(Clockwise, L-R) Moderator Jenina P. Ibañez of BusinessWorld with panelists Vicky C. Abad of Ipsos Philippines, Exequiel C. Delgado of Radius Telecoms, Jaypee R. Soliman of UnionBank, and Rosemarie Bosch-Ong of Philippine Retailers Association and Wilcon Depot for the session “Effective Convergence of Physical & Digital: The Omni-Channel Retail Experience”

By Chelsey Keith P. Ignacio

Shopping becomes expanded and more convenient with the growth of digital platforms. Nevertheless, many consumers still want the experience of physically browsing and buying in brick-and-mortar stores. Witnessing the consumers’ preference on using various shopping platforms, several retailers transform their businesses through an omni-channel strategy.

A panel discussion on the second day of BusinessWorld Virtual Economic Forum 2021 Special Edition addressed how retailers can effectively enhance the omni-channel experience of the consumers, as advised by experts from the marketing, retail, telecom, and banking industries.

Combining physical and digital for consumers

Vicky V. Abad, country manager of Ipsos Philippines, talked about consumer trends relating to omni-channel and why marketers must focus on them.

“Consumers’ mindsets, behavior, and priorities are shifting,” Ms. Abad said. “One year of staying indoors and limited mobility altered the way consumers shop and spend.”

According to Ms. Abad, consumers will continue to be observant about personal safety, convenience, and speed.

The need for security of supplies; and the demand for entertainment, celebration, communication, and advocacy will also stay relevant among consumers.

Therefore, marketers should consider these to be constant even after the pandemic, Ms. Abad said. “Consumers are going to look for ways to meet these needs and wants [whether] offline or digital; so we need to be mindful of that.”

Recommending ways to apply omni-channel solutions in their business, Philippine Retailers Association President and Wilcon Depot, Inc. Senior Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer Rosemarie Bosch-Ong stressed that retailers must combine both physical and digital.

“You need your customers to be able to find you online,” Ms. Ong said. “Even after COVID-19, consumers will continue to buy online.”

Brick-and-mortar stores, meanwhile, “will have to evolve to keep up with the digital store so that retailers can provide a seamless omni-channel experience for their customers,” she said.

“We need to take advantage of both online and offline [platforms],” Ms. Ong advised. “Think of it as an added revenue stream and business continuity plan when your consumers could access your products in so many channels.”

Consistency is key, Ms. Ong said. “Customers should be able to find the same quality of experience and accessibility of service in all channels. There should be an interaction, an interface,” she added.

She also emphasized the need for retailers to connect their physical and online stores so that they can fulfill sales efficiently.

“With our online and brick-and-mortar infrastructures interacting hand in hand, we will see efficiency in operations and convenience in our customers,” Ms. Ong said.

Thus, applying omni-channel in the retail business, according to Ms. Ong, is a perfect solution in adapting to the new normal and an investment that will benefit retailers in the long run.

Connectivity, payment solutions in retail

In boosting the omni-channel experience, telecommunication and financial services play