What’s in store for retail in 2019?

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While everyone is enjoying the festive season frenzy, and eagerly awaiting the New Year with hope and aspirations, it is time for businesses to retrospect and set objectives for the future. Retail businesses, specifically, are more consumer driven. Therefore, it becomes essential to be intuitively proactive in gearing up for what lies ahead while striving to outperform the previous year.

It’s a given that technology will continue to play a major role in the New Year as it did in 2018 and the years gone by. Being an enabler, and also a disruptor, technology will see itself getting strongly embedded into the very genes of retail businesses and will drive the engine. And this is perfectly evident in the prediction by Gartner analysts who say that retailers’ investment in technology will grow by 3.6% globally in 2019 as customer expectations will put pressure on them to perform.

Further, Gartner mentioned that software would be one of the fastest growing technology expenditures in the retail industry, especially platforms for analytics, mobile applications, digital marketing, e-commerce and Artificial Intelligence (AI) increasingly becoming areas of interest for retail CIOs. By these predictions it is clear that technology will be the driving force for retail businesses in 2019.

The next thing in retail that is set to make the waves in 2019 and the years following would be the rise of brick-and-mortar retailing. As global sales of physical retail went up by 4.8 in 2018 and there were more stores being opened than closed, the trend will seem to continue. Even large online players like Amazon have started their own physical stores or are buying out other stores. As physical stores are evolving and are becoming destinations for experiences and not just limited to transactions, customers will continue to flock to the stores to enjoy these curated experiences.

Eventually, retail is no more about the channel, but it is about the consumer. Ultimately, the integration of technology and the business in the right manner will ensure that customers get what they want while businesses achieve their goals in the New Year 2019.

Malls – One-stop retail shopping destinations!

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The Christmas festive season is almost here, as is the end of another year and we look for the best in the New Year. The past 2 years have probably been one of the biggest testing times for the retail industry, especially for physical retail. In the wake of the last year, which seen many known retail brands going bankrupt or shuttering stores, debates on whether physical retail would witness an apocalypse because of the rise of online shopping have been happening across the industry; but it seems like the predictors of the doom of physical retail have been silenced, thanks to the reinvention of retail.

Malls still face a threat from e-commerce shopping due to rising number of consumers preferring to shop online. The major reasons being a wide range of options available online, more discounts on online purchases, convenience of shopping from home while avoiding crowds and even reducing the chances impulse shopping. One of the major debates were whether malls would survive the online shopping or e-commerce onslaught, but the numbers are in favor of shopping in a mall. A recent survey indicated that more than 60% of consumers would visit the mall for apparel shopping as opposed to shopping for clothing online, and another 39% prefer to go to the malls, not only to explore multiple retail brands in one location, but also try on and compare clothing options. Malls offer strategic advantages which are still a hit among consumers.

One of the biggest clicks for shoppers visiting malls is the tangibility of products. Brick-and-mortar retail has thrived on the ‘touch-and-feel’ feature that shoppers love when it comes to purchasing apparel, footwear and other items. Moreover, most retail brands would be present in malls and this allows shoppers a fair opportunity to explore different brands belonging to similar categories and then take a conscious decision on what to buy, from where. Another major advantage that malls offer is socializing. Consumers prefer shopping with family and friends or even interacting with store associates to help them find the right product, as they find it easier to seek opinions and then make a purchase. In addition to this, malls are a one stop destination for shopping, entertainment and eating, thus offering wholesome experiences to shoppers for their time and money.

The bottom line is that malls and e-commerce will continue to coexist as consumers will always look at multiple options to satisfy their shopping needs. However, the catch is to ensure customers get what they want and retail brands are able to do that no matter which channel they use.

Finally ! A Retail revival, but for whom?

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Two years ago I wrote about the struggles of the retail industry in my article “Retail is dead! Long live Retail”, it’s nice to see some of the predictions in this article come true! Time to reflect and see what’s next.

The US retail market, the bellwether of the industry, has finally started growing again. Retail sales are surging, up 6.4% YOY from last year this July. Store closures are down 22%.

The growth is being led by Retailers who are getting the consumer back, bringing e-commerce like service to their customers, with click and collect and curb-side pickups, concierge services, frictionless returns, store to home deliveries, and many other services. While physical retail is back, e-commerce continues to grow, interestingly a major part of this digital growth is being driven by retail giants like Walmart.

