Goran Cvetinov, CEO of Neptun in Macedonia, one of the leading home electronics retailers in southeast Europe, gives us the scoop on how they are adapting and improving their retail chain during the pandemic.
For the introduction, please give us an overview of your retail chain. What makes your brand stand out in comparison to your competition?
Neptun, part of Balfin Group, is the largest retail and distribution network in Macedonia for white goods and electronic household appliances. It has been a market leader in this retail segment for 23 years and this was achieved due to our innovations, creativity, and dedication to work.
We have introduced many innovations over the years, such as our loyalty program that includes our “haPPy” card, “haPPy” instant loan, and “haPPy” co-brand credit card from the Master family. We offer unique services in this industry, which is what makes our chain better than our competitors.
Our vision for continuous growth is what motivates us to expand our views and to constantly work on improving sales and customer satisfaction. As a successful brand, we understand who our potential customers are, as well the customers’ needs and wants, so we deeply engage with them to make the relationship go beyond the use-value of the products we offer and sell.
Have you had any new store openings or new market entries during the pandemic? Are you planning any new store openings soon?
The retail chain of Neptun includes more than 60 stores in Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo, employing over 1.000 people.
We will soon open our 26th location in North Macedonia. It will be a flagship store in the new East Gate Mall, which is the biggest shopping mall in Skopje due to open this fall. The store will cover an area of 1.500 sqm and will present our latest modern store concept with a wide assortment of the most innovative international electronics brands.
Besides the mentioned shop, Neptun will continue to expand its network throughout the region.
What is the typical size of your stores and what locations are interesting for your further expansion (shopping centers, retail parks, or high streets)? Which retail locations in your opinion are performing the best now?
The size of our shops depends on the locations and market size. For sure we will stay in shopping malls in bigger markets, while retail parks are very good destinations for middle size markets. Currently, shopping malls are our “best performers”.
How has the pandemic affected your company and your retail sector in general? How have you been tackling the challenges?
Due to the pandemic, the industry did not pass as easily as predicted. The situation is still uncertain and unpredictable, so we have to continuously adapt to changing circumstances.
Of course, we continue to work hard to maintain trade activity and to meet the needs of consumers in our markets. We put much effort to protect the health and safety of all our employees, customers, and suppliers, as well as to actively contribute to help out our community.
In this direction, we have started significant cooperation with SOS Children’s Village, because we believe that as a leading company, we need to show solidarity and empathy for the most vulnerable members of our community.
All our actions are led by the spirit of our vision, which is to become the most valuable company in Macedonia.
Did the pandemic change consumer habits in your markets?
The changes span in all areas of life, from how we work, how we shop and how we entertain ourselves. Many of the longer-term changes in consumer behavior are still being formed, so it gives companies an opportunity to contribute in shaping the „Next Normal”.
During the pandemic, consumers shifted to shop more online and started to gain more confidence in domestic e-commerce businesses.
We have developed a new website with an advanced and modern approach to e-commerce, which improved the online shopping experience. We also developed our NEPTUN mobile application for online shopping, which is the first on the Macedonian market for this retail segment. With this approach, we offer the same experience and benefits to our clients in both channels- physical retail and e-commerce.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, what improvements have you made in your business?
Improving the user e-commerce experience and increasing our marketing activities for online sales has been our main priority since the beginning of the pandemic. Besides launching a new website and the NEPTUN mobile application, it was very important for us to enable our members of the “haPPy” loyalty program to use all the privileges when shopping online, such as the privilege to buy products at “haPPy” discounted prices.
Next, we digitized our haPPy card. Members of our loyalty program, who have registered on our website or mobile application, have received their “haPPy” card in digital form. This means that they can now buy products in physical stores by just displaying their loyalty card on their mobile phones. We also made it easier for online shoppers to register for a loyalty card and to receive a discount.
These are just some of the many innovations we have introduced during this period.
As e-commerce is rising in popularity, tell us how has your online sales performed since the beginning of the pandemic? What changes, in your opinion, need to be now made in physical stores?
Neptun has marked e-commerce sales growth by 400 percent.
E-commerce in Macedonia is generally growing rapidly. According to the State Statistical Office reports for 2018, e-commerce in Macedonia has increased by 62 percent compared to 2017. This means that about 400,000 Macedonians bought something online in 2018. It is interesting that as much as 52 percent of these buyers made online orders from domestic e-traders, which is 32 percent more compared to 2017. E-commerce in 2018, amounted to 134 million EUR, of which 53.5 million EUR were realized by domestic traders.
As to the second part of the question, we could say that most retail stores are currently designed to encourage customers to go deeper into the store and spend more time browsing. But in the future, we believe that stores will change their product placement to facilitate faster shopping because customers will want to get in and out quickly.
Stores will need to find creative ways to build physical barriers between people without hurting the personal contact and service that happens in stores. New technology will be needed to make the stores more effective for consumers.
2022 is calling on retailers to develop and build new store plans to meet the needs and expectations of future consumer trends.
What is next for your chain?
We will continue to develop new products and services while making efforts to improve our product delivery, as well as to maximize the offline and online shopping experience. We are aiming to increase our retail network and to strengthen brand awareness, which will solidify our market position. Our plans are aimed at maintaining long-term successful customer relationships by providing services that will set us apart from our competitors.
How do you see the future of retail?
This year has taught the retail industry a valuable lesson! Agility and adaptability are keys to surviving and thriving in an economy rocked by constant uncertainty.
No one knows what the future of retail will bring, but we do know that both online retail and physical stores must become more creative and confident than ever before when creating their retail strategies.
Technology will be the key driver of the industry transformation. Industry participants will only succeed if they have a relentless focus on using technology to increase the value-added service to consumers.