New expectations forcing change as retail stores reopen

By Ajit Melarkode, Vice President Asia-Pacific and Japan at Boomi

Connected consumers across the Asia Pacific region have begun to expect a highly personalized, seamless shopping experience as e-commerce expands. Online shopping sales in the region increased by 25 percent in 2019, outpacing the rest of the world, according to eMarketer. However, Forrester notes that in Southeast Asia, consumers continue to shop offline more frequently than online and it is their shopping journeys that cross channels.

This behavior has disrupted traditional retail operations, causing brands to move online, leverage the cloud to offer experiences that blend digital with physical stores, and incorporate technologies to change how we shop in stores.

This year’s pandemic has forced retailers to quickly rethink how they can effectively serve customers without physical stores and has also changed customer behaviors in some potentially permanent ways (e.g. customers warming to options such as buy online, pick up in-store services (BOPIS), and increases in grocery delivery across Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand). As normal activities resume across the region, retailers need to be able to respond rapidly to sudden changes, adhere to precautionary measures meant to protect shoppers efficiently, and address new customer preferences with innovative services.

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Accomplishing these objectives without compromising customer experience requires a 360-degree view of customers across online and offline channels and an acceleration in the adoption of integrated sales solutions.

Delivering this seamless omnichannel experience is no simple task for retailers because of data that needs to be shared and coordinated across the entire ecosystem to create these customer experiences. An integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) solution that unifies marketing, purchasing, e-commerce, POS, promotions, customer service, pricing, inventory, ERP, CRM, and customer loyalty can help brands understand customer needs—and exceed their expectations.

New technologies revolutionizing shopping experiences

Many studies have shown that brands with highly rated customer experiences improve their revenue and perform better than brands offering poor customer experiences. Companies are focusing on improving experiences along the customer journey as a result.

In the latest Digital Trends report conducted by E-consultancy and Adobe, 34 percent of leading businesses said that the customer journey was a top priority for the year closely followed by targeting and personalization. High-quality customer experiences from trends, such as flexible payments, endless aisle shopping, and unique, in-store digital experiences, need to go beyond simply providing great service. They must consider the relationships between the people, processes, and technologies working behind the scenes.

Brands also need to manage the complex and unpredictable customer journey, because a problem at the customer level is an indication of a serious problem with the systems that deliver customer experience. This is driving investments in back-end tools to help essential business functions and improve each interaction with customers regardless of whether they are in-store or online.

Many retailers in the Asia Pacific region have shown that they understand the importance of customer experience to their overall success, and are taking steps to gain more visibility into the customer journey. A recent survey by Vanson Bourne found that nearly half of respondents in the region believe that the biggest benefit they have seen from modernization is improved customer experience, and 54 percent are focusing their current transformation efforts on improving customer experience. However, most businesses are still not prepared to make the most of their data. To improve customer experiences successfully, retailers must connect internal and customer-facing data, applications, systems, and people through a broad assortment of workflows and business processes. Integration, automation, and data governance are critical to this success.

A modern, cloud-native integration platform provides the foundation for rapidly building out a best-in-class experience for customers. Retailers can dramatically reduce the time and complexity of connecting systems and sharing data between every customer touchpoint.

Additionally, brands gain more control over their data once it is integrated across cloud and on-premise applications, and can ensure data governance and quality. Data integration delivers a 360-degree view for retailers to market and sell more effectively, uncover trends and sales opportunities, and deliver the best possible experience at every customer touchpoint. Automating workflows after data integration also helps brands accelerate development, and provide tangible value faster in the form of personalized experiences and stronger relationships with customers.

Innovation in Asia’s retail sector depends on integrating information and applications so that processes run seamlessly and reliably. A dynamic integration platform is essential for modern retailers, as the opportunities in omnichannel change and companies scale their businesses.

Blended in-store experiences and other tech trends disrupting the sector will only deliver benefits if they can provide the right data at the right time to each integrated application and stakeholder throughout the customer journey. This accelerates the speed of retail, equips merchants to delight customers, drives sales, and unlocks value in every interaction with customers. The brands that excel in the new digital marketplace will be those that can successfully use data and integration to drive great experiences across all touchpoints.