At the same time, we are seeing a number of brands and retailers heading down the slippery slope. Some of them household names. The market is clearly being divided into those who will make it and those who will not. These retailers have closed unprofitable stores, cut costs, reduced manpower, rejigged their pricing and merchandise, yet they are not able to make it out of the downward spiral. So what is the reason? Since we work with retailers across 22 countries and see some of our customers and friends in both categories, we can clearly see the difference in their approach. Some retailers see technology investments and related service costs as a necessary evil, they do not see them as strategic tools to help them win this wave of transformation both in the industry and the minds of consumers. These are the retailers who are endangered, though they can still turn around if they change their mindsets.

On the other had there are a number of retailers who are quietly embarking on large internal projects to change the way they work with consumers and the service levels they provide, transforming their technology and online presence, bringing Omni-channel and self-service initiatives to the table and using smart ways to price right and brand right and promote the right products to the right consumers. They have brought in change in their existing teams and brought on board a number of new retail experts, worked closely and deeply with technology and supply chain partners, malls and banks to bring about the transformation that’s required. They are making great progress and have a shot at winning the retail race.

The race is still open, and like in any race, there will be winners and losers. May the best retailers win!

This article has been written by:

mr-naresh-ahujaNaresh Ahuja, Chairman and CEO, ETP Group

Naresh as the Founder, Chairman and CEO of the ETP Group leads the company with a clear focus on bringing enduring value to customers through best practices mirrored in software applications. Spanning 30 years of focus on retail domain expertise and IP development, ETP today, has a strong customer base of market leaders in more than 22 countries across Asia Pacific, India and the Middle East, and is Asia’s leading Omni-channel Retail Software company.

 

Enhancing the physical retail experience by converging offline and online at the store

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In the last year, physical retail has witnessed some of the most challenging situations. While some well-known retail chains filed for bankruptcy, some retail companies shuttered their stores, some retail companies closed down completely, while some others were struggling to keep up with the growing threat from e-commerce sites and this struggle seems likely to continue. Moreover due to a majority of customers owning a smartphone nowadays, the shift towards mobile and online purchasing will only increase.

With e-commerce and m-commerce being literally at their fingertips, shoppers are often looking to do their purchases with ease and with minimal efforts. This is one of the biggest advantage that online has over physical retail. Though brick and mortar stores provide that touch and feel experience to the shopper, this alone is not enough to compete every time with e-commerce. Therefore, physical retailers need to create a unique and awesome experience for customers and one of the most effective ways to do this is converging online and offline experiences at the store itself.

Retail companies like New York & Company have already begun converging online and in-store selling by using self-service kiosks allowing e-commerce access in some select stores. These effectively serve as a complement to the store associates and the traditional checkout area as the kiosks are positioned throughout the store or near the service desk. This provides the shoppers with the choice of self-service by accessing multiple touch-points across the store where they can shop from both the store’s physical and online product offering, make a secure purchase and collect or get their order shipped directly to any address. This expands the retailer’s point of sale capabilities thus giving customers tech options that they intuitively already know how to use as well as makes the shopping process quick and convenient.

For retail companies wanting to create an omni-channel shopping environment, such self-service kiosks or mobile and other handheld devices that allow shoppers to browse and choose products on the online site while they’re already in the store are definitely apt. Adding this omni-channel capability can help retailers prevent a loss of sale situation if an item is out of stock at that particular store, while still allowing the store to get credit for that particular sale.

Having said that, the kind of technology a store should incorporate depends on the type of store, its product offerings and its customers’ tastes and preferences. It can be overwhelming to choose from the wide range of in-store technology for e-commerce available. Retailers need to research which technology to choose, how to incorporate it and accordingly should drill down to what they’re looking to get out of it, and make a smart and well-informed decision before making an investment.

Some of the considerations for incorporating endless aisles in-store technology could be:

Limited space to display inventory, but a large product offering

Having a well-designed online site that can be easily accessed online

Type of hardware depending on the store space – kiosks or handheld devices

Required infrastructure for managing online functionality within the store

The benefits it would provide to the customers, store staff and the business

The best way to start is to proceed with an inside-out approach that retailers can use. Understanding their own business needs and objectives first and then taking inspiration from peers will prove to be a good modus operandi for them to take better decisions. A good omni-channel retail solution with the right capabilities can help retailers attain higher productivity and better customer loyalty.

Conversion Rate Optimization in Physical Retail

Like online retailers, brick-and-mortar retailers need to focus more of their efforts on converting the store traffic that they receive. In today’s retail environment, no retail business can afford to fritter away their store traffic – it should be treated as a valuable, non-renewable resource. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) when effectively applied, can be the difference between delivering positive same-store sales or not.

