Omnichannel key to success for retailers in the Gulf region's US$308 billion retail industry

Online retailing has changed the consumer behaviour who wants goods delivered to their doorsteps as they wish. From retailing to e-tailing, the efficiency of omnichannel will determine the success and failure of retail


Nowadays, everything we want, we can get at our fingertips, whether it’s a pencil, a car or a house. Times have changed and it has changed the shopping experience of customers across the globe. We no longer need to visit a shop or a market; our devices are the new market for us. We have got more than enough options to buy things, regardless of if it’s online, offline, or a combination of both. This combination is known as the omnichannel.

With online expected to be the fastest-growing channel in 2021, retailers are under great pressure to scale up their omnichannel offering. As a result, stores are fast becoming mini-fulfilment centres as retailers seek to ensure order fulfilment.

“Its nine times more expensive to bring a new customer than retaining an existing customer so that he continues to shop with you. Customer loyalty significantly impacts the marketing budgets and retention rates,” says Atul Bhatia, Chief Financial Officer of Splash, part of the Landmark Group. 

"Earlier e-commerce was a small part, but now it's becoming the central part of the business. When we talk about in-store vs digital, there are some differences, especially in fashion retail. It's easy for the customer to touch and feel the product (in store), but online, the creativeness of how the product is featured attracts the customer. 

"It's important for the online store to present the product well, highlighting all features. If we promise the customer that the merchandise will reach them in 2 to 3 working days, we have to fulfil that, and all these things have a crucial role in building customer loyalty."

Customer loyalty is more difficult online than offline, Bhatia says. It is easy to gauge the customer engagement online – what they want, how much they spent the time on a particular app and website and on which specific products they are looking for, which helps online retailers to serve their customers best. 

"Although it is more difficult to achieve loyalty online, it is more rewarding because it offers more opportunities. When you understand your consumer, you can use that understanding to engage the customer more as against the offline world. Splash has introduced a new feature where if the person doesn't like the product he shopped online, he can get the credit, and the product can be returned, increasing the demand and trust of online shopping among all," says Atul Bhatia.

Omnichannel retailing has become the gold standard for success in the retail environment - the goal that everyone is supposed to be aiming for but few know how to achieve. It provides a seamless, continuous customer experience across any device or location a customer wishes to shop from, with a personalised brand experience. Developing an omnichannel strategy is a process that businesses must embark upon, and that process can be made easier through connectivity.

Nick VinckierHead of Growth at Faces, part of the Chalhoub Group, said, "It's necessary to retrain and upskill the staff so that they can serve and communicate with the consumers today. The staff can communicate with their consumers by sending them offers and a wide range of products with their price on their WhatsApp and other social media apps. We need to have daily communication among the staff so that the team is on the same track. The main points to upgrade the staff are education, about e-commerce, how it works, and clear the doubts, so they are ready to work online."

Secondly, he says, the staff needs to have a target and proper communication with each other, so everyone is on the same track working correctly to achieve customer loyalty. The team has to develop some creative ideas according to customer feedback to serve the best to their clients. 

"When it comes to our staff, we must focus on four key points: Education, Communication, Remuneration and Iteration." he added.

People who were not doing online shopping are doing it now to avoid in-store visits due to coronavirus. Earlier, people were afraid of buying products online, but now they are ready to purchase them all together. As travel restrictions are on, people cannot go to their native places or other destinations, and they cannot shop. Through e-tailing, people can buy Indian products in the US easily without travelling. The number of senior citizen customers, who are shopping online has increased dramatically, as they resorted to online shopping when they couldn’t go out to shop in the stores. Online retailing has changed the mind-sets of the customers. Now they trust online shops as much as they rely on physical stores.

Kuruvilla Markose, COO - International Business Division, Titan, said, “For us, we made a lot of changes Caratlane is an online retailer, which we acquired in 2016. We got to know that the physical guys need to acquire online capabilities and online guys have to acquire physical capabilities to work properly. The pandemic lockdown changed everything. After the lockdown when the shops started opening, the customers were still cautious about returning to the stores. So, we started messaging them by using SRMs to inform them about the reopening of the store and encouraging them to visit and shop online.”

He said the company’s website introduced live chats and robotic chats with the customer to communicate efficiently. We also introduced a video calling feature where the customer can see the product, and after they were satisfied, they could order it online. During the last six months, we sent US$2 million worth of jewellery from India to customers in the US. Also, as we started doing video calls with the customers in different countries, we were working 24/7 so that we can serve the client as per their time convenience.”

Khaled SolimanGroup CEO, Jashanmal Groupsaid, “Jashanmal is over 100 years old, and we know how the customer used to behave. In e-tailing, customer reviews play a critical role because now people visit the stores and buy the products after reading the reviews. We have been in the business for more than five decades. Hence, it’s a challenge as we are a traditional company making the change to be presentable in the new generation and online stores. Still, it’s an interesting journey, and I hope we will give our best as we did in physical stores.”

COVID-19 is changing how stores do business, prompting an accelerated shift to online sales and services like curbside pickup, delivery, and virtual experiences.

Customers embrace these new shopping options for their safety and convenience, giving retailers more ways to interact. But to offer a successful omnichannel retail experience, it’s not enough to show up on these channels. Each channel needs to work together to create a unified, consistent experience for your customers.

“The good thing about Omnichannel is it gives you new dimensions, and it takes you to different areas where you are not traditional, and that is your only chance for your stock replenishment. With the omnichannel approach, if you have adopted it appropriately, you are on the right path. As far as you dive deep into your data and analyze it, you will know where you stand.” 

Hozefa SaylawalaDirector of Sales, Zebra Technologies, concluded saying, "Online retailing demands are increasing day by day, and every age group is looking for online shopping during Covid-19 so that they can shop safely. Also, many online stores facilitate contactless payments, which is an excellent precaution taken by the stores."

“At Zebra Technologies, we experienced that technology had outpaced humans’ capability to keep up with the speed at which technology is advancing while working with retailers. Helping them transform from traditional to omnichannel was a challenge, whether it was about automating the stores for better customer experience or helping them convert their warehouses or fulfilment centres or helping them through supply chain optimisation and inventory visibility solutions."

Meanwhile, social commerce is coming up big time in interacting with consumers who browse online to check product specifications and price. Social commerce is gradually playing a more prominent role in customer choice.

DeVere Forster, Chief Operating Officer, Dubai CommerCity, said, "Social commerce is becoming a very, very important part in the overall e-commerce and omnichannel journey. What social commerce allows you to do is to bring the offline experience online. No matter how good an online store gets in terms of features and functionality, how can retailers bring that in-store interaction onto an online store? You can have chats with the contact centre agents, but they aren't the people that are in the stores."

"So social commerce allows you to open up to the store associates in-store, to have that interaction and recommendations. Q&A is a two-way conversation you can have, and what you can achieve through social commerce can't be achieved through an online store. So, I think it will become a very, very important part, an additional feature to e-commerce and omnichannel retailing in the future."

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