This article was published in Business Diary on October 21, 2021. Photo from the same page.
The global health crisis has changed the way business is conducted. Indeed, no industry was spared, and those who adapted quickly were the first to stem the adverse effects of prolonged lockdowns and restricted travel on businesses. One of the hardest hit was the retail sector. But along with the challenges, came opportunities. Though the retail sector felt the effects of the pandemic most profoundly, it was also the sector to quickly adapt digital technologies thereby, easing the impact of the crisis.
Since March 2020, consumers have embraced digital technologies to purchase consumer products, such as food, groceries, gadgets, apparel, and even consumer durables. Businesses were also quick to cope with the demand. In a trend accelerated by the global health crisis, Filipino companies have been offering products and services online to serve their brick-and-mortar customers who are now sheltering at home.
Amid the pandemic, many more online businesses have sprung. Last year, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) recorded 88,000 online companies sought registration. In the retail space, freely available big data showed an 80% drop in visits to malls, restaurants, and movie theaters, according to a recent report by the World Bank and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
‘Competition is now in the Digital Space’
The Philippine and global economies contracted in 2020, but businesses that quickly shifted to digital platforms got a head start on the road to resilience. This trend also turned the competition into the digital space, where enterprises sell goods and services on virtual platforms.
For instance, malls and grocery stores that suffer lower foot traffic try to get a share of web traffic by launching their e-commerce applications. Brands that consumers used to buy in physical stores are made available in a few taps. Food retailers reach customers beyond the vicinity of their physical stores through delivery apps. And now, a household can complete their entire week’s shopping in mere minutes and at the same time dramatically reduce the risk of being exposed to the disease.
In 2021, online channels became a minimum requirement for any business. As a result, companies must be ready to ride—and even get ahead of—few trends in the retail space to continue surviving and thriving.
Global brands like Amazon are already leading the way. In Amazon grocery stores in the UK, dubbed as Amazon Fresh, customers continue the experience of buying products in a physical store, but without the inconvenience of long lines to the cashier and exposure to crowds. They can bring their own bags to the store, pick up items from the aisles, and leave. Amazon processes the purchases through computer vision, deep learning, and sensor fusion. Payment is handled automatically in the Amazon Go app.
Another leader, Nike, elevates the omnichannel shopping experience. While the world must learn to live with health and safety precautions for the foreseeable future, they are making sure that customers continue to enjoy the Nike lifestyle across all channels. In a New York store, customers book a fitting appointment online, head to the physical shop to find a locker with the shoes they want to try on. They use their mobile phones to open the locker and purchase the shoes. The orchestration between the online and the offline experiences is seamless.
‘Taking Advantage of Technology’
Any brand can take advantage of technology to scale their business. For example, lean businesses that sell their products on social media can attend to inquiries and support requests from their customers 24/7. They do not need round-the-clock manpower to do so. Run by artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots can now handle natural conversations through chat. When deployed via social, websites, or apps, they facilitate the buying process whenever and wherever the customers require.
Business operations, on the other hand, can make use of augmented intelligence, a type of machine learning technology that reduces human effort without completely replacing it. One of its applications in retail is to read and understand the context of documents such as receipts and invoices, so that humans can simply consume the digitized information and use it as they see fit.
AI also enables businesses to gain a more significant share of the customer’s wallet through ultra-personalization and product recommendations. This is similar to upselling customers through product displays in line with the cashier — only this time, they are served not with the generic low-ticket items like candies and magazines, but with products that they are highly likely to get based on their purchase history, preferences, and profile. The recommendations may be provided in-app, via personalized ads, or to their emails, extending the experience beyond their online shopping session.
Stratpoint Technologies, a digital transformation leader in the Philippines, has enabled dozens of customers both locally and abroad to bounce back from economic disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic. They have created mobile applications for e-commerce, malls, payment services, insurance, knowledge management, health monitoring, and many more. Beyond software development, they also design and build the cloud infrastructure that will host entire platforms to ensure that the applications perform fast, stay on, and run securely for their customers’ users.
Mary Rose dela Cruz, CEO of Stratpoint, comments, “Business today — they have no choice. They need to evolve and use technology. The competition is now global, and the barriers to entry have disappeared. Stratpoint, with our 20 years of experience in digital transformation, can help businesses thrive in this new environment.”
For more information about Stratpoint’s digital transformation solutions for retail, visit www.stratpoint.com/retail.