Will brick and mortar retail survive in the Middle East?
The most pertinent question being asked around in retail circles is will brick and mortar retail survive? Industry watchers and analysts have raised this question and debated endlessly at almost every retail focused congregation. But to my mind, the necessary question is what do the consumers want and how do we win them in a digital era?
Today the consumer lives in an easy universe, what we call as an Easyverse where everything is easy and is available at the push of a button. He wants, what he wants and when he wants it. In such a dynamic environment, the question is how we make the consumer journey, a memorable one.
Being present across all channels doesn't necessarily mean that you are available for the consumers when and where they want to engage with you. The larger question is, are all your channels integrated? Can your consumer shop in one channel, collect in another, and even better, can he return in a third channel? Seamless experience comes with integration of all channels with unified view of your inventory. Businesses that succeed in providing the best customer experience, that is unified across all touch points, are the ones that are most likely to stay in green.
With the launch of the much-awaited Noon.com, the Middle East's largest online shopping platform, the online retail landscape in the Gulf is on the verge of experiencing a major paradigm shift - that combined with the acquisition of Souq.com by shopping giant Amazon, earlier last year, will cause a huge disruption in the UAE and the Gulf, both online and offline. Thanks to landmark moves such as these, the e-commerce market has certainly picked up pace.
A report by AT Kearney disclosed that the Gulf region's e-commerce market is relatively very small. With an estimated market size of $5.3 billion in 2015, e-commerce contributed to only approximately 0.4 per cent to the region's GDP - a miniscule amount compared with more mature markets that have similar levels of GDP per capita and Internet penetration. With the pace at which consumers are embracing platforms, there is certainly a huge room for growth.
Brick and mortar retailers will have to now find ways to differentiate themselves and hold on to what makes them unique, more significantly, the road to success will lie in understanding their customer's needs and adapting their approach accordingly. Brick and mortar stores have a unique advantage of providing a personalised customer experience and a human touch that is still preferred by many shoppers. The key to success may lie in finding the perfect synergy between offline and online experiences.
So here are the four power-ups for the brick and mortar stores to bring in a level playing field between online and offline.
Digitising your offline store
Globally brands lose 4 per cent of their overall revenue due to lack of stock or availability of a particular pattern or color.
The advantage an ecommerce store is exactly that. Availability. In a world everything digital, it'll be a shame not to power your store. Bring power back to the store with store digitisation. Empower your staff with a digital store so as to enable your consumers to have a seamless experience while they still get what they want at the store. Double whammy!
Cookie for offline retail
One of the advantages which an ecommerce store has is the ability to track the profile of the customers walking in. With the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning, it's now absolutely possible to create an online cookie equivalent for brick and mortar store. Imagine a consumer walking into the store and is being greeted by a sales executive by his name with suggestions of a white shirt that he is expected to buy that day! Interesting, isn't it? While on one hand you can track the count of people walking in to the store, on the other you can have an overall demographics of the walk-ins. With sufficient information at your disposal, you will now be able to know the power hours of your stores and you can manage your store staff accordingly to handle the traffic! How cool is that!
E-commerce and PWA
While it is important to be online for your consumers, it's equally important to be fast. Globally the threshold wait time of customers is anywhere between 2-3seconds.
Anything above the time results in page abandonment. As such, relying on your legacy stacks might cost you the traffic with increase in page abonnement. Doing away with the legacy stacks and upgrading to a Progressive web App (PWA) is a favor you'll do yourself and your consumers. PWA is light, loads quicker that your legacy sites, and hence increases your conversions.
Personalisation and AI
The world is revolving around the word personalisation and rightly so. With the touch of AI, you can take the personalisation a notch higher. AI is helping marketers evolve from an era of personalisation to individualisation, with a greater data driven insight.
Another argument that goes in favour of brick and mortar retail, more specifically in the GCC region is that residents and tourists alike have adopted malls, to be an inherent part of lifestyle, of being in the middle east. A mall is a destination for shopping, entertainment and socialising. Nowhere else in the world apart from the GCC, do we have malls that are open 12 hours and sometimes even 16 hours a day, during festive or special months?
So it's up to the region's retailers, big and small, online and offline, to embrace the digital bandwagon, redouble their efforts to reach customers and take the region to global heights.
In the end as the adage goes - consumers shall win!
The writer is director - Business Development at Capillary Technologies. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.