The local retail scene has never been as competitive as today. It currently accounts for about one-fifth of our country’s total economic output, having been ranked 16th among the developing economies on A.T. Kearney’s 2016 Global Retail Development Index (from rank 24th in 2015). The industry is also continuously being forecast to have a stable to positive growth outlook in the coming years until 2020.
The landscape of the Philippine retail industry has been elevated from where it was two decades ago, when local economists and the government were still exploring its potential as a major economic catalyst.
Notably in recent years, foreign retail brands and established local retailers have become the dominant players, taking advantage of the favorable retail industry climate. This further created an intense market competition, hindering new entrants to penetrate the industry and even triggering the closure of some of the smaller local retail establishments.
In his published article, Kevin Kelly, Grant Thornton’s retail industry guru, commented: “The retail industry operates in a dynamic environment that is constantly changing. Those retailers that continue to innovate, invest and evolve their businesses and operations will be successful over the long term. While the industry has its challenges, it also has its opportunities, which create optimism for the future.”
“Achieving and sustaining improved results will require innovation and investment to keep customers engaged and interested through an elevated and evolved shopping experience, which the new generation of consumers demand,” he added.
Kelly also asserted that “customers continue to look for brands they are passionate about; remember, it is always about the product. When products resonate with consumers, they will come. That said, a superior, seamless shopping experience had become more important to a retailer’s success. Ultimately, today’s consumers are channel-agnostic and want the option to get their favorite brands across all channels on demand. Those retailers who go above and beyond in this regard have a much better chance to succeed in today’s retail environment.”
Kelly expounded on the need to innovate, invest and evolve.
Companies are compelled to continuously innovate their products to meet the consumer tastes of today and tomorrow. Doing this successfully and consistently hinges on introducing and testing new products, and building on those products that generate the most demand. A number of bigger retailers have innovation labs which come up first with ideas, then launch, test and track them with data analytics, and finally refine and launch them on a larger scale.
It is important to note that innovation is also about the shopping experience – both in-store and online. In fact, millennials have been known to share and even brag about their latest shopping experience to friends through the internet and social media. Customers who can order anything from their desktops or mobile devices are much more selective; they won’t tolerate a subpar in-store or online experience. Many retailers are exploring technologies that offer unique experiences in their stores that customers can’t find online, such as smart fitting rooms, smart shelves, beacons to transmit smartphone notifications to passersby, and other interactive capabilities.
Leveraging available data innovatively to create a more personalized shopping experience presents another opportunity to further develop brand loyalty. To that end, customer analytics continue to be a key focal point of successful retail companies.
Integrating both technology and in-store experience investments is taking omnichannel to the next level. Centralizing inventory reporting, visibility, and alignment with operations are some ways retailers can use analytics to provide the customer with a more seamless shopping experience. Investing in technology that provides integration of information across all channels not only helps reduce duplicate investments in inventory but also elevates the customer experience. Whether the customer is purchasing in-store or online, having the ability to deliver the product to them where and when they want it is key. To take it one step further, increased efficiency of operations is achieved by the retailers that are working more closely with their vendors, manufacturers and suppliers; improving integration of information and reducing time in the supply chain order cycle.
In my view, technological advancements and changes in consumer preferences also provide various innovations for retailers to expand their reach and focus on the underserved markets. More than half (55 percent) of Filipinos with mobile internet access have social media and online shopping listed as their top online activities.
This is a perfect platform to tap convenience and accessibility, making it increasingly integrated to the consumers’ lifestyles and preferences, shaped by urban traffic situations and other personal constraints. This platform can also serve consumers in rural and remote areas.
While technological investments have become essential, let’s not forget the physical stores. Even with the explosive growth of online and mobile shopping in recent years, the majority of retail sales still happen in the brick-and-mortar environment. Maintaining a balanced approach and continuing to invest in the store experience, in addition to technology, bring better results. A superior in-store shopping experience can isolate one retailer from another, not only via physical store appearance, merchandise displays and overall comfortable shopping environment, but also through engaged store associates and the use of technology. The skill set of sales associates is evolving, and investing in training and development for store associates enhances the shopping experience. This provides another opportunity to drive customer loyalty and ultimate success.
To keep pace with the changing demands of consumers and the revolutionary impact of technology, retailers must evolve their conduct of business to maintain an edge in this cutthroat environment to nurture market share or lose out to the competition. Therefore, revisiting how business is done is paramount to success. Doing nothing is no longer an option; the pace of change is too fast to ignore.
Customers have more technology at their fingertips now more than ever, which challenges retailers to reimagine how best to reach the end-consumer in a compelling way. Retailers must continually reinvent themselves to sustain success, and growth of an Innovation Executive’s role in retail companies is a great example of this evolution.
In recent years, we have seen the growth of e-commerce and mobile shopping. What does that mean for the catalog? Some companies have announced the end of their catalogs, while others have shifted their catalog’s focus to drive the delivery of their brand message, which also drives traffic to stores and their online counterparts. Either way, there is ongoing change and evolution on how catalogs are used. Companies are also simultaneously expanding their social media activity and almost all things digital. What would be next? How do you engage the millennial shoppers while retaining the baby boomers? While stores are still critical, many retailers will certainly be reducing their store openings in the future and will be closing stores as their leases become due (or take advantage of co-tenancy clauses to exit space as a result of other retail store closures).
What does that mean for the average mall? Given the growth of online shopping, maybe stores can be utilized in a different manner —more as a showroom or a mini-distribution center to provide an efficient and cost-effective method to get products to the consumer along with a convenient processing of returns.
Innovation, investment and evolution are the essentials in today’s retail business. These are the keys to success in the ever-changing dynamic environment that drives this industry. Consumers will always be passionate about the brands they love and will reward retailers that provide compelling products along with a seamless and unique shopping experience.
Nelson Dinio is a partner of Audit & Assurance. He is also the head of Business Development Group & Japan Desk. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 850 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit our website: www.grantthornton.com.ph.
As published in The Manila Times, dated on 10 May 2017