RETAIL | Ahmad Humeid visit’s Amman’s first proper media store
Burgers, clothes and cinnamon rolls. This pretty much sums up Amman’s shopping malls. Add to that hundreds of over eager teenagers at the gates and you end up with a predictable mall experience that makes you want to escape to old Jabal Amman for a touch of authenticity and surprise.
This tilt towards food for the belly needed some balancing with some food for the mind and senses. And the good news is that it’s finally here: Jordan’s first proper media “megastore”.
Prime Megastore at Mecca Mall has just gone into soft opening mode a week ago. The concept is familiar. The ‘media store’, with its combination of printed and audiovisual entertainment products and espresso bar has become a standard fixture of malls and shopping streets around the world. Throw in a few cool digital cameras, mp3 players and camcorders and you’ve got the perfect mix to attract today’s consumer of culture and entertainment.
A store front with huge screens, stacks of new books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and software products, and a highly stylized retail space are luring Mecca Mall’s shoppers in. Compared to the dusty shelves of most of Amman’s old bookstores, Prime Megastore is a totally new experience for Jordanians. And although the store is not fully stocked yet, the initial selection of products looks promising.
“Upstairs we’ll have a café, complete with wireless internet access and PC stations,’ says an enthusiastic Bassam Hajjawi, one of the partners behind Prime Megastore. I caught up with the veteran media executive at a mall café, just across the store. Prime’s café still needs some finishing touches and is not open yet.
Hijjawi’s partners are an impressively complimentary group, including Prime Pictures, who control the distribution right for a number of major US film studios in the Middle East, and the Antoine Group, the people behind the famous Librarie Antoine in Beirut.
The Lebanese influence on the store is obvious and welcome. Not only did I find some very new books on display (like Bill Clinton’s My Life) but also I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent collection of architecture and design books available. The last time I witnessed something similar was on a book-hunting trip to Beirut last year.
“One should buy some of these good books quick, before they decide to discontinue this section!” said a young architect I found standing in front of the Architecture shelf. “People in Amman don’t read and this won’t last,” he added.
“I totally disagree with this opinion,’ says Hajjwai when faced with this feedback. “People in Amman do read. They’re just not used to walking into a bookstore and finding something they want to read. What we’ve done is bring the books to the mall and put them in front of people,” he exclaims. Prime’s plan emphasizes a good balance between foreign and Arabic books (I found an impressive French shelf, yet another sign of Antoine’s influence). Building relations with Jordanian publishers to ensure that Jordanian books are well represented in the store is another idea currently in the works.
Hajjawi says that since the store’s opening, book sales have widely exceeded their expectations. This is confirmed by Ms Hala Farraj, head of Prime’s book section. Her enthusiasm for books is visible. She joined Prime’s operation recommended by Librarie Antoine. A few years back she was running her own bookstore near the Birzeit University in Palestine, but the continued Israeli closures during the current intifada made it exceedingly hard for her to operate such a business, so she decided to join Prime.
When I pointed out to her that the selection of technology books was quite thin, Farraj responded that she is waiting to get feedback from customers on what their needs are before she stocks that particular section. “Technology books have a shelf life of six months and it would be unwise to fill that section before knowing what the readers want,” she says.
Besides books and magazines, the store is already well stocked with music CDs, DVDs, video games and educational software. Hajjawi says that Prime is currently building a website that will enable customers to order items that they don’t find on the shelves and pick them up from the store when they arrive, yet there are no plans for home delivery.
Hajjawi is aware that in the next few years Prime will face competition from other players in the region, such as Virgin Megastore, already operating in Dubai and Beirut. “The more the merrier,” he reacts.
“Competition is good. Our real enemies are piracy and contradictory government regulations,” Hajjawi complains. Although technically there are no custom duties on sound and video recordings, Hajjawi says that governmental “inspection” and other tariffs and fees are still being charged, resulting in a higher price for the consumer and encouraging piracy.
Still, Hajjawi is confident of Prime’s success. The company looks forward to opening more stores in Jordan and regionally in the future.
Prime Megastore is giving book and media addicts a good excuse to go the mall. It fills an important gap in the kingdom’s retail landscape. Three cheers for that.
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