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Kamal Karmakar

How can Singaporean retailers navigate today's omnichannel landscape


The retail landscape in Singapore has faced a slump during the festive season in 2018, and analysts are predicting a challenging year ahead. Retailers in Singapore are faced with two distinct challenges.

Firstly, the shift from a product-centric to a consumer-centric environment have left brands and companies in Singapore to realise that staking a claim in such an ever-competitive market is not as simple as attractive price points and discounts.

Secondly, the prevalence of physical stores constitute the lion’s share of Singapore’s total retail sales, with online retail taking close to 8% of total sales in 2019, despite high-rental being the retail killer.

The need to adapt to omnichannel retail is more important than ever before, as companies work to stay relevant in the digital age, and afloat in the face of rising trade protectionism. International predictions in 2019 show a pattern where retailers are scrambling to find a middle ground, balancing between both the online and digital realm. Capabilities aside, retailers will need to arm themselves with the right mindsets to match the modern consumer who wants and expects more. The following are what we feel necessitate an omnichannel approach for 2019.

The single approach is a silo approach
The prediction of the death of brick and mortar retail has been vastly exaggerated, whilst banking solely on the online space and e-commerce is not enough. The single approach is akin to a siloed, disconnected experience that shortchanges everyone.

Walmart has seen success with a foray into e-commerce, whilst digital native vertical brands (DNVB) though seeing success in their direct-to-customer model are seeing possibilities by expanding into the physical space.

Despite being the minority, there are shoppers who interact exclusively on single channels, but those will get fewer and far between as time goes by. Limiting touchpoints reduces options and presence, hurting businesses in the long run.

Even with online retail growing from 5.3% in 2017 to 10.3% of total retail sales in Singapore by 2022, it is not enough to mitigate the importance of brick and mortar retail

The seamless, quality experience
It is not what brands want to look like that matters, but what their customers see. Identifying what sets them apart in their native space (digital or physical) and replicating it should be on top of their list. Providing seamless experiences from online to offline, and vice versa is integral to a successful omnichannel platform.

However, such seamless experiences will prove to be nothing if it isn’t backed by quality. Retail isn’t dead, boring retail is. Successful brick and mortar shops have seen a revival by satisfying consumers’ need to feel, touch, and experience the brand as a whole in the physical space. Online touchpoints must take a page out of this and reinvigorate their experiences.

The open communication capabilities integral in omnichannel offers companies insights to push and expand on both their online and offline efforts.

Switch lanes any time
Staff and systems must be in sync, and offer the customer the option to switch lanes any time in their path to purchase, hopping between online and offline interactions at any time. For example, a customer wanting to make a clothing purchase could have a straightforward journey:

  1. Finding the store (online or offline)
  2. Picking up the items in store (offline)

A different customer could have a different journey:

  1. Finding the store (online or offline)
  2. Reserving the items (online)
  3. Trying the items in the store for fitting/alteration (offline)
  4. Schedule a delivery (offline)
  5. Reschedule the delivery due to timing clashes (online)

From both examples shown, whether the path to purchase is long, or short, the consumer always has the power of choice.

A good omnichannel retail solution accommodates any path the consumer wants to take with ease, from choosing, trying, paying, and pickup. There should be no bumps in the road and no friction in the experience. People will always choose the path of least resistance, and if a functionality hassles, and doesn’t help, you’re creating a touchpoint that repels consumers, instead of attracting them.

It is always personal
According to the 2017 Gartner Customer Experience in Marketing Survey, 81% of companies believe that customer experience will define the battlefield, and personalisation is key to creating effective, directed experiences to the consumer. The truth is consumers want control over their data and are happy to share with companies that they trust if the benefits are clear.

Personalisation and strong customer experience are essential in making a name, and building that trust for consumers to be more receptive to actively engage the company. The facilitates the ease in which information can be gathered (from purchase histories and interactions) and volunteered. This fosters retention and top-of-mind awareness.

Responsible use of data within consumers’ comfort zones open up meaningful conversations

Omnichannel is the retail experience
With consumers calling the shots, companies are expected to offer more than just attractive prices and digital capabilities, with more fickle consumer attitudes, it is up to companies to give a good reason for them to stay.

Factors such as convenience and ease of access, consistency of service and quality, customer service and experience become the core tenets that companies need to build their omnichannel capabilities around.

As digital and physical retail experiences continue to improve and evolve, we will begin to see a delineation in the near future, where both will be in sync and the lines will blur. The omnichannel will become the base experience that consumers will expect to see from companies that are exciting, and a relevant part of their lives.

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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Kamal Karmakar

Kamal Karmakar

Kamal is the founder and promoter of CitiXsys. He has been responsible for the company’s evolution to be a specialist provider of software products in Retail segment. Kamal’s responsibilities include Business Strategy, Global Sales, Product Innovation and Growth.

Under his leadership, CitiXsys grew to become the market leader in Retail Technology domain and known as an innovator in Retail sector. He has also guided the organization to receive several prestigious awards in tech industry.

Beyond his work in CitiXsys, Kamal has considerable experience at counseling executives at high growth companies on strategy formulation, business model transformation, and implementation of balanced scorecard in their enterprise. He has worked with many companies in a counseling capacity with an exceptional track record of helping management teams achieve better strategy & bottom-line improvements.

A graduate of Harvard Business School, Kamal is well recognized in the industry and is on board of various companies globally including being a member of SAP Advisory Council for Business One in Germany.

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