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Retail industry needs to think bigger

Brands need to deliver omnichannel experiences to customers and provide more personalisation

Singapore's retail industry requires some serious therapy.

The sector is facing serious challenges from a shrunken labour market, increasing operating costs and rising competition from overseas and online rivals.

The Great Singapore Sale will be reduced from 10 weeks to one month this year.

While the discounts will be there, the focus will be on creating better shopping experiences through a fusion of art, technology and entertainment.

Changing customer tastes have led to a new experiential retail platform where shoppers can engage with online brands through a brick-and-mortar store.

Such flagship stores carry a variety of a retailer's products consolidated in one location. They often serve as "showrooms" for shoppers to enjoy unique, interactive in-store experiences under one roof.

For instance, Japanese lifestyle brand Muji opened a flagship store in Plaza Singapura in July 2017. The store provides customers with an embroidery service to help personalise clothes, apart from giving them the chance to "touch and experience" the products and buying them later from their homes.

While e-commerce companies are setting up brick-and-mortar storefronts, the retail stores are fighting back with digital storefronts and integrated services.

Moreover, they have help.

Singapore-based online marketplace Dei was recently appointed by the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association and the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to lead Little India's vendors into the digital age.

Since its soft launch back in 2016, Dei has experienced year-on-year growth of 120 per cent and is now poised to expand into Singapore's other heritage neighbourhoods such as Chinatown and Kampong Glam.

According to data from the Department of Statistics, retail sales excluding motor vehicles grew by 5.3 per cent in January this year compared with January 2018. According to Enterprise Singapore's data in 2016, the retail industry contributes 1.4 per cent to Singapore's gross domestic product with $33 billion in operating receipts and most importantly, employing more than 170,000 people.

Whatever methods the retail industry is seeking to raise their game to grow these numbers, they need to think bigger. The answer is in the digital transformation of physical retail.

Big brands, as well as smaller retail stores, are now able to stitch together previously siloed customer journeys with data and build a unified, cross channel strategies that deliver a consistent, omnichannel experience and provide them with a 360-degree single view of their customers.

Rich offline data can lead to more personalisation, determine if staff are following established procedures, measure footfall, identify popular sections within the store and create shopper demographics.

This information can be achieved by collecting data with physical sensors placed in a way that does not obtain personally identifiable information.

The writer is president and managing director of global accounts and Asia Pacific at Capillary Technologies, a software solutions provider.

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