Here are some statistics that shed light on the conversion rate scenario of brick-and-mortar stores:

Physical stores have a higher conversion rate than online

Conversion rates vary considerably across retail categories, but they also vary significantly within the same chain as a result of variations in store format, geographical location, product mix, inventory levels, and most importantly, store personnel who serve the shoppers. The reality is, each and every brick-and-mortar store is unique and in order to optimize conversion rates, these unique characteristics need to be considered.

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Impact of Click & Collect on Conversion Rate

Customers expect a seamless experience regardless of how they engage with a retailer and these expectations are blurring the lines between online and physical stores. Concepts such as Click and Collect are impacting store traffic patterns and conversion rates.

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At the store depicted here, the store traffic counts went up from 10 to 12 after the implementation of omni-channel retail solutions that enabled Click & Collect, sometimes also referred to as Buy Online, Pick-up In-Store (BOPIS) functionality.

Since three of the 12 traffic counts generated were ‘pre-converted’ i.e., already purchased online and came to the store to pick-up their purchase; they didn’t generate a sales transaction. If we don’t track that Click & Collect transaction and factor it into our conversion rates, then the only thing that we will conclude is that our conversion rates have dropped from 50% to 42% in this example.

Reasons why in-store shoppers didn’t convert

The most cited reasons why in-store shoppers didn’t purchase are:

  1. They could not find anyone to help them; and
  2. They did not want to wait in a queue at check-out.
  3. They could not find what they were looking for or the preferred item was out-of-stock.

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This draws attention to the impact in-store staff have on conversion rates. Getting the store teams engaged and encouraging them to apply insights from traffic and conversion analytics can play a winning role in driving the conversion rates at the store.

Solutions such as mobile POS, self-checkouts can address the long wait-time at the checkout counters by enabling effective queue busting at the store.

The merchandising and product availability challenges can be countered by deploying omni-channel features such as endless aisle.

In conclusion, modern day retailers need to implement innovative software solutions that allow them to transform their business in to omni-channel as well as equip them with the power of capturing and analyzing data across channels. This will help them boost the conversion rates at the brick-and-mortar store.

Source: http://www.retailwire.com/public/sponsors/headcount/assets/HeadCount-Conversion-Rate-Optimization-2017.pdf

Retail and the importance of integration

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Operating an e-commerce website should not be considered as a separate and isolated business practice instead it is an extension to the retailer’s physical presence that helps drive sales and improve the bottom line. More often than not, it is the inability of retailers to understand the necessity of integrating their physical stores with their e-commerce website or marketplaces, which could cost them dearly in terms of sales, revenue, and clientele.

E-commerce websites, if implemented efficiently could help increase footfalls at the physical stores by enabling retailers to implement newer and innovative strategies such as Click and Collect, Click and Deliver among others. However, operating an e-commerce website in isolation cannibalizes their own physical stores. There’s a reason why most of the e-commerce and online market players make losses despite of clocking healthy sales. To improve the online sales, retailers often indulge in offering hefty discounts and free deliveries, without realizing that it causes the overall sales to take a hit. They should realize that to compete with marketplaces and e-commerce giants, they are not needed to have a price war with the existing players. Indulging in a price war might increase the number of visitors to the website but it also makes customers search for newer avenues where they can find the desired product at a lower price.

Retailers should rather focus on customer loyalty, inventory management, assortment planning, promotions planning and in-store shopping experience which can certainly be done by integrating the e-commerce website with the physical stores. Integrating the two helps in getting real time updates regarding customers, sales and inventory, while allowing the retailers to come up with innovative business strategies. For instance, retailers can implement click and collect that could increase the chances of cross selling and upselling along with serving the aforementioned purposes. This in turn would help retailers in improving the bottom line while being on the right path of growth that ensures sustainability and scalability.

In most cases, cannibalizing can have catastrophic repercussions on the overall performance of the business. It is better to research on the possible outcomes of having an e-commerce website along with preparing an efficient plan to integrate it with the physical stores using the right technology, such as ETP Connect. This being done, there does not exist the minutest possibility of missing out on the advantages of going omni-channel.

Augmented Reality – the new normal in retail

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There has been a complete turnaround in the way retailers go about carrying their businesses in recent years. From quick online payments to fast product deliveries, retailers have incorporated various disruptive strategies to provide a hassle free shopping experience. But there are various other technological advancements that facilitate retailers in streamlining their business processes. One such advancement that has proved to be quite successful for retailers is Augmented Reality (AR).

