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Omnichannel Retail: The Game Changer for Shopping Centres

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Competition between online and brick-and-mortar retailers has blurred, with e-tailers opening physical stores and their competition adopting e-commerce. The new destination for retail is Omnichannel and malls have to adopt it too, in order to stay relevant in this digital age.

Omnichannel Retail: The Game Changer for Shopping Centres
The new destination for retail is Omnichannel and malls have to adopt it too, in order to stay relevant in this digital age

Today’s shopper, crunched for time, is keen to find a seamless link between shop and home, and the penetration of the Internet and widespread usage of smartphones has helped blur the lines between physical and online retail with ‘showrooming’ – consumers visiting stores to try products before purchasing online. The world of retail is adopting technology faster than ever before in a bid to provide convenience, technology which consumers are welcoming with open arms.

While this acceptance of the digital age has put e-retailers in direct competition with their physical counterparts, it has provided a gap for mall developers to play a positive role and help bridge the divide between online and offline commerce.

Mall developers spoke to Shopping Centre News, explaining how they are plugging their Omnichannel strategies in order to shape a better integrated retail ecosystem.

Why Malls Are Going Omnichannel:

In today’s market, it is very essential to harmonize attention across all channels. It is also crucial to offer superior services to consumers, give them memorable and sharable experiences. The Omnichannel approach not only gives the consumer an option to venture out to shop at the store but also gives him the convenience to shop anytime, from anywhere.

, Associate Vice President, Marketing, and Corporate Communications, , says, “Inorbit has always worked towards offering customers a great shopping experience. With consumers getting more digitally active, we wanted to give them the Inorbit experience at their fingertips. We are the first mall to introduce the shop online feature through our website and Inorbit app. With this feature customers can not only browse through latest collection but also can reserve products and pick them up whenever they visit the mall. Alternatively, the mall can also deliver the product to the consumer’s choice of location. This feature is presently available in Mumbai for our Malad and Vashi malls. It is too early to comment on the success ration as the feature is relatively new. However, we are already seeing consumers experiencing the shop online feature.”

The future of retail is Omnichannel. This trend towards an Omnichannel strategy will enable retailers to re-think their business strategy in order to tap the best of both worlds and maximise on footfalls. The key to creating an effective Omnichannel strategy is understanding how your customers interact with your brand at each step of the customer journey. Do they research online and buy in store? Do they test products in the store, pull up their phone to look for coupons, and then decide whether to purchase now or later based on price changes? Do customers spend a lot of time on social media getting the opinions of their peers prior to or during shopping?

Establishing a plan for collecting and analyzing relevant data is one of the first steps to creating a fluid Omnichannel strategy.

Putting things in context, Abhishek Bansal, Executive Director, says, “As the popularity of online shopping has grown over the past decade, e-commerce has become more than just a buzzword for progressive retailers. It’s a viable addition to the traditional brick-and-mortar setup. Whereas it was something unique and innovative for a physical retailer to have an online presence a few years ago, it’s now highly unusual for a major retailer not to have an internet storefront. In order to be competitive in 2017, retailers have to think seriously about Omnichannel strategies that bridge the divide between in-store and online commerce.”

He further adds, “Over the years, customer preferences have undergone a metamorphosis, influenced by a global influx of brands, growing economy, increase in customer spending and demand for the latest trends in fashion, fitness, dining and lifestyle. Pacific Mall, is one of the most popular and preferred complete family entertainment and lifestyle destination in Delhi NCR today. Over the years Pacific Mall has become synonymous with entertainment, fine dining and the latest collection of brands and trends in fashion and lifestyle. We have increased our focus on creating niche campaigns and events for our customers based on their feedback and preferences.”

According to , CMO, Nexus Mall, going Omnichannel is the next progressive step for shopping centres. “Omnichannel retailing is a market reality and it has to be embraced but I feel that Indian customers take time to get accustomed something new and they will take time – maybe two or three years – to get used to Omnichannel retailing and for it to reach its optimum level. Malls, with the help of available technology, will play an active role in bridging the divide between offline and online retailing. We need to take Omnichannelisation and digitisation seriously in order to stay relevant to our patrons.”

, Head – Retail and Marketing, , says, “Technology is taking over everything. Retailers and malls have to embrace Omnichannel. Alone physical retail formats can survive but e-commerce just can’t survive on its own. These two are offshoots of retail and their marriage is very necessary for a retail to grow in holistic way. But despite this, it’s a lucrative proposition. Malls need to tread on this path very carefully, they should weigh everything – especially a revenue share model with their tenants – before jumping on the Omnichannel bandwagon.”

