Middle East retailers struggle with omnichannel – how to get it right?


February 25, 2021 | By Shruthi Nair

Retailers in the Middle East are making strides in their multichannel offerings, but are yet to nail and benefit from the concept of omnichannel.

“When you look at this region I am yet to walk into one physical store offering me this true holistic, omnichannel channel experience”, said deVere Forster, chief operating officer at Dubai Commercity. “Retailers have become great at multichannel but if they want to attract new customers and retain their customers they need to get their omnichannel strategy right.”

The struggle of getting omnichannel right isn’t just limited to this region though. Apart from the likes of Apple, Best Buy, Burberry, and Zara, not a lot of retailers globally have implemented their omnichannel strategy to a T.

With the rapid change in consumer habits and behaviour, retailers need to note that customers aren’t just making their purchasing decisions in store. “Purchasing decisions are made at every touch point that customers can reach the brand, check processes, read customer reviews – on mobile apps, websites, social media, and actual physical stores. This requires retailers to be available everywhere and across all channels,” he said.

Click-and-collect is great but it can’t be the only omnichannel strategy that retailers implement to retain their now more educated and aware customers. Forster breaks down some of the core offerings that can help retailers up their omnichannel game.

“First, customers need to be able to check the availability of the product in-store ahead of their visit so it’s not a waste of their journey”

“They also should be able to return an online order to a store for an instant exchange or refund,” he said. Currently, customers are either expected to drop their online order in the physical store for it to be exchanged or refunded or they end up waiting weeks for the transaction to be completed online.

Thirdly, the option of reserve-and-collect needs to be implemented seamlessly. “This means an order can be placed online and it will be paid for in the store. This allows a customer to select a product without paying for them upfront; check out the item in-store and only pay for them if they really want it. This is important for fashion and beauty,” he explained.

Endless Aisle, which is being implemented by some of the retailers in the region, is another facility that customers today need to have access to. “In-store customers expect to be able to place an order for an out of stock product. Here the online store can support the physical store with a full assortment catalogue,” he said.

Since these are services that only physical retailers can offer, it given them an upper hand compared to the pure play e-commerce players. Customers today are also looking for more flexibility and channels that they can shop from. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and instant messaging channels such as WhatsApp and Messenger also help with the process. “These platforms allow for more personalized shopping experiences where customer can interact with the sales person asking for advice or recommendations,” he said.

Apart from that, integrating high end technology within the store to enhance customer experience and their shopping journeys is also key to moving forward in the omnichannel realm. Smart changing rooms, displaying customer reviews, comparing products and the ability to be able to scan-and-buy and use self-checkouts so they don’t need to stand in long queues, are tried and tested concepts in improving the region’s retail ecosystem.

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