By Lorenzo C. Formoso
Over a year into the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Southeast Asia (SEA) region continues to find the balance in managing the pandemic and economic recovery. Growth and recovery have been slow as the region experiences a surge of COVID-19 cases across SEA nations driven by different variants of the virus and the slow vaccine rollouts due to mainly lack of supply. Nonetheless, people remain to be hopeful and optimistic as more vaccines continue to arrive which will eventually boost economic recovery in the region.
Most, if not all retailers have continually been banking on technology and e-commerce to adapt to the ongoing pandemic. In a report, it is stated that over the past year, the value of e-commerce in SEA increased by 63%. This shows how the region’s retail industry has quickly pivoted into online retail and digital transformation just to be able to keep up and stay afloat amidst the restrictions brought about by the pandemic.
Consumers on the other hand continues to show high demands on hygiene and health products, especially since many are now leaning into a healthier lifestyle in response to the pandemic. Most consumers are also now cautious in their spending due to the unstable financial situation. Accordingly, their shopping trips to stores are now mostly determined by convenience and the proximity of the store.
Though e-commerce has been growing rapidly during this time, SEA shoppers who still prefers to shop physically to actually see and touch the products before buying, has made malls and shopping centers resilient in the region. Physical stores and shopping centers have thought of new ways in reimagining their stores to engage shoppers to still go out and buy amidst the pandemic. Retailers have started to redesign their stores that would be in compliance with the required minimum health protocols which makes shoppers feel at ease and safe when shopping. More restaurants are now offering al fresco dining and retailers have set up pop-up stores outdoors for a safer shopping experience. Moreover, some malls and shopping centers have offered their facilities and spaces as vaccination sites and testing centers.
As the pandemic still lingers, retailers have strengthened their Omnichannel strategies to blend perfectly their online and offline stores offering consumers an experience rich and frictionless shopping experience. Many consumers are trying different omnichannel models such as buying online and pick up store, self-check outs, and contact less deliveries. Consequently, good performing retailers in SEA region are actually exhibiting these multichannel approaches such as pharmacies, food retailers, and groceries that are not only present in their brick mortar stores, but are also accessible online and in other channels.
Despite the present conditions, which makes SEA retailers behind in the recovery from their big brothers in Europe, US and other countries in Asia, which have already opened their economy, the arrival of the vaccines and roll out of the vaccination program in the region brings hope that will bring back the shoppers to the stores and this is what the retailers should prepare for now.
SEA retailers should establish their best Omnichannel strategies that integrate their online and offline stores. Enhancing customer service and training of sales staff should also be set in place as personal sales pitches and influence are proven to increase sales. Retailers are also now improving their store layouts and implementing sanitation systems so that customers feel safe when they come and visit the stores.
While e-commerce continues to grow during this pandemic, it is still important to note that brick & mortar stores will still remain, especially in the SEA region where traditional retail still dominates the retail industry.
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