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Disrupt, Or Be Disrupted?

October 2016

Is digital shopping disrupting the existing value chain? How consumer digital behavior and innovations are shaping the GCC retail industry? Three retail experts try to decode the trend

Technology disruptions are fundamentally changing the way people shop now. Manufacturers, and retailers, are now focusing on personalizing and tailoring their products to the individual’s needs, preferences and use habits. Given this, how can retailers use digital data to protect market share and satisfy customers?

Even though mobile apps and mobile-friendly sites may facilitate the personalized consumer engagements, but are they enough? Wealth Monitor asked retail experts if they see a gradual shift of UAE retailers toward experiential commerce from traditional online commerce. The questions asked included: What new things are you looking at to evolve the digital experience for customers? Is online business model more advantageous for all product categories versus the brick-and-mortar model? What are the key strategies for UAE retailers to win the digital battle? What’s the next stage for UAE’s retail sector’s digital growth? Do retailers need to do more than just building digital capabilities and e-commerce sites that could compare to the in-store experience?

And here’s what they had to say….

Dirk Henke, Managing Director, Emerging Markets, Criteo

dirk-henkeRetailers need to understand customers
As is the case in most markets, it is imperative for retailers to not only consider digitization of their brands, but also input measures to combine online and offline retail worlds, as consumers are active in both – increasingly at the same time. In the UAE, offline retail constitutes an important part of leisure activities, and is supported by very large and modern shopping malls. As online shopping grows in popularity, retailers must ensure that they continue to actually sell products in their physical stores in the future, and not only serve the purpose of being a place for customers to only touch and experience products. Retailers need to understand where customers are buying from digitally, in order to divert purchases to their own stores and brands.

Experiential commerce still in initial stage
All strategies and activities are ultimately transaction focused. Currently, the shift of UAE retailers towards experiential commerce from traditional online commerce is still in its initial stages. This trend is quite common across the globe, however retailers in the GCC need to catch-up. Whether you test augmented reality features or virtual shelves, it is important to always maintain a customer-centric view as an advertiser. Smartphones are playing an critical role as the link between offline and online experiences, and therefore provide the biggest and best opportunity for retailers.

Key Obstacles
Both, e-Commerce and m-Commerce, are expected to constantly grow over the next years, but its importance is not fully reflected by the term sales. Consumers seek information online – especially young users, who tend to compare products a lot using their smartphones. If retailers don’t provide them the necessary information they are looking for, they might miss important sales offline afterwards.

christopher-evansEvans, Director, Collinson Group

Building digital capabilities not enough
Retailers certainly need to do more than just build digital capabilities – it’s not a case of build it and they will come. Brands need to invest in digital platforms that will not only provide a seamless experience across all channels, but that critically enhances the overall customer experience in a relevant way. Digital platforms enable the collection of additional information about customers and this insight can then be applied to deliver highly targeted and personalized loyalty initiatives to build more meaningful connections with customers.

A Tectonic Shift
There is going to be a tectonic shift towards experientially led commerce in the next few years – led by growing influence of Millennials and Generation Z (the customers of the future). For these customers, brand loyalty is a completely different concept than what many retailers are used to. For this group, the customer experience, convenience and choice is more important than simply offering discounts.

A New Way Of Thinking
Implementation of an experiential loyalty commerce strategy requires a new way of thinking for many organisations. It involves greater collaboration between marketing and commerce departments, and with potential partners that can offer a complementary brand fit. Retailers need to build an inventory of engaging rewards and benefits outside the company’s traditional products and services. There will be investment required to develop these partnerships but the return is high for brands that get it right.

Fahad Al Bannai, CEO, axiom telecom

fahad-al-bannaiFocus On Experience-Based Shopping
The moment a customer walks into a store, he or she will have a decision to make – do I explore further, or have I seen enough. The answer to that depends on the energy of the store and the experience it offers, and given the nature of today’s discerning customers, yes, there definitely needs to be a greater focus on experience-based shopping. This goes beyond having helpful staff and a store that can easily be navigated. It involves giving customers an opportunity to experience products, providing exceptional technical knowledge, and offering strong after-sales support.

Gradual Shift Towards Experiential Shopping
Absolutely, and this is primarily the result of evolving consumer expectations among the country’s tech-savvy population. However, this shift is indeed gradual, as the UAE retail industry is relatively young, and many still operate on a transaction-basis – putting their complete focus on the bottom-line without having a complete understanding of what is needed to get there. Today, UAE shoppers want to be able see, feel, and experience a product before making an investment. They are looking for a more fulfilling and engaging consumer journey – one in which product selection, value for money, and customer care form the cornerston¬¬e of their retail experience.

Integration Of All Aspects
Experiential shopping requires the support of suppliers in making sure that retailers are equipped with both the knowledge and tools they need to enable customers to fully experience their products. It also requires retailers to keep up with consumer insights, and have both the know-how and capacity to translate this information into meaningful in-store experiences. This requires the full integration of all aspects of a business – from sales and marketing, to branding, interior design, and e-commerce.

Wrapping Up
Emerging technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), wearables, Cognitive Computing and Machine Learning, Digital Fabrication, and Digital Payments have already begun to demonstrate their disruptive powers across industry, including retail. As Accenture says, with such a rapidly evolving digital landscape, it’s not enough for retailers to be looking at how technology innovation is disrupting their businesses today. They also need to be gazing into the future to understand—and begin planning for—the next wave of game-changing technology. The key message for retailers is — spot the next disruption before it’s too late.


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