Sehgal further adds, “Technology is the trend that is going to shape the future of shopping malls. We should be thankful to technology and not threatened by it because even in developed countries, e-commerce has not gone beyond capturing 15-18 per cent of the market. The remaining 85 per cent still go to brick-and-mortar stores. The 15 per cent market share which e-commerce has captured has helped retail in the sense that it has taken brands to the remotest of the villages. So, in a way, e-commerce is creating awareness and generating more customers for brick-and-mortar.”

, Executive Vice President and Head – DLF Premium Malls, also says, “We are aware of the strength of Omnichannel experience for the clients and consumers and we are working towards achieving this for all our malls.”

Adds , Vice President, , “We are currently evaluating and exploring the Omnichannel route. We hope to move on this very soon.”

Turning The Game On Its Head

  • In the same way that malls help retailers to sell their products in their respective malls, they can also facilitate their tenants in selling goods online as well. E-commerce-inspired shopping centre websites allow shoppers to browse for goods and locate them in the shopping centre or buy them directly from retailers’ own online stores.

 

  • Dressed as smart shopping companions for customers, mobile apps and loyalty programmes can help landlords truly understand their customers. Think about the wealth of data you have when app users share their out-of-mall location through GPS, a customer’s in-centre journey using indoor wayfinding, his purchasing history through points gathering and redemption systems and his favourite stores and products through mobile search functionalities.

 

  • Having a well performing website is the best lure for attracting new online-minded retailers that may eventually open a shop in your mall. Increasing web traffic is critical to securing your place in Google ranking (your online real estate) and for monetising on website through affiliate marketing, advertising or direct sales. Instead of covering information, offers and events for your mall only, think of reporting additional topics relevant to customers in your catchment area. This influences your short-term website performance as well as your strategic position in the long run.

 

  • Instead of bringing the mall online, why not bring online into the mall. Solutions such as pick up & return points, virtual dressing rooms or digital inspiration corridors are based on online retail platforms, but drive traffic to the mall. A typical pick up point drives footfall through online purchases not just from retailers in the centre, but also from those not in the centre.

Talking about how Omnichannel strategies will be the next game changer for shopping centre sector, Derick Michael, COO, Amanora Mall, says, “Shopping centres are undergoing a major evolution at the moment. Yes, e-commerce offers a sense of ease when it comes to shopping, however malls offer an experiential element to retail which is hard to replicate in the digital world. There is such a massive amount of content dumped on the customers with online offers, discounts, festive sales that the customer ends up spending a considerable time just sifting through the information in search of the desired product. You may have noticed several prominent e-commerce brands moving to a retail place to develop a physical connect with the customer, which will never lose importance. Omnichannel strategies are therefore of extreme importance and over time, both (retail & e-tail) will learn to co-exist as they are independent on each other.”

Case Study: : Boosting offline sales by upping the online game

After a bumpy entrance to online retail in which the shopping centre chain attempted to own online transactions, Westfield has turned itself around to settle in its place as an aggregator and supporter of its retail brands.

The Westfield Searchable Mall is a world-leading website concept that focuses on engaging customers at the discover and find stages of the shopper journey, encouraging visitation leading to offline sales. The website combines social media-like browsing functionality and curated content with practical and timely information to bridge the gap between online and in-store shopping experiences.

What some Indian malls are doing in Omnichannel domain

  • “Inorbit mall has introduced the shop online feature through its website and the Inorbit app. With this feature customers can not only browse through latest collections but also can reserve products and pick them up whenever they visit the mall. Alternatively, the mall can also deliver the product to the consumer at the doorstep. This feature is presently available in Mumbai for Malad and Vashi malls. It is too early to comment on the success ration as the feature is relatively new. However, we are already seeing consumers experiencing the shop online feature,” says Puneet Varma.

 

  • “Amanora mall is setting out on a digital transformation program, where we want to incentivise our loyal customers with benefits (offers, deals) of available brands within the mall. We have recently launched our Loyalty Program which comes with an app, microsite and the works which simply rewards people for shopping with us. Over time, we will expand the scope to include product reservations, browsing of product catalogues and offering interest/previous shopping history based deals or discounts. There is a massive amount of work that needs to go in and this will be possible hand in hand with our retail partners,” says Derick Michael.

 

  • “We are in the process of developing an Omnichannel platform for our mall. Ours will be a little bit different as we will be providing the facility of ‘click-and-collect’. The customer will be able to block the product online for 24-hours, and within these 24-hours, the customers can come, pay, immediately pick up the product and go. We won’t be providing the facility of paying online or home delivery for the time being. This feature should be operational in another six months’ time,” says , Senior Vice President, Infiniti Malls.

