Local Business

Omni-channel critical for future of brick-and-mortar retail

Issac John /Dubai
issacjohn@khaleejtimes.com Filed on September 28, 2020
Building convergence between digital and physical channels is now critical for merchants of all sizes.

Omni-channel approach to sales seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience.

Physical stores continue to dominate the retail landscape in the UAE and Saudi Arabia despite the fast-track growth of eCommerce during the pandemic, according to Visa, a global leader in digital payments.

Building convergence between digital and physical channels is now critical for merchants of all sizes to navigate through the crisis and stay alive. "The future of brick-and-mortar is still bright for retailers who create a seamless integration between in-store and online experiences," a Visa digital expert said at the Future Retail Experience webinar.

"The future for brick-and-mortar retail is not the apocalypse it is being painted to be," said Akshay Chopra, vice president, Innovation and Design, Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa at Visa.

"Our data shows that although eCommerce is now drawing a larger share of the pie, physical stores have continued to see their sales grow. But the virus has drastically altered the way people shop and providing customers with an omni-channel experience is now more critical than ever. So, the battle isn't between online and brick and mortar but rather about who will build convergence between digital and physical retail to create the perfect customer journey," said Chopra.

Omni-channel approach to sales seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience, whether they're shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick-and-mortar store.

Chopra said the need for convergence presents a huge opportunity for innovation in future retail experiences especially with technologies like Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, gamification, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and the internet of things (IoT), as well as a wide range of secure contactless payment options.

According to Diane J. Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, as click-and-collect becomes the norm, consumers will see transformed brick-and-mortar stores in the market. "Many existing stores will transform into "dark stores"-traditional retail spaces converted into local fulfillment centres. The stores that remain will offer super-engaging, safely distanced retail experiences. Stores will appeal to shoppers by offering guest speakers, live podcast recordings and literary readings to build a sense of community. Stores will display select marquee objects, livestream events hosted by staff, and encourage at-home browsing," Brisebois wrote.

"To supplement the in-store experience, retailers will create virtual showrooms, virtual tours, even virtual fittings. AR, or augmented reality, allows customers to create virtual photographic avatars on a touchless screen to sample makeup shades or try on a pair of pants," she said.

"However, we recognize that bringing about seamless omni-channel experiences can be a tall order for smaller merchants. But small and micro businesses are key players in the world economy, especially in emerging markets," said Chopra.

As consumers switch to buying from small businesses with strong digital capabilities, the move to successfully unify a shopping experience that serves customers both in-store and online is the only way to navigate through the crisis and stay alive, he said.

Visa's insights show that cash-only retailers have been most negatively impacted while merchants who moved online and adopted contactless payment systems have been able to better weather the economic adversity. Contactless payments usage in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example, grew by approximately 10 per cent in Q2 2020 compared to Q1 2020, signalling the increasing preference for touchless commerce. - issacjohn@khaleejtimes.com


Issac John

Editorial Director of Khaleej Times, is a well-connected Indian journalist and an economic and financial commentator. He has been in the UAE's mainstream journalism for 35 years, including 23 years with Khaleej Times. A post-graduate in English and graduate in economics, he has won over two dozen awards. Acclaimed for his authentic and insightful analysis of global and regional businesses and economic trends, he is respected for his astute understanding of the local business scene.

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