In the fourth of a six-part series on the retail sector in Singapore, Esther Teo discovers what brick and mortar stores can do to attract customers and retain their loyalty.
IN THE digital age, the printed book may seem like an anachronism, but business for BooksActually is thriving.
Into its 11th year of operation, the local independent bookstore — currently located at a shopfront on sleepy Yong Siak Street — is doing so well that it is working towards securing its own permanent property in two years.
The bookstore saw a recent surge in publicity and media mileage, one of the highest in its history, when it launched Singapore’s very first book vending machines in June.
Located at the National Museum, Goodman Arts Centre and Singapore Visitor Centre, the $10,000 machines take local literary and artistic works off the shelves and closer to consumers.
The project was supported by Spring Singapore with the Capability Development Grant (CDG).
“The book vending machines add a new facet to book buying at BooksActually. Customers are bemused by the experience of purchasing a book from a machine,” says owner Kenny Leck.
“But nothing beats the ability to wow customers in a physical bookstore, especially when they discover a book that they hadn’t set out to look for. Our need to experience things in a physical way will never fade away,” he adds.
Despite the prevalence of e-commerce, brick and mortar storefronts are far from dead.
The challenge for retailers, however, is to identify their core strengths and competencies; and to leverage new in-store technology to enrich their customers’ retail experience — while incorporating the all-so-critical sensorial aspects of shopping, such as touch and taste, says Mr Tobias Puehse, senior business leader and vice-president of Mastercard Labs, the company’s in-house innovation arm.
“Retailers who have historically competed based on price alone will find it increasingly difficult to provide a cutting edge over e-tailers.
“A more sustainable retail strategy is to focus on new experiences, personalised treatment of shoppers, and new and unique products and services,” he adds.
Bridal studio La Belle Couture Weddings, for example, is helping to make shopping for the perfect wedding dress — an exhausting and overwhelming experience for most brides — easier and more enjoyable.
Its new FX Mirror, an augmented reality gown-fitting system, enables brides and grooms to try on outfits virtually in two seconds instead of the usual 15 minutes.
The $45,000 system uses a Microsoft Kinect camera integrated with a 3D virtual fitting software to virtually recreate the user’s body and generate a simulation of the outfit in real time.
The project was supported by Spring’s CDG.
So while gown selection appointments used to take three to four hours — some stretching to seven hours — La Belle has been able to cut down the total time required by 20 per cent.
The increased expediency has also enabled it to increase the number of appointment slots — especially during peak hours — by 30 per cent.
Since the launch of the FX Mirror, the studio has seen its customer satisfaction scores rise to 9.2 out of 10, a commendable score for businesses with long service periods from start to end, says MsTeoPeiru, La Belle’s managing director.
“Our couples find the FX Mirror very novel and interesting.
“The brides, in particular, are thrilled that the technology has spurred their fiancés to become more involved, which makes the wedding-planning process more fun, engaging and memorable,” she adds.
MsTeo is keen to continue using new technology in her 11-year-old business.
Plans are afoot to transform La Belle’s shopfront into an experience centre replete with new retail concepts, such as a café and self-help resource area for couples and wedding vendors.
To strengthen customer engagement beyond the store, Ms Teo is building up the business’ omni-channel retail strategy through videos, blogs, books and other social media channels.
A La Belle wedding-planning app — which customers can use to book and change their appointments and even check gown availability — is in the works.
In the arena of payments technology, an array of tools and services such as digital concierge services, intelligent self-checkout kiosks, in-store navigation support, and pre-order and delivery services are already available to enrich retail experiences.
For example, Pepper, a humanoid robot powered by an end-to-end commerce application leveraging Masterpass for payment, can provide offers and products and engage customers in a personalised and non-intrusive way.
Says Mr Puehse: “Stores of the future must be efficient and effective in delighting customers, and modernise the essence of what it means to shop — explore, test, try and securely purchase products and services for instant gratification.”
The SkillsFuture Study Award for Retail Sector encourages Singaporeans to develop and deepen specialist skills in retail management, digital marketing, e-commerce and supply chain, among others. It targets early- to mid-career Singaporeans with relevant working experience who are committed to developing and deepening their skills. Individuals will receive a monetary award of $5,000.
Visit www.skillsfuture.sg/studyawards/retail.html for more information and to apply. Applications are open until Sept 30, 2016.
WDA worked with TRAS to jointly develop the Omni-Channel eCommerce Logistics for Retail Masterclass, which will be delivered by expert trainers from DHL Consulting. To be held on Nov 1 and 2, 2016, this masterclass also includes an exclusive tour of DHL’s Asia-Pacific Innovation Centre and is targeted at companies who might be keen to explore training in retail logistics for an omni-channel environment.
Register your interest with the programme organiser at firstname.lastname@example.org.