The Challenges Involved:

Nishank from Nexus mall, says, “For adopting an Omnichannel strategy there are lot of strategies that need to be implemented. Systems need to be in place as the logistics and delivery processes are an integral part of Omnichannel retailing. If your systems are not in order then chances of pilferage are very high. Also, the inventory turnover rate needs to be paced up by retailers and the right forecasting for the right kind of SKUs is imperative. Cross-checking that the right delivery has been done and accurate information of backend needs to be there. Again, malls will be working on a revenue share model with tenants, so that is something that needs to be well organized before a mall decides to go Omnichannel.”

Varma from Inorbit malls, says, “It is quite challenging to bring in a new system into an organization. While the brick-and-mortar approach is in place, incorporating an online approach that works seamlessly with offline channel has a lot of technical challenges. It takes a lot of planning to streamline the new processes that come into picture, formation of teams, training the teams, managing the inventory, and fixing technical bugs before going live.”

Although Omnichannel execution is undeniably a top priority for retailers, they are still striving hard to address several underlying issues hindering the effective delivery of this experience. Brands are increasingly finding it difficult to move away from channel-specific silos, and consolidate all customers and merchandise related data into centralized locations.

“Customer silos and lack of holistic visibility into customer database across channels make it difficult for retailers to understand and analyze customer data to offer contextual messaging and personalized experience. This siloed and non-integrated customer data is resulting in multiple copies of customer profiles, limiting understanding of customer behaviour, purchase patterns and uneven customer experience. Legacy IT systems make it significantly challenging and complex to manage inventories across channels. Lack of clear visibility in inventory causes reduced accuracy, frequent out-of-stock scenarios in one channel and surplus inventory in another channel, resulting in reduced sales and increased costs. These challenges limit the ability of businesses to identify, track and manage inventory, impacting effective order fulfilment across channels,” says Pacific Malls’ Bansal.

He further adds, “One of the most important challenge that businesses face today is siloed organizational teams working independently for e-commerce and store channels in an organization. This not only limits collaboration, but also makes it difficult to enable process innovation which is a must for adopting Omnichannel strategy.”

Data Gathering Easier with an Omnichannel Strategy:

According to Benu Sehgal, in today’s age day and it is necessary to be technology savvy and all decisions should be taken on the basis of available data.

She explains: “Based on data, we should see where consumers are going after watching a movie – are they going to the food court, do they prefer fine-dining or casual dining? So, all this information has to be collated and those informative decisions have to be taken and lease period for the brands need to be decided accordingly.”

Reaffirming Sehgal’s point of view, Varma says, “The biggest advantage of going Omnichannel is data gathering, mining and analytics. With these tools in hand, managerial decision making in areas like leasing, operations and marketing becomes sharper and helps boost overall productivity.”

Turning into a Holistic Omnichannel Shopping Centre:

Today, having a presence on multiple platforms is the only way to thrive in the retail space. The trend of Omnichannel retail strategy is here to stay and this concept is going to be equally advantageous for both retailers and consumers. In the coming years, the conflict between online and physical stores will fade, as both the platforms will come together and retailers will focus on establishing themselves strongly on both the mediums to provide a comprehensive user experience to their customers.

Talking from his experience Bansal says, “The Omnichannel retail strategy is no doubt, the future of commerce. Considering the current retail scenario, Indian retailers have come to realize that only by implementing Omnichannel strategies they can fully reap the potentiality of modern retail. Thus, even big retail brands such as GAP, Vero Moda, Woodland, Only, Shoppers Stop, Jack & Jones, and Bestseller are diversifying their business and taking measures to integrate order management and inventory management to provide customers with an unparalleled Omnichannel shopping experience.”

Omnichannel creates opportunities to reach out to a wider audience that ultimately drives sales. It adds on to the total profitability in long run not only in terms of revenue but also brand equity and trust.

Varma says, “A successful Omnichannel works well if you have an efficient and experienced team. Imparting training to the team across channels is very crucial. Apart from this maintaining the inventory which is in sync with the availability of the product is also important. This can happen if retailers have an excellent inventory management system in place.”

Way Forward

The Retail industry has witnessed substantial growth and progress in the past few years. Due to some recent policy changes including liberalization, disinvestment, FDI policy, GST implementation, major international and global players have shown a keen interest to set shop with ambitious plans to expand in the future cities.

In recent years, the sector has witnessed two distinct channels gains prominence mainly brick-and-mortar and e-commerce. Though growing smart phone penetration and burgeoning online retail platforms have created diversions, offline retail is here to stay. The trend towards an Omnichannel will enable retailers to re-think their business strategy in order to tap the best of both worlds and maximize on footfalls giving the perfect customer experience.