The pandemic digitalized consumers: now they have both physical and digital platforms to shop in. How can businesses tap this trend?

In a report by Omni, the Asia Pacific region accounted for two thirds of the total e-commerce market in 2020. A projection by Forrester predicts APAC online retail sales will top US$2.5tn by 2024, up from US$1.5tn in 2019.

As digital consumers continue to use and explore online commerce platforms, services and apps, and as physical retail models are modernized to retain their niche customers, this can result in a omnichannel e-commerce space—not only in the avenues from which consumers purchase, but also in the after-sales services provided by vendors.

How can business leverage this trend while keeping physical retail channels viable? discussed this with Gibu Mathew, VP and GM (APAC) Zoho Corporation, for his insights.

Gibu Mathew, VP and GM (APAC), Zoho Corporation

DigiconAsia: How can businesses in the region adjust the balance between the digital and the brick-and-mortar aspects of marketing?

Gibu Mathew (GM): As consumers return to retail and window-shop and compare prices with online stores, Statista data shows South-east Asian (SEA) consumers are intensifying research prior to their purchases.

With customers going omnichannel, retailers will also need to grow their omnichannel reach as well as ramp up marketing capabilities to engage the customer across various touchpoints.

However, having that omnichannel reach is not enough. Being able to engage their audiences seamlessly across various platforms is also important, and this can be achieved via a Unified Marketing Platform (UMP) that allows for better brand control in the digital space, and enables businesses to convert-to-sales and drive brand loyalty.

By providing timely drops of content and information to help customers affirm their purchase decisions, business can enable better and more consistent experiences of their brand.

DigiconAsia: Digital commerce channels seem to hold more potential for automation and data-driven strategies than brick-and-mortar channels in SEA…

GM: As it is, technology platforms and data monetization can retain customers, especially when the business sets out to solve a customer problem. With every data shift being recorded, digital businesses can pivot and act faster. Data-driven insights and automation enable businesses to understand their customers better and increase repeat sales, unlike traditional brick-and-mortar markets that are largely reactionary to consumer changes.

Automation also allows for digital marketing campaigns to be tweaked many times and day or week depending on geographic, product trends or visitor demographics, which is not at all possible with the traditional marketing approach.

DigiconAsia: What is one area of technology that can bolster brick-and-mortar’s modernization/digitalization while also spurring e-commerce?

GM: That would be mobile technology: According to the World Economic Forum, increasing smartphone penetration spurred further growth of e-commerce in SEA, with the Philippines and Malaysia recording 25% and 23% e-commerce retail growth respectively.

At the same time, industry reports suggest that 6.06bn smartphones were in use globally at the end of 2020—three times the number of PCs, making smartphones the primary digital device used by consumers on the web.

This also suggests that the high level of tech and social media adoption in SEA (via mobile devices) contributed to the overall growth in commerce.

DigiconAsia: Can you share some views on the trajectory of e-commerce in terms of hot topic issues in the region such as sustainability and financial inclusion?

GM: As the trend of omnichannel commerce continues for brands that have totally embraced digitalization and automation, a report from Google has indicated that only 30% of firms polled had achieved (or exceeded) targets in terms of sustainable growth.

While digitization does provide an advantage to early adopters, it also levels the playing field, drives financial inclusion, and enables businesses to compete equally in terms of value to the customer.

With a new generation of South-east Asian consumers demanding sustainability and communal accountability, brands need to cater for what matters to consumers of the day—by shifting from selling solutions to being a force for good. Hence, being immersive, is not only about being present and obliging in the digital sense, but about resonating with consumers in terms of values and purpose.

While technologies such as AR and VR can provide immersive experiences on their own, getting consumers to jump on a brand’s bandwagon and say “yes” to the business is going to be affected by how they resonate with the brand’s values, how the brand harnesses data insights and establishes an omnichannel reach and thus provides end-to-end immersive experiences.

At the end of the day, businesses are about business outcomes, no matter the level of immersion.

DigiconAsia thanks Gibu Mathew for his insights.