Phygital presence and an omnichannel strategy to retail seem to be another facet of the hybrid approach to almost everything in the digital economy…

As consumers around the world tighten their pockets and cut down on spending at brick-and-mortar stores to reap savings from online group-buys and e-commerce super apps, businesses have been furiously jumping into balancing a mix of physical retail and online presence to figure out a sweet spot that suits their products and services.

According to Brien Chua, Founder, Sheldon Global, online-oriented businesses can actually benefit by bucking the trend and investing in physical retail spaces — to offer an omnichannel “showrooming” experience that savvy new-age customers insist on. He tells more about the key strategies that can help businesses find their footing in the post-pandemic digital landscape…

DigiconAsia: The pandemic caused many brick-and-mortar retailers to undergo transformation to stay relevant and rough out the lockdowns and tourism curbs until now. Meanwhile, high inflation and geopolitical/economic challenges and uncertainties have made e-commerce even more relevant than physical retail. What are your thoughts on the latter industry’s prospects in the short to long term?

Brien Chua, CEO & Founder of HOUZE, Table Matters, Sheldon Global

Brien Chua (BC): The COVID-19 pandemic undeniably pushed brick-and-mortar retailers to the brink, compelling them to reinvent their strategies for survival. Yet, amid the challenges of lockdowns, tourism restrictions, and economic uncertainties, the physical retail sector still continues to be relevant, and it has been presented with a unique opportunity to emerge stronger than ever in the short- to long- term.

Due to the period of pandemic isolation, and a new era of remote interactions, consumers  now seek tangible, in-person experiences with a personal touch. Speaking to customers on the ground, we notice that many of them, especially when purchasing home- and lifestyle products, crave the tactile engagement and sensory immersion that only physical stores can provide. So, while I agree with skeptics that the era of brick-and-mortar is over, the industry’s revival prospects are far from dim; instead, they are poised for a renaissance

This omnichannel approach has become a cornerstone of the modern retail sector. As consumer behavior continues to evolve, retailers who successfully bridge the gap between digital and physical realms will thrive. This means leveraging advanced technologies like AI and data analytics to understand customer preferences, optimizing supply chains for efficiency, and enhancing customer service through personalised experiences.

The future of retail lies in the synergy between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar, creating a dynamic and customer-centric ecosystem that offers convenience, choice, and value.

DigiconAsia: Can you apply what you shared in your forecast for brick-and-mortar change mandates to how traditional (and slow-to-fully-digitalize) retail businesses in the region can complement e-tailing and maybe even hold their own for the foreseeable future? If not, how will physical storefronts and sales premises likely adapt or perish? 

BC: The line between brick-and-mortar and direct-to-consumer shopping has blurred over the last two decades, as a growing number of retailers roll out features like buy-online-pick-up in store, and incorporating more digital and physical touch-points for consumers to inform their purchases.

Today, digitally-influenced brick and mortar purchases have grown by more than 70%. It has become clear that brick and mortar spaces are slowly evolving. More than being a place for purchase fulfillment, retail spaces are set to become product showrooms and distribution hubs for consumers. It has also become a touch point for in-person customer interactions, and for brands to interact directly with their consumers — which is critical for a brand’s long-term success. 

As the shopping experience becomes more hybrid, there is a need to reimagine the function of individual stores and take on an entirely new approach to re-design these spaces so that we can create more experiential and personalized interactions with consumers.

The application of this approach can vary from something as simple as explaining the production processes of their products of interest, to setting up the store in the form of a home showroom so that potential customers can imagine how the products will look like in their personal living spaces. 

DigiconAsia: Our readers are already too familiar with the need to provide seamless omnichannel shopping experiences, hyper-personalized engagement and post-sales service, etc. What are your ideas for taking these concepts to the next levels while remaining differentiated from competitors who are also pursuing the same objectives?

BC: The rise of social commerce is definitely something that brands will start finding hard to ignore. In Singapore alone, live-streaming and gamification of online shopping experiences have reportedly increased by 19 times since March 2020, and is estimated to reach US$3.37tn by 2028. 

In this new era of “retailtainment”, speed and curated content form the new currency. Businesses will invest more on curating content that engages and entertains their consumers to differentiate themselves.

On the retail front, businesses can also look to leverage existing retail spaces to curate their online content, creating a stronger relevance between both platforms, and affording consumers with the luxury of choice in their purchase experience — onsite or online. 

Going forward, personalization can also be taken to the next level by building robust ecosystems comprising the full experience of online content, in-store offers and events to encourage brand community-based interactions. Instead of turning to a retailer for occasional interactions, omnichannel ecosystems will become a crucial part of a consumer’s brand experience.