INTERVIEW: Digital Mall to be launched in March with 5000 brands hosted over next three years: CEO

Doaa A.Moneim , Tuesday 5 Jan 2021

The mall is expected to launch in March, in conjunction with Mother’s Day season in Egypt

Ashraf Gaber
Ashraf Gaber, CEO of UAE House of Experience “EPR Partners” and founder of the “Digital Mall”

In December, The UAE House of Experience announced its intention to launch the “Digital Mall” in Egypt during 2021 after the launch of the mall in the UAE officially in January.

In an exclusive interview, Ashraf Gaber, CEO of UAE House of Experience and founder of the Digital Mall project, revealed to Ahram Online the details of the new projects and the expected role that they will play in the Egyptian market.

He unveiled that the official launch of the Digital Mall will be launched in March in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, adding that it is expected to host about 5000 brands in Egypt over the next three years.

Ahram Online: How do you see the business doing and the investment environment in Egypt at present?

Ashraf Gaber: Actually, all the procedures and policies that Egypt has been adopting, which focus on investment and fostering a business environment, has converted Egypt to a real investment hub, especially for investors who are willing to grow their businesses and have an interest in penetrating international markets.

Additionally, Egypt’s economy has derived significant and solid buffers from the country’s economic reform programme, which the country has rolled out since November 2016, and that has proved useful during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, with Egypt managing to absorb the shock successfully.

Moreover, Egypt’s government is really working hard in regard to implementing digital transformation, financial inclusion, stabilising the Egyptian pound’s performance against the US dollar, and easing investment and business-related procedures.

In this respect, it’s the first time in Egypt’s history that foreign investors, indeed, prefer to convert their investment finance portfolios to the Egyptian pound owing to its incremental performance improvement.

All of that comes along with the stability of Egypt’s policy and security, which is a core interest for investors that decide to do business in any country.

I can say that Egypt adopts a different and a unique political and economic model at the moment compared to the past years prior to 2014.

AO: What are the factors that motivated your company to start a business in Egypt? I mean the Digital Mall Project.

AG: At the present, I believe that the Egyptian market is qualified to attract new investments and also lead the region’s economies. This vision emerges obviously within the investors here in the UAE, which is one of the biggest investment countries in Egypt, and that is what has encouraged us to enter the Egyptian market for the first time through our new project “elMall”.

AO: What is the main activity of your company in UAE?

AG: The company, House of Experience, consists of an Emirati business coalition based in the UAE, in Dubai in particular, whose business focuses on traditional shopping, online shopping, and e-commerce, and has businesses in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and North Africa in the same business area.

AO: Could you illustrate your project’s concept and the activity that the Digital Mall plans to do in Egypt?

AG: The Digital Mall is a digital version (online platform) of traditional shopping malls that will provide, gradually, a variety of goods, brands, commodities, services that traditional malls is offer, but through online shopping. Dubai will be the headquarter of the platform in the first phase.

AO: Do you plan to launch the Digital Mall in Egypt in February as announced before?

AG: The project will be ready to commence work in Egypt by mid-February. Yet, the project’s launching is expected to be in March, in conjunction with Mother’s Day season in Egypt.

AO: Which governmental bodies in Egypt have you communicated with regarding your work in Egypt?

AG: We are already in communication with Egypt’s Ministry of Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs and, in the future, we will open discussion links with the Ministries of International Cooperation, Planning and Economic Development, as well as Egypt’s General Authority for Investment and Free Zones.

We are also planning to launch a media project in the UAE that will focus on covering Egyptian issues, including economic, political, and business affairs, which is expected to be launched during 2021.

Furthermore, we are already in talks with a number of big economic and marketing corporates in Egypt to arrange the launch of the projects and their work in the market.

AO: Your company will launch the Digital Mall officially during January, why did you choose the UAE market as a starting point for the project?

AG: It was critical that we embark on our new project here in the UAE, benefitting from the incentives that the government provides. The fact that shopping in the UAE is a popular activity was also a factor.

Moreover, digital transformation here has become a reality on the ground and a key component of the UAE’s economy. Thus, we expect that the Digital Mall will achieve a significant success here and that we will definitely support the rolling out of the project in Egypt and other targeted markets.

We plan to provide a total of 3700 brands through the platform in the UAE but will start with 10 percent of them in the first phase of the project that ends by the end of 2021.

AO: What are your targeted markets besides Egypt?

AG: We plan to launch the Digital Mall in Saudi Arabia alongside Egypt, then we will target the markets of Morocco, Kuwait, and even the Europe by the end of 2021, when the market becomes more stable after the deterioration it has witnessed owing to the COVID-19 crisis.

AO: What kind of products is the Digital Mall expected to provide in Egypt?

AG: The platform is expected to provide traditional and popular products and services to purchase, such as fast food, costumes, home appliances, electronics, in addition to cultural and entertainment products that include physical and digital books, art portraits, and even movie theatre reservations.

We are aiming to host a total of 5000 brands over the coming three years, including 2000 brands that will be available within the first phase.

These products and services will be provided through the platform, supported by the real shopping mall environment, that includes listening to background music, providing in-house broadcasting and radio, in addition to issuing a commercial bulletin.

AO: Are micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) included in your targeted clients?

AG: Definitely. MSMEs are a key targeted sector for us and they will be allowed to sell their products through the Digital Mall, at a nominal charge.

AO: How can the Digital Mall support Egyptian business, especially retail business, amid the pandemic and its related harsh impacts?

AG: COVID-19 has severely hit all economic sectors, including Egypt, and our project will provide the opportunity for those who were forced to end their business activities under the pressure of the crisis to resume their businesses again, especially MSMEs that are already suffering from poor access to finances.

AO: What about the total investments of the Digital Mall in Egypt?

AG: We’re focusing on investing in the idea, in its first phase, more than doing business depending on big allocations. Accordingly, we have set a modest budget worth $3 million for the project in Egypt over a year, and a total of $11 million through 2023.

AO: What are the Digital Mall’s plans for shipping and delivery in Egypt?

AG: In this respect, we already have a sister logistics UAE-based company that will be responsible for shipping and delivery in Egypt.

Moreover, we will depend on the delivery services of the stores themselves. We’re aiming to cover 12 governorates in the first phase, including Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, Mansoura, Luxor, Aswan, Assiut, Suez, Port Said, and Ismailiya.

Furthermore, we have contacted a number of young people in Egypt who launched businesses that provide delivery services using their bicycles and motor bikes for the sake of reaching small and remote areas, as well as provide job opportunities for young people.

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