the UAE. At certain points, in certain weeks, we reached up to eight or nine percent in the UAE,” he said.
“Globally it’s averaging from three to seven, eight percent and we are catching up very quickly with the global markets.”
In terms of the dark stores themselves, Weiss explained that they will vary from manual, to semi-automated and fully robotised, using the very latest technology and artificial intelligence (AI).
“We have plans to build manual dark stores quickly as we did here in the UAE, in order to have the fast response to the increasing number of online orders. But we are also working on semi-automated dark stores in Saudi, which we will be integrating in the middle of August,” he said.
“We are also working on the first robotised in the UAE here. We will see the first version of it happening here in the UAE before the end of the year and another one happening in Q1 in Saudi and a third one here in the UAE.”
As a result of the massive surge in online orders through the Covid-19 lockdown period, some 1,000 members of staff from other areas of the MAF business were redeployed to handle the demand.
Talks over robots in the workplace leads many to assume redundancies will follow, but Weiss said a recruitment campaign was underway to further staff the online delivery section, despite the addition of the revolutionary new technology.
He said: “Our businesses are back and they are open so we are starting to recruit pickers to help us in the manual dark stores, but even in the robotised dark stores. We are recruiting people, but the key thing here is we are upskilling people and this is what is really important.”