What is the future of shopping? The whole concept of how we shop is changing dramatically with the integration of new technologies like augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, connected appliances, and exponential growth in ecommerce volumes. More brick and mortar stores are also stepping up to provide better retail experiences for consumers, exploring the role of “new retail” in today’s world. 

On June 24, TechNode Global hosted its third episode of the Tech Insights Webinar Series, uncovering insights through the lens of retail experts on what is shaping the future of the retail industry.

The ecommerce enablers 

Companies are offering many ways to help retailers jumpstart their online businesses as setting up stores online is not enough. 

Michael Lee, founder and CEO of SCash, a mobile payment startup which has a strong focus on Chinese tourists enabling businesses through Alipay mini program to access the huge China market.

Similarly, Derrick See, head of new retail at Lazada Singapore, said that Lazada is “looking for ways to empower sellers with physical retail spaces” by partnering with sellers to create strategies to grow their businesses both online and offline. As a marketplace, Lazada’s strength lies in its audience who are users with the intention to make purchases, thus helping their retailers to gain higher traffic and sales through their platform.

Cross-border shopping has been one of the fastest-growing ecommerce sectors over the past few years. WorldFirst is able to help merchants reach out internationally with the ability to receive and pay out local currencies in a cost-effective manner. The key pain point for most retailers is opening up an overseas bank account, said Peter Scully, managing director for Singapore and ANZ at WorldFirst. “I think that this has opened up and leveled the playing field for a lot of small retailers who in the past would not have been able to operate globally as effectively as the big boys,” he added.

Make life easier

That raises the questions of how small merchants and large brands alike can juggle their offline and online operations.

Yang Kan, head of data intelligence solutions at Alibaba Cloud underlined the importance of having a single system to integrate online and offline sales. “With the use of data analytics, we get to understand customers’ online behavior in every aspect”, said Yang with reference to Freshippo, Alibaba’s supermarket chain which takes elements of the online shopping experience to brick-and-mortar stores. New retail is about offering customers a seamless and personalized experience, leading to conversion, he added.

The business strategies for both online and offline channels must be properly aligned to avoid internal channel conflict. Many offline retailers are adamant to set up an online presence worrying it might cannibalize their own in-store sales, said See. “The retail scene is changing and companies need to be on board this. The growth of new retail will be impeded when companies neglect to do so,” he added.

Ai mirror, magic mirror, cosmetics, new retail, AI
An AI-powered mirror in a cosmetics store in China / Photo: Alibaba

Scully called on big retailers to create brand loyalty and an online window shopping experience that allows customers to easily access and engage in their products. In his opinion, new retail involves a multidimensional strategy, and that customer experience is a crucial aspect in engaging and retaining customers. 

Enhanced customer experience

Lazada’s exec gave the example of the company’s own Korean cosmetics store in Singapore, which is loaded with tech.

“Customers can scan the product’s QR code pasted in the offline store where they will be directed to the product page to read the reviews and watch tutorials,” See explained. Such small enhancements in the physical stores will enhance the customer experience and enable them to make a more holistic purchase decision, he added.

Scash is also using tech to make live easier for travelers from China. “Chinese tourists can now articulate what they want and our AI-based chatbot will assist with the order, ensuring that the order is ready for pickup before they leave the airport,” Lee said. “We are also capturing customers’ behaviour data which allows us to market the products in a more personalized and effective manner, increasing conversion,” he said. 

Covid is a wake-up call for retailers

As the fear of Covid-19 infection is not likely to go away any time soon, retailers have to rethink the retail experience to put in place non-touching buying. “Stores may face challenges in getting customers to touch the products, but they can experiment with other senses such as sight, hiring, smell and other novel ways to bring up customer experience up a notch, See added.

In the new norm, Covid-19 has accelerated adoption of digital technology for the retail industry, as observed by Lee. He revealed that SCash had fully-booked its helpful retailer tutorial sessions for June and July, and more merchants are willing to learn about digitization, how to move their businesses online, and increasing their visibility in order to attract more customers. 

“Covid-19 is a wake-up call for retailers”, Scully said, expressing that this statement was “deep and powerful” for the industry. Marketplaces are reinventing themselves and those unable to keep up with the pace of change will be left behind. This would bring about a new dimension of online window shopping experience and consumers will be spoilt for choice with a plethora of options presented. 

See also noted that major companies who were reluctant to join the marketplace pre-Covid era have come on board in the last three months. “With the stay-home directives in place, businesses such as grocery and office supplies saw pretty good sales during this period,” he added.

 

About the panellists:

Derrick See, head of new retail, Lazada Singapore

The New Retail Department in Lazada Singapore was formed in the beginning of 2020. As Head of the department, Derrick oversees the various “O2O” initiatives that engage sellers with brick-and-mortar stores to help sellers create a cohesive online-offline strategy. Before taking the role, Derrick served as the head of product and technology of Lazada eLogistics Singapore for two years, managing all the logistics technology used by Lazada Singapore as well as the migration to Alibaba technology for the supply chain, fulfilment and last mile systems.

 

Michael Lee, founder & CEO, SCash

Michael Lee has been a venture capitalist with numerous years of experience investing in various countries including China. His experience and ventures have consisted of data centres, agricultural e-commerce, big data analytics and insurance brokerage. One such company’s turnover reached in excess of $42 million. The founding of SCash is the result of a decade of accumulated experience and relationships that Michael cultivated in China.

He previously held senior management positions in top firms, including AIG, AIA and Manulife, and has won numerous awards and accreditation since 1993.

 

Peter Scully, managing director of Singapore and ANZ, WorldFirst

Peter is responsible for materializing WorldFirst’s growth in Southeast Asia and ANZ. He spent his entire career working with international clients, which include US hedge and pension funds, central banks and multinational corporations. He brings a wealth of experience from Union Bank of Switzerland, Bank One Singapore, and Western Union. 

WorldFirst is an easier, faster, safer and cheaper way to move money around the world. That’s why the international payment company has more than 250,000 customers and over $70 billion transfers around the world.

 

Yang Kan, regional head of data intelligence solutions, Alibaba Cloud 

As regional head of data intelligence solutions, Yang Kan leads Alibaba Cloud’s regional big data and AI business strategy and solutions. He and his team are dedicated to craft solutions under ET Brain framework to various industries including smart city, new retail, smart manufacturing. Prior to joining Alibaba Cloud, he spent 10 years in managing enterprises’ global big data strategy and programs. He was responsible for transforming traditional businesses into data-driven organisations in oil and gas, and manufacturing industries.