THE entry of Alibaba, through its stake in Lazada, and Amazon's entry in Singapore, have given online shopping a new impetus in the Asia-Pacific region and traditional retailers are stepping up to stay relevant.
According to a recent study, 88 per cent of Asia-Pacific retailers plan to implement click-and-collect systems - buy online and pick up in store - by 2021. Moreover, thanks to new technology investments, 76 per cent of stores in the region will be able to identify specific customers in the store and offer them customised shopping experiences.
These are some of the interesting insights to come out of Zebra Technologies' 2017 Retail Vision Study (RVS), which included responses from 1,700 retail decision-makers globally including those from Asia-Pacific. Zebra is a global leader in tracking and technology solutions used by the retail industry for inventory management and other functions.
Lim Fang How, Zebra's regional director, South-east Asia (SEA), told The Business Times that the results were especially pertinent for Singapore's retail industry, given that the last few years have been especially challenging for brick-and-mortar stores.
"The rise of e-commerce has been one of the main factors behind a decrease in customer footfalls to physical shops," he added.
Along with Singapore's Smart Nation push, this trend has prompted initiatives such as the government's Go Digital programme to help raise SMEs' (small and medium enterprises) level of digital readiness - for example, helping Singaporean retailers break into e-commerce.
"While such programmes have helped open new revenue opportunities for retailers, the multi-faceted nature of omni-channel retail has also led to inventory management and logistical headaches for retailers," said Mr Lim.
The survey noted that 68 per cent of retailers in the region plan to implement smart sensing technologies for inventory management while 76 per cent rate the integration of e-commerce and in-store experiences as important or business-critical. Further 73 per cent plan to roll out visibility solutions in their supply chain to enable real-time visibility of business processes and asset tracking through automation, sensors and analytics.
Mr Lim noted that one of the biggest draws of online shopping is the "instant gratification it provides to shoppers". So, on top of selling items, retailers need to ensure that the products are picked, packed and dispatched without delay, with the products tracked all the way to the customer's doorstep.
"This means that traditional and outdated supply chain processes are no longer sufficient for retailers to remain competitive. According to Zebra's RVS, 73 per cent of Asia-Pacific retailers plan to implement real-time visibility solutions through automation, sensors and analytics, while 57 per cent of the region's decision-makers plan to use automation for packing and shipping orders, inventory tracking, checking in-store inventory levels, and finding items."
Retailers should invest in predictive analytics if they have not already done so, Mr Lim added. "With predictive analytics, retailers can identify products that resonate most with customers as well as those that are less popular so that they can manage inventories appropriately and avoid out-of-stock and overstock issues."
The Zebra official also noted that Singapore retailers, due to a compact land space and high population density as well as strong transportation network, are uniquely positioned to offer "phygital" experiences - the convergence of the physical and the digital, giving shoppers the tactile satisfaction of physical retail combined with the intuitiveness and convenience of e-commerce.
"Retailers are creating smart stores that automatically sense and record the location of almost everything - merchandise, staff, shoppers - and deliver actionable intelligence and insights that create competitive advantages."
According to Zebra's study, 81 per cent of retailers globally said they would deploy security sensors, 75 per cent planned to use sensors to track inventory levels, and 71 per cent said they would deploy sensors to track customer footpaths.
Physical retail stores remain highly relevant for Singaporean shoppers but "given the migration of customers from brick-and-mortar to online retail, retailers here cannot afford to avoid going online", said Mr Lim.
"This also means competing against other regional and global retailers, so local retailers need to ensure that they have the infrastructure in place to ensure positive shopping experiences, such as ensuring that supply chains are smooth for quick deliveries, that apps and online stores have smooth user interfaces, and that payment systems are smooth to minimise friction during check-out."
He added that retailers need to consider investing in solutions that provide them with visibility of their inventory and other valued assets from the point of sale to the distribution centre and beyond.
"Such solutions include retail-specific scanners, printers and other mobile devices for task management, staff communication and inventory management. They can also deploy purpose-built mobile products to meet all of the tasks required to ensure visibility of inventory housed on the floor, behind a customer service desk or in a warehouse."