With the Great Singapore Sale in full swing, and an e-commerce industry projected to reach SGD4.4 billion this year, retailers and e-tailers around town are battling it out to capture those shopping dollars.
Fierce competition, rapid technological change, and the emergence of "flex shoppers" that use multiple channels (online and in-store) and devices (laptops, smartphones, and tablets) to research and purchase products, are making it more difficult than ever for retailers to attract customers and keep them there long enough to complete the checkout process.
A deep dive into the latest research shows that the key to winning the hearts of Singapore's online shoppers is adapting to recent changes in consumer behaviour.
Retailers would be wise to act on these five areas:
#1: Seamless shopping from site to store
Whether we search and browse online or in-store usually comes down to convenience, so smart retailers know to create a seamless experience between the two. This means providing enough information so shoppers can make informed decisions. Investments in online content – from photography to educational tools – must be made alongside salesperson training.
The price-conscious, tech-savvy nature of Singaporean shoppers is revealed as 51% compare prices and 45% read product reviews on their smartphones while in store, according to the 2015 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper™ Asia Study. Of shoppers across Asia that eventually buy online, approximately one-third will opt for ship-to-store for pickup at some point.
These store visits are invaluable, as more than half of Asian consumers buy additional items during these trips, demonstrating the vital role of ship-to-store in omnichannel retailing.
#2: Facebook first
With the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world at 85% it comes as no surprise that Singaporeans use their mobiles to do everything from paying bills (47%), to finding coupons (42%), and using loyalty cards (33%).
However, despite the prevalence of smartphones, half of online shoppers in Singapore abandon their mobile shopping carts because the product image is unclear or too small, product information is not available, or it's hard to compare products.
To win back these shoppers, retailers should create user-friendly interfaces optimised for all devices, incorporate photography and zoom capabilities, peer-based ratings/reviews, and consider mobile apps and live chat to increase loyalty and address problems quickly.
When it comes to social media, it has been challenging for retailers to directly link exposure to purchasing decisions. What our research has found, though, is that more than half of shoppers in Asia said their purchases are influenced by social networks, pointing to its growing influence on retail.
One-third of Singaporeans who are happy with their purchase are likely to promote it on social media, most often on Facebook (83%), the highest percentage in Asia. Similarly, when dissatisfied, one-third would complain on social media.
Retailers with a strong social media presence are better placed to sell more, respond quickly to feedback, and reward those who "like" the brand page with special offers.
#3: Spend more for free shipping
Seven in ten online shoppers in Singapore say that free shipping is critical in their decision to make a purchase online. But what retailers may not realise is the lengths that shoppers will go to get it.
To qualify for free shipping, 45% of shoppers in Singapore have added more purchases to their cart, 37% have searched online for promo codes, and 32% have joined a loyalty program.
Knowing this, a best practice for retailers is to prompt shoppers to add to their carts by showing the incremental spend needed to meet the free shipping threshold.
What's more, to avoid paying shipping fees, one in four Singaporeans have chosen "ship-to-store" which benefits retailers since shoppers often purchase additional products while in store.
One in three shoppers select the slowest transit time to qualify for free shipping. Do you know how long your customers are willing to wait for free shipping?
#4: Flexibility and control are key
When going through the online checkout process, shoppers have become increasingly interested in alternate options as they exert control, ranging from delivery locations and time to new payment options.
Across Asia, Singapore has the highest percentage of online shoppers (one in two) who stated that having the ability to select an alternate delivery location such as a convenience store is an important factor when checking out online.
At the same time, receiving an email or text with approximate time of delivery tops the list of desired conveniences for two in five shoppers. With consumers continually on the go, and for those living in HDBs and condos that do not want their packages left outside, these types of conveniences go a long way towards increasing satisfaction.
#5: Fuss-free returns
Returns remain an area highly valued by consumers but underserved by retailers. Even before "submit order" is clicked, 63% of online shoppers in Singapore have reviewed the retailer's return policy, demonstrating its importance in shoppers' decision-making process.
To win over consumers, retailers should make their return policies easy to find and easy to follow. This includes assessing whether free return shipping is viable as it has been shown to pay back over the long term.
Unanimous across Asia, online shoppers most favor options to return products to the store for free or ship it back with a convenient pre-paid label. Most compellingly, a satisfied shopper who has an easy time with returns is likely to become a loyal customer.
As the Great Singapore Sale wraps up for another year, it will be very interesting to see which retailers have reaped the rewards.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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A 16-year UPSer, Ingrid Sidiadinoto is the Managing Director of UPS Singapore, responsible for the strategic management of the Singapore business. Prior to this appointment in 2011, Ingrid was Director of Industrial Engineering in UPS South Asia District, spearheading business expansions in India, Vietnam, Australia, Malaysia, and Thailand.