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Mobile devices can enrich customer experience

230 million S-E Asian individuals rely on digital means to buy products and services

The South-east Asian region is very much on the rise.

In terms of economic growth, the 10 countries that make up the Asean trading bloc are equivalent to the world's ninth largest economy. From 2010 through 2020, Asean gross domestic product growth is projected to reach 5 per cent. Vietnam is set to grow by 6.8 per cent over the decade, with Indonesia clocking in at 5.5 per cent.

The region's burgeoning economic health is also apparent in the steady rise in disposable income levels, creating a critical and fast-growing mass of youthful, urban, middle class consumers who are hungry for the best digital retail experience technology can offer.

By 2020, the majority (60 per cent) of the world's millennials will live in Asia.

Millennials rely on mobile devices to meet all their needs - making purchases, doing research, hailing a cab or booking a flight.

About 230 million South-east Asian individuals are relying on digital means to buy products and services, helping the region's Internet economy to balloon to more than US$50 billion (S$68 billion).

More than 60 per cent of people research online before buying in-store, while 27 per cent research in-store before buying online.

With mobile devices providing the gateway to most Internet access, mobile is certainly revolutionising consumer retail behaviour: allowing shoppers to research goods while in stores.

Tools such as QR codes, online coupons and even augmented-reality product overlays can help retailers tap into this trend.

To fully recognise the potential that mobile devices have brought to the retail sector, more work needs to be done to overcome the barriers created by rigid legacy technology.

The goal is a totally blended omnichannel experience with a centralised view of the customer and the retailer's products.

The simplification of this latter process typically includes the ability to change product information across all channels, helping to control costs and creating a competitive advantage for faster induction.

OVERTAKEN

The retailers that are not keeping up with this enhanced capability could be overtaken by some of the large fast-moving consumer goods manufacturers that have become impatient sitting behind the supermarkets and have begun building their own customer profiles and identifying touch points.

But the real progress looks likely to be around enriching the customer experience.

Over the past few years, the drive has been to match consumer expectations by delivering a seamless, comfortable experience across all channels.

Now retailers are going beyond this.

They are attacking the discount culture by attempting to create loyalty and even a wow factor for customers who shop with them.

This major offensive will use real-time information to attract customers into a store, then drive traffic to special offers or promotions.

There will be increased use of beacons and self-serve terminals, which will act rather like mobile phones or tablets with access to customer data.

We even expect to see clothing retailers arm staff with iPads capable of recognising customers and their previous purchases.

Data analysis will be used to predict what might interest individuals and provide offers, suggestions and information accordingly.

It will be all about reaching out to the customer at every touch point to provide a proactive, personalised service.

In a similar way, many retailers are still working on their product catalogue, ensuring a single view of each product - when it was introduced, where it is on the shelves, when it will be retired, and so on.

This way the retailer will have a definitive source of accurate information together with a cost-effective and efficient process.

There will also be greater emphasis on using real-time data to further eliminate wastage and have an accurate indication of stock levels at any given time.

PROCESS

This breaking down of inflexible silos of untrusted data has been a long process.

During this time, many chief information officers have been on the back foot, talking about agility but knowing that their systems were incapable of living up to expectations.

Gradually, they have broken down the silos and now find themselves in a position to think strategically about the next stages and how they will use this new flexibility and ability to encourage great brand loyalty.

It could be a year of great opportunity for retailers to engage and attract customers across all channels.

But only those that have already done the groundwork updating their IT infrastructure will be able to benefit and bounce back even stronger than they were before.

The writers are from Talend Inc. Mr Jason Bissell is general manager of Asia Pacific and Japan and Mr Calvin Hoon is regional VP of sales, Asia Pacific. This article appeared in The Business Times yesterday.

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