AR as the name suggests augments or enhances our surroundings by enabling us to interact with the products we wish to purchase. Now, one may wonder why we need an enhanced environment for interacting with the products. Well, the idea is pretty simple, customers often search for the desired products online before making a purchase. However, it is difficult for them to understand the features of the product completely, resulting in a lost sales opportunity for the retailers. To not miss out on an online sale, it is imperative for the retailers to find newer avenues that lure the customers to make the purchase. In an era where handheld devices are commonplace, it easier for them to develop an application or an e-commerce website that can access the front/web camera of the customers’ devices and allow them to look at themselves interacting with the product through AR, thus, making it more easier for them to make the buying decision and thus, the purchase.

It is not limited to mobile applications and e-commerce websites; retailers having brick-and-mortar stores too can adopt this technology. For instance, apparel retailers can embed AR technology with their store mirrors converting them into smart mirrors. This helps people to experience the products without actually trying them. It is a great technological advancement that can also be used as a marketing tool as it impels customers to experience this at the stores. It helps in increasing the store footfall which in turn increases the chances of people making a purchase, resulting in an improved bottom line for the retailers.

AR also enhances the efficiency of the store in which it is used. It saves the customers’ time as they are not required to try out every product physically, resulting in less number of people queueing outside the trial room. Moreover, in a short span, a wide variety of products can be tried which allows the in-store staff to better understand the requirements of other customers, thus eliminating the possibility of a customer being neglected.

AR along with various other technological advancements has changed the scenario of retailing worldwide. It has been embraced by some of the biggest retailers across the globe and is all set to penetrate further into the retail space. Retailers should keep themselves abreast with such technological advancements since these shall become indispensable for them to maintain a prominent stature in the dynamic retail space.

Southeast Asian consumers’ reviews about e-Commerce: Infographic

E-commerce and online shopping have transformed the entire shopping experience. Today, consumers can go online and buy almost anything conveniently in just a few clicks, thanks to e-Commerce. Here are a few stats based on Southeast Asian consumer reviews about e-Commerce.

ETP Blog Southeast Asian Consumers e-Commerce Reviews Infographic

E-commerce companies need to be aware of customers’ pain-points and take necessary actions to make the shopping experience a pleasant one.

Four Emerging Trends in this Revolutionary Era of Shopping

Everything about how the modern day consumers research, shop and purchase is changing, and established retail brands and businesses must learn to adapt. A new era of shopping has emerged leading to 4 trends:

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From ‘online-to-offline’ is gaining momentum – Big online-only players such as Amazon are increasingly eyeing and realizing the value of traditional stores to grow and generate profits. In the age of omni-channel retailing, it is insufficient for large e-commerce companies to exclusively sell online as brick-and-mortar stores are the go-to destinations where consumers get the chance to touch and feel the products. Hence e-commerce players are setting up their own physical stores to allow consumers to try products prior to buying, or they are partnering with local stores to enable shoppers to collect the products they have purchased online. The convergence of the physical and digital channel into a seamless omni-channel world is accelerating.

Stores stay relevant, important, but they are evolving – An online only retail world doesn’t seem to be a possibility and brick-and-mortar stores are far from getting extinct. Even today, offline stores continue to drive the overwhelming majority of retail sales globally. However, stores are no more merely places to make purchases; they are now evolving into entertainment hubs and social destinations allowing shoppers to explore and connect. This new wave of “experiential retail” is fast gaining momentum.

Delivery options are growing and time frames shrinking – Urban online shoppers today can expect same day deliveries and next day deliveries after placing an order thanks to retailers exploring new options of delivering packages more efficiently and economically. Retailers are trying to further reduce delivery time frames with the help of existing logistics partners or signing on with startups. And while groundbreaking technologies such as self-driving cars and delivery drones could revolutionize delivery, retail companies are using the right technologies enabling products ordered online to be collected at the stores in a matter of hours.

Shopping patterns are changing globally – None of the above trends are restricted to a particular region or a single market. Similarly, innovation is not limited to any one region. For example, China was where expansive urban delivery networks made same-day e-commerce deliveries common in large cities, and it was there that the term ‘online-to-offline’ originated. So also, in other retail markets around the globe, the connection between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail stores is swiftly growing in importance.

The bar for retail brands and businesses has been raised higher today than ever before and at the same time, business growth and increase in profitability remain elusive for even the most forward-thinking companies. In order to compete, retailers are getting more creative in their strategies of how they plan to leverage the opportunities of both online and offline channels. While doing so, they are thinking of redefining the in-store customer experience, preparing for rising delivery expectations and merging the online and offline channels so as to function seamlessly. Consumers are connected, technology savvy and well informed. They are demanding a rapid change and retail brands are responding. A new era of shopping has begun!

