These were highlighted at the recent Asia Retail Leaders Conference 2021 organised by SMU’s Retail Centre of Excellence.

Technology that is aiding retailers to develop cost-effective omnichannel touchpoints with their customers has emerged as a critical factor to succeed in the rapidly evolving futuristic retail ecosystem. With the changed consumer’s shopping behaviour as a result of the pandemic, progressive technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have significantly altered the way brands engage with and sell to consumers.

These were some of the key points highlighted at the Asia Retail Leaders Conference 2021 held by the Retail Centre of Excellence at Singapore Management University on 17 November in Singapore. More than 300 participants attended the conference.

The full day hybrid conference revolved around the current developments and challenges faced by the retail industry such as prolonged and rising disruptions to businesses from the pandemic, changing consumer behaviour and up-and-coming technological innovations. 10 industry experts from the retail sphere and academic shed light on the critical relationship between digital transformation, trends, insights and topical issues such as sustainability, in empowering retailers and attendees with the required knowledge to emerge from and thrive in the post-pandemic environment.

The shift to digital is here to stay

The shift to digital is here to stay and retailers should treat social channels like flagship stores. The role of store and online have blurred, which means retailers should bring the store experience online and the convenience of digital to stores,” said Via Abano, Product Marketing Manager, CPG and Retail, Facebook APAC. She added,“The shop and fitting room has moved to the living room and more consumers want runway presentations, messaging, and even virtual appointments with sales associates, all in the comfort of their living room.” 

“We are seeing many brands having a higher degree of flexibility, which allows production in much smaller batches, while ensuring a higher level of proximity between the supply chain and the local market, highlighted Dr Shantanu H. Bhattacharya, Professor of Operations Management, Deputy Dean of Programmes, Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University.He added how “it’s made planning and scheduling of inventory more dynamic when compared to static supply chain policies in the past. Usage of text analytics and social media has converged with trending keywords and products linked to those keywords, identified and mapped in real time”.

Customer touch points expanded

Beyond using social channels for advertisements, brands and retailers have expanded their touch points to sell directly to consumers and engage with them to build trust and loyalty, with these two qualities increasingly growing in importance for retailers to thrive.

“Digital commerce has rapidly accelerated and will continue to evolve and expand beyond what we can imagine as consumers continue to have a higher baseline expectation” said Peng Chun Hsien, Vice President, Merchant Sales & Acquiring, Asia Pacific, Visa Worldwide, “Businesses that go the extra mile by providing a delightful fulfilment experience, as well as a comprehensive or loyalty programme will deliver something that customers all look for in the long run.” 

Sustainability not a choice anymore

Consumers have become more aware of retailers’ impact on sustainability and increasingly, factor in a brand’s values when making their purchasing decision. It was also a discussion point that Nejla Matam-Finn, Co-founder of THE FIFTH COLLECTION weighed in on, “The adoption of the second-hand economy has the potential of becoming bigger than fast fashion, as more people are going to be transacting higher values in second-hand clothing.” She further highlighted that “Sustainability is not a choice anymore. It is going to happen when the resale industry surfaces in the fast fashion industry”. 

Closing out the conference was the finals of the Inter-Varsity Retail Challenge which saw over 40 submissions from Singapore’s local universities. The top three teams presented their case study and proposals to the judges, tackling issues facing retail brands – Pomelo, Uniqlo and Decathlon. The winning student group SYD, and two shortlisted teams walked away with cash prizes and most importantly, a valuable learning experience of the retail industry in Asia.