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How to help local retail SMEs drive digital transformation post Covid-19

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What is Digital Transformation

Digital transformation takes a customer-driven, digital-first approach to all aspects of a business, from its business models to customer experiences to processes and operations. It uses AI, automation, hybrid cloud and other digital technologies to leverage data and drive intelligent workflows, faster and smarter decision-making, and real-time response to market disruptions. And ultimately, it changes customer expectations and creates new business opportunities.

Source: https://www.ibm.com/topics/digital-transformation

As we answer the question of how to help local retail SMEs drive digital transformation post Covid-19, let us remember the 4 key points in the definition of digital transformation: customer-driven, digital-first, leverage data, drive intelligent workflows.

The Post Covid-19 Consumers in Singapore

A transformational season during the Covid19 years (2020 – 2021) was the Circuit Breaker.

During the Circuit Breaker, movements were highly restricted. We were advised not to go out in large groups. Eating out was not allowed, except for frontline workers.

The Circuit Breaker was critical in changing consumer behaviors in Singapore.

We start to see more purchases on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Many orders were also created via Whatsapp. Payments on such platforms were mostly done via bank transfer or PayNow/PayLah. On top of that, we also see an increase in purchases from Redmart, Fairprice Online, Amazon, Oddle, and many other brand websites selling groceries.

The post covid-19 consumers are more accustomed to various online modes of payments, and have experienced the convenience of delivery services. While many still prefer to get out for some fresh air and grocery shopping post-covid, many have decided that they rather accumulate coins and vouchers online to offset their next grocery purchase. There are definitely new converts in the eCommerce industry post covid.

The Local Retail Environment

Local retailers can find it very difficult to thrive in the local environment. This is because advertising space is expensive, and consumer count is low.

Spending on rental per footfall is too expensive in Singapore.

This makes it difficult for any local retailer to thrive without looking out of Singapore. Over the years, we have witnessed retailers who have gone out and returned with great gusto. It really looks like the grass is greener outside, at least for retailers.

While the post-covid consumer behavior has forced retailers and retailer-wannabes (from home businesses that started during Covid19) to digitalize their processes, it has also helped these businesses realize that they can actually look out of Singapore with their digital competencies.

Digital Transformation for The Local Retailer on the Global Stage

Digital transformation only makes sense for the local retailer on the global stage. Remember the 4 key points in the definition of digital transformation: customer-driven, digital-first, leverage data, drive intelligent workflows.

Digital transformation requires a good customer base. A business that cannot attract enough customers to purchase need not think about digital transformation.

The local retailer can expand its customer base by putting itself on the global stage. The post-covid environment globally has accelerated this process because most retailers are digitally competent and can easily position themselves globally with a website and strategic marketing. Today, with TikTok as a global social media app for discovery, it opens local retailer to greater possibilities and faster reach to different markets.

With enough consumers purchasing from the local retailer, and with all processes digitalized, data would be readily available.

A deeper look at the data collected from various parts of the business can help a local retailer make better business decisions. For example, instead of sourcing supplies from China, why not source from India if that’s more cost effective for delivery to a US based warehouse? Data can also give us better insights into buying behavior from a brand. Eg. People usually buy product B together with product A. We can set in a product recommendation on the cart page to recommend product B when one buys product A. These intelligent workflows can only be created with data collected.

Conclusion

The conclusion of my argument is – the first step to digital transformation work for local retailers is to enable them to step onto the global stage. The local retail scene is too small for retailers to see much success.

Also, one must not confuse digital transformation with digitalization. These are 2 different matters.

Digitalization is a key component for digital transformation to happen because digitalization helps us with data. Imagine a customer walking into a shop to purchase with cash and walks off with an item and there’s no records of what was bought, vs a customer buying from an online shop leaving behind the order data, with date and time, how much spent per order, items bought together, delivery address, etc. These data can be used for machine learning or automate work processes.

Uniqlo as an Excellent Case Study

A great example of a brand in Singapore that has implemented digitalization for digital transformation work would be Uniqlo.

Uniqlo has a membership app. The app records both your online and offline purchases. This app has all the data of your purchases, time and date, amount spent, items bought. It also has data of your birthday (therefore age), address and gender. These data can be used in time to come for stocks management at different store locations.

It is interesting to note that Uniqlo is hyper-focused in its efforts towards digital transformation. It does not distract itself with mere digitalization work. You will not see Uniqlo official store on marketplaces like Shopee and Lazada, because these marketplaces do not provide them full access to their customers’ data. This is enough reason to not spend any effort on such marketplaces. Instead, they ensure their POS systems set up instore provides them with these data by urging their instore customers to sign up as members and giving them perks. This is a better strategy to collate consistent data for their business.

So, as each retailer thinks about their journey towards digital transformation, they ought to be very selective about how they want to go about digitalizing and how each digitalization activity can add value to their digital transformation journey. Not all that glitters is gold.

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