For many firms leveraging e-commerce pivoting to survive, omnichannel marketing has been a lifeline. How should they fine-tune their strategy now?

With many countries in South-east Asia and beyond reopening their borders to tourism, the malls are becoming livelier again. Consumers previously restricted to obtaining good and services mostly through e-commerce can now hop down to the stores and cafes to satisfy their thirst for normality.

Amid this SEA change, e-commerce and m-commerce facilities now have to step up their game in order to retain customer loyalty. Similarly, brick-and-mortar businesses should already have been beefed up to offer extra conveniences (such as Buy Online, Pickup In Shop) and frills to complement their store’s e-commerce offerings as well.

During the 2.5-year long pandemic, omnichannel marketing was the glue that helped savvy merchants to reach out to all profiles and patterns of shoppers across physical shops and digital domains. However, with the pressing need to depend on e-commerce or m-commerce now much reduced, how should merchants tweak their omnichannel marketing—if that is at all necessary?

According to fintech expert Neo Liat Beng, who co-founded Arrow to provide smoother checkout experiences, “post-pandemic-era” shoppers have tasted the instant gratification of a digital economy and there is no returning to impersonal, rigid and/or inflexible customer experiences. Liat Beng shares with DigiconAsia his views on how to ramp up omnichannel strategies to acquire more customers and keep them hooked—even as they become more discerning and spoilt for choice …

Neo Liat Beng, Co-founder, Arrow

DigiconAsia: What are the evolving challenges of providing a seamless omnichannel experience for customers in SEA?

Neo Liat Beng (LB): Instead of focusing only on a brick-and-mortar strategy or a mobile experience, they need to adopt a holistic approach—an omnichannel strategy. Shoppers are on multiple platforms nowadays, and they use different payment methods to scour for the best deal. To stay ahead of competitors, merchants need to implement an omnichannel strategy to deliver a seamless, frictionless and personalized experience for shoppers.

Next-generation services are already available that can help merchants enable omnichannel retailing painlessly. On top of that, merchants operating in SEA are facing the unique challenge of navigating a fragmented payments landscape where a multitude of payment methods are available to shoppers in every market, such as local real-time payment schemes or domestic debit schemes. If not well managed, this can lead to friction at checkout when the preferred payment mode is not available for the shopper, and in some cases, cart abandonment due to flipping to other competitors that have a more flexible range of payment solutions.

In the same vein, merchants face the need to work with different payment service providers within the region. Even for the same payment provider, merchants may need to set up and manage individual country agreements to comply with country regulations. Given the variety of methods available, merchants that do not have the knowledge to leverage these payment methods in their checkout processes may find themselves overwhelmed.

As merchants continue to scale to delight shoppers, systems and business processes will get even more demanding: ensuring inventory is updated, fulfilling orders and payments 24/7, staying on top of marketing campaigns. They should leverage tools that help to streamline operations and keep everything on track.

DigiconAsia: What technologies are available to address these evolving challenges? Do they also work well outside of the region?

LB: One of the issues that merchants can already preempt and fix is preventing cart abandonment by having a variety of shipping, returns and payment options that matter to shoppers. The ideal delivery offering would provide only the most relevant options to customers based on their shipping address, instead of overwhelming them with multiple options.

Technologies and solutions are already available, and the most effective solution would be one that allows fast checkouts for shoppers and requires no additional integration.

A robust checkout solution enables merchants to provide shoppers with an experience that is both consistent and seamless regardless of their preferred payment method. Each country in SEA has its own preferred modes of payment. The key to selecting third-party solutions is to identify one that is localized to the regulations and trends in each country rather than a ‘one-size fits all’ proposition.

Furthermore, these solutions must be easily integrated with the merchant’s tech stack to allow them to extend the checkout experience into new channels. Reliability is a key factor: any potential issues could make it harder for customers to process their orders and result in them abandoning their carts.

In a highly competitive retail landscape, merchants must strive to optimize their solutions to offer a positive and seamless customer journey.

DigiconAsia: Considering that people have already been acclimatized to two years of pandemic-driven e-commerce reliance, are people already finding a good balance of e-shopping and in-store shopping in SEA? With the pandemic restrictions easing, will they revert to more brick-and-mortar consumerism? Will e-commerce only be a secondary avenue of value hunting?

LB: During the pandemic, brick-and-mortar stores found themselves rushing to digitalize by allocating resources to their existing e-commerce channels, or building their online presence from scratch.

On the other hand, merchants that were already in the digital sphere thrived as they had existing infrastructure to support their operations.

Fast forward to now, the SEA region is gradually easing restrictions, resulting in the return of in-store shopping that we are seeing. That being said, the retail industry has started to reshape itself for the ‘post-pandemic’ shoppers to provide them with the choice to shop however they like, whether in-person or online.

The e-commerce industry in South-east Asia’s six largest markets is set to continue growing, likely reaching US$172bn in value in 2025, according to a study by Bain & Company. Besides mobile shopping, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are also emerging e-commerce channels for merchants.

As shoppers in the region getting better at using the many options that are made available to them, merchants will have to think bigger than merely optimizing their e-commerce presence or reopening their brick-and-mortar stores to succeed in the post-pandemic world.

Every customer touchpoint should be prepped to be transformed into a consistent shoppable option— the core of which is to enable the shopper to checkout anytime, anywhere, with any payment method they prefer in a quick and secure manner.

DigiconAsia: Regardless of the imminent shifts in response to pandemic closure, omnichannel marketing, customer experience optimization and personalization will continue to be emphasized. Can any global digitalization platform be used to achieve this? How does a localized solution offer compelling unique advantages for businesses in the region?

LB: While there are global digitalization solutions and platforms on the market, they may not be able to effectively manage the diversity and fragmentation of the retail landscape we witness in the region.

South-east Asia’s shoppers have their own unique habits and nuances. This diversity means that localization is key to navigating the e-commerce landscape here.

Take checkout processes for example: some areas suffer from poor internet connectivity and friction, while some shoppers face is difficulty specifying delivery addresses via simple postal codes: they may need to indicate a general location on a virtual map and enter very detailed delivery instructions through special instructions that some e-commerce sites do not allow for.

While merchants may create a comprehensive shopper journey addressing the different touch points— from social media advertisements to promotions and customer service—a personalized checkout experience really is the best way to close the sale.

Whomever the shoppers are, and wherever they are based—a great checkout experience that demonstrates that the merchant knows and understands their specific needs is really the key to keeping them engaged and coming back for more.

DigiconAsia thanks Neo for sharing his insights on this topic.