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Central Retail sets out its stores to reflect the new normal. Stephane Coum Ceo CENTRAL Food Retail Group at Central Group.

In responding to the coronavirus, the biggest food retailer in Thailand has faced down several challenges but also found new opportunities

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many people’s lives upside down, and amid so many uncertainties, people seek reassurance, which eventually comes down to basic things that help them get through their everyday lives conveniently and comfortably.

Central Retail, the biggest food retailer in Thailand, rose to the challenge and came up with creative ways to ensure Thai people could always have access to items of necessity during the pandemic, and feel assured of their safety whenever they visit the company’s stores – Tops, FamilyMart, Central Food Hall and Matsumoto Kiyoshi.

During the curfew period, as convenience stores had to close after 10 p.m. in April and 11 p.m. since early June, the company introduced FamilyMart Containers and vending machines to offer more convenience and flexibility to consumers. This was made possible by the company’s forward thinking and well-planned execution.

“We prepared ourselves in terms of risk and compliance as well as supply chain,” said Stephane Coum, CEO – Food, Central Retail. “This is key because you can offer the best services to your customers, but if your supply is not ready, your customers will not be happy. In the first week of February, we asked our supply chain team to rent a 5,000 sq. m. warehouse in Bangkok and fill it with the maximum number of pallets of commodities. We knew that there would later be some difficulties in receiving these orders and to deliver them to our stores, so we worked in advance and had around 25,000 pallets of commodities ready to serve our customers in case of a lockdown.”

He added that the hard work paid off as the company was able to handle the spike in demands during this time.

While the shelves are fully stocked in all its stores, should customers feel more comfortable with online shopping, they have that covered, too. With a surge of demand in online shopping, Central Retail has worked round the clock to ensure availability of products and fast services, made possible by the decision to triple the size of its online sales team at both the fulfilment centre and store levels. Additional services such as Tops Drive Thru, Tops Phone & Delivery, Chat & Shop, and Click & Collect made it more convenient for customers to shop without leaving their homes or getting out of their cars, while partnerships with delivery company Grab Thailand offered an easy option for customers to shop from home and have the items delivered to their door. These options are part of the company’s commitment to accelerating its omnichannel experience.

The level of care extends beyond providing uninterrupted access to products.  As such, Central Retail supermarkets were the first in Thailand to offer “locked price” during these unprecedented times as many Thais cope with financial uncertainties.

Furthermore, there have been numerous extra discounts and special deals to help reduce the cost of living during this difficult period.

As a long term supporter of Thai farmers, at a time like this when Thai farmers are gravely affected by export bans, Central Retail has lent a helping hand by making it easier for them to sell their fresh produce through its strong logistics system and nationwide presence of Jingjai Farmers’ Market. In fact, this assistance is not just in the face of COVID-19, but an ongoing project to help Thai farmers make a sustainable living using the company’s expertise.

At the same time, it means consumers have access to fresh quality produce, which is an emerging trend, particularly during COVID-19, as people become more health-conscious. 

“During and after COVID-19, the customer’s health will become more important to them,” said the CEO. “Customers will be more cautious about health and wellness and buy more organic items, and they will focus more on product traceability – how farmers feed animals, whether chemicals are used. They would like to buy products and produce locally, and I can already see this trend in Thailand and other countries. It’s not nationalism – it’s more a question of concern for how the ingredients are grown.”

But to make sure things run smoothly, the foundation of the company and its employees keep the engine going.

“Since February, we set up preventive measures to ensure the safety of all our employees, including store level employees. I am proud to say that throughout the entire COVID-19 outbreak, in our company, we have not had a single positive case of COVID-19. We have done many things to protect our employees, from providing masks daily to offering vitamin C to boost their health. Employee safety is very important to us and we’ve set up a system to mitigate the risk. Every day, every employee must go through a temperature check, and the same measure has been extended to our customers as well,” said the CEO.

For customer’s safety, Central Retail has invested in additional tools and modern technology to take cleanliness and hygiene to another level, from smart thermo scanners to check the temperature of everyone visiting their stores to UV-C disinfection robots to sanitize the stores.

The past few months have been a challenge for every business and every industry, but the company has turned the crisis into a valuable opportunity to grow both its people and the company.

“One of the main targets for us in Central Retail is to prepare all the employees to have a strong mind-set concerning change. Our people are now stronger and our organisation is more agile and flexible amidst this challenge. Meanwhile, our customers are the heart of our story.”

“The company has one target: to deliver the best service and the best quality to all its customers,” concluded the CEO.

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