The Customer is King (but not dead). Long live the Customer (still not dead..)!

As the year draws to a close, aside from setting budgets and other plans, it’s typically a good time for some reflection. In our company, where we primarily bring enterprise level, solutions to mid-large retailers in the lifestyle segment, it’s been quite the year. Specifically, we have seen significant growth in interest in all things omni-channel. Conversations with prospects, customers, and partners around this are never the same, and hence always interesting. I thought it might be interesting to share an overview.

Fundamentally, most retailers understand there is this thing called E-commerce which is growing rapidly in South East Asia, with this growth generally seen as an opportunity, and typically I hear comments like “yes, we really should be doing something/more online”. However, the sense of concurrence on activity in the online retail world ends there. The number of options open to retailers is large and ever growing. As such, the possible strategies are almost endless. (Own site, marketplace, a mixture as a tasty starter?)

At this point I should clarify we are talking about retailers here, not marketplaces or any other pure-play E-commerce or M-commerce operations. Whilst they are the flavour of the month for many customers (huge range of choice, low prices, free delivery, interest-free credit terms – what could possibly go wrong?), they are not true retailers. Genuine retail requires a physical presence where real, live customers can touch and feel goods, and receive service from real, live sales associates. The differences in the 2 models appears easy to understand. And for many retailers, it would be preferable if they had the option of keeping to this traditional methodology. Creating and maintaining a presence online, whether it’s purely for branding purposes, or it’s a full blown electronic extension of the physical store, is costly and fraught with complexities and costs that often only surface once the process begins. Think ball of string + unravelling. And that’s only the beginning. Once content has been created and uploaded, there remains the often-under-estimated process of making sure the Customer gets what he/she wants, how and when he/she wants.

So as a first step, many, quite understandably, adopt basic models; we simply show what inventory is sitting in a specified area of the main warehouse, and fulfil from there. E-commerce box ticked. Minimal revenues, minimal costs, and minimal disruption of the ongoing business. Done. Now let’s focus on more important issues such as clearing a slow-moving line or re-distributing that stock, currently sitting in Malang, to Bali, to complete broken size ranges or fulfil a regional preference in terms of size/colour. Now if we can find an app for that, perhaps we can take this online/digital thing a bit more seriously…

The solution is, of course, not an app. It is simply making the customer the centre of attention. Just like they were when they stepped into a dry goods store back in the Old (Wild) West. Mr. Shopkeeper knew all his customers not only by name, but by preference. Over the years, as businesses grow and attention spans shorten (kudos if you got this far by the way), that customer intimacy has shrunk. Convenience has risen yes, but gone is the attention most human beings either crave, or at the least, appreciate. So how to bring back the Old West service then, in an age of smart-phones and Alibaba?

The answer is omni-channel. Simply defined as a merging of the offline and online retail worlds, it allows us to start paying better attention to our customer, delighting them more often, and creating a better business at the same time.

This win-win may sound too good to be true but it’s based on some simple business rules – give your customer what they want, where they want it, when they want it, at a price they like, and you are half way home. The challenge is executing these promises across multi-channels, whilst keeping the whole experience simple from the customer perspective. Arming your team with enterprise-class solutions which take care of inventory, fulfilment, and loyalty regardless of the touch-point is a basic. Empowering your sales associates to cross and up-sell, and never lose a sale due to “out of stock” is extremely valuable. As is developing loyalty strategies which improve margins, not erode them. And rather crucially, is to start looking at your business as a whole, not as online versus offline. Because the customer lives in both worlds, at the same time. And he/she is definitely very much alive…

 

This article has been written by:

Stephen Dodgson, Principal Management Consultant, ETP Groupstephen-dodgson-etp

Originally from Yorkshire, England, Stephen has spent around 30 years working in various markets including Asia, Europe and Africa, across several sectors: fashion, media and enterprise level IT solutions. He currently consults to many of the finest retailer brands in South East Asia, providing enterprise level, omni-channel ready solutions.

Founded in 1988, ETP is an Omni-channel Retail Solutions company headquartered in Singapore, serving market leaders in more than 22 countries across Asia Pacific, India and the Middle East. ETP’s Omni-channel Solutions include Omni-channel POS, Mobility, CRM, Marketing and Promotion Campaigns, Order Management & Supply Chain Management, and Merchandise & Assortment Planning.