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The annual Seamless Asia conference was held in Singapore in May 2018. The conference focused on three key themes:
A common theme running through the conference was how retailers are increasingly investing more on physical outlets along with online stores to increase visibility, provide greater choice to consumers and drive sales. Retailers are taking this route because purchases in physical stores continue to account for the large majority of transactions by value across industries.
David Westhead, CEO, APAC of Royal Sporting House, a multinational retailer of sports shoes and apparel, pointed out, “Despite the growth in online retailing, globally physical stores still account for over 80% of purchases so it is important for retailers to have an offline strategy.” The success of this strategy crucially depends on personalization – knowledgeable store attendants who can guide customers and make shopping an enjoyable experience instead of merely being a financial transaction.
On the other hand, online retailing is becoming increasingly important for millennial shoppers, who are a demanding group compared to the earlier generations. This implies retailers must keep improving their online services in the form of greater product variety, better website layout and navigation and convenient and timely delivery. Moreover, millennials are highly connected and social-media savvy and retailers need to make the effort to connect with them on social media platforms such as Instagram through the right message and web layout of the online store. It is also imperative for retailers to keep evolving as per consumer demand and keep abreast of trends such as ‘click and collect’ and ‘webrooming’ that speak to the move towards an omnichannel retail environment.
The conference had a single most important message for participants: customers are becoming ever more demanding. In terms of their buying preferences, choice and convenience and retailers need to keep pace with changing expectations. Technology can help bridge the gap between expectation and delivery by enriching the shopping experience. For instance, a number of online retailers across Asia are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) by offering targeted product search results and making personalised recommendations to consumers. Myntra, the Indian online fashion retailer, uses AI to drive efficiencies in its recommendation engines and help consumers select the right product Ms. Priyanka Bhargav, Head of Consumer Research and Insights at Myntra, spoke about the company’s Rapid project, which uses AI and high-end engineering to speed up the manufacturing process and deliver high-quality products in lesser time.
Asian governments are pushing cashless payments and this is providing both businesses and consumers the incentive to adopt new digital payment technologies. In keeping with this theme, the conference showcased a number of regional start-ups which are driving the move towards a digital future. A key theme for these start-ups was how small businesses and consumers can benefit from inexpensive and secure services. Small businesses end up paying a substantial amount on maintaining a payment portal, they need a cost effective solution to facilitate digital payments. Customers also want a secure payment gateway which does not compromise data security. This view was corroborated by iPay88, a payment gateway, which has tie-ups with a number of businesses in South-East Asia, including Malaysia.
Wearables payment technology, especially watches, is another area the conference highlighted. This technology, though still niche, is gaining ground in western nations and developed Asia, where the convenience of making such payments has resulted in its rising popularity. Mr. Suboor Ahmed, VP – Business Development of Hong Kong-based Tappy Technologies, which provides this technology to companies, said, “This technology is different from an Apple Watch and can be used with any normal watch after replacing the straps, in which the technology is embedded. Brands and card operators such as Visa and Mastercard have become receptive to this technology and, going ahead, greater adoption will revolutionise the payments landscape.”
Data security as a practical challenge was focused on in a panel discussion titled ‘Debating the future of privacy in an age of digital identification’. In an age where data drives decision-making and service delivery and consumers share crucial personal information on almost every website they access, data theft is has become an overriding concern. It is, therefore, important to get the digital technical architecture right and put in place systems that can negate any potential data breach. India’s Aadhaar Digital Id provides a good case study: the government has sought to provide all citizens with this single identity number and the authorities collect and maintain massive amounts of personal data. However, concerns have been raised about possible data breach, which has prompted the authorities to strengthen the data security architecture.
Click here to download our presentation from Seamless Asia 2018.