Technology & Innovation

Retail turns to technology and digitalisation to survive in the new normal

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26 Jun 2021


Our world has turned upside down within just a year amid the pandemic. There are winners and losers. And the retail industry appears to winning the battle through innovations.

Remember the days when shopping must be planned days or even weeks ahead? When brick-and- mortar stores show-off their best designs and products in their showrooms to attract consumers? When advertisements are mostly done via huge billboards or print?

Well, that’s all a thing of the past now, with technology highly embedded in retail selling and purchases and the rise of ecommerce.

Though ecommerce, which simply means buying or selling products and services online, has been around us for decades, it wasn’t until the 1990s that it became everybody’s preferred form of shopping.

And the Coronavirus pandemic accelerated its pace for growth. Last year, most retail had to turn to digital channels and opted to close physical stores which are more expensive to manage and operate.

The situation and consumers changing shopping behaviour prompted many retailers to evaluate their store’s location, size and purpose. The result: Most opted to keep online stores backed up with fulfilment centres or warehouses for online orders or offering pick-up in-store (BOPIS) only transactions.

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Experts and analysts agree online retail is going to stay far longer than most have anticipated. And why not? It offers convenience, safe shopping and options in just a click of your finger.

Before we go any further. Here’s a trivia—English inventor, IT specialist, innovator and entrepreneur Michael Aldrich introduced electronic shopping in 1979 by connecting a modified TV to a transaction-processing computer via telephone line. He designed, manufactured, sold, installed, maintained and supported many online shopping systems, using videotext technology, thereafter. In the 1990s, online retail giant Amazon made ecommerce even more popular and accessible globally. And the rest is history as they say.



Fast-forward to now. Global financial and auditing consultancy firm Deloitte said retail proved resilient in 2020 and there are indications it will further flourish in the future with more people opting to shop online.

According to data from Deloitte’s Global Consumer Tracker, 1 in 10 consumers across Europe now shop online for food (close to 30% in the UK). With most non-food stores shut, consumers have also turned to shopping online for non-essentials.

With working from home now the new normal, Deloitte pointed out, “Consumption patterns have changed with more calories consumed in the home and growth in spending on furniture, garden products and home gym equipment. As part of a broader focus on health and wellness, we have also seen growth of flexitarian diets, in particular vegan foods.”

So here’s what’s unfolding in retail industry in the foreseeable future, according to some analysts. 

Social commerce will rise meaning more consumers will opt to shop using social media platform directly operated by retailers rather than clicking through a third-party website.

Instagram and Facebook will see more retailers promoting and selling their products, drawing more consumers in the process, with offers of discounts, gifts on special occasion, competitions and more. We are likely to see more creative banners, images, colours and buttons from retailers as competition heats up.

Online stores transitioning to offline stores will likely increase. As more brands online become recognizable, chances are they will likely consider setting up physical stores to cater to their consumers, especially in the apparel industry. 

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Of course, this trend is dependent on where the businesses are located. A good example would be Amazon’s Fresh which was first introduced in 2007 to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables opened up its first physical grocery store in Woodland Hills, California.

In the Middle East and North Africa region, the UAE is leading in terms of household spending on ecommerce at US$2,554 per household, twice that of the global average of US$1,156, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce said in its report.

In its recently held “Let’s Talk Shop” webinar, RetailME pointed out retail sales in the UAE are expected to rebound and grow by 13 percent to reach $58 billion by the end of 2021, supported by pent-up consumer demand in the second half of the year, Covid-19 vaccination efforts and Expo 2020 Dubai, citing new analysis from Dubai Chamber as the source.

The country is forecast to see the rise of SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and even Apple for Business chat, for more active consumer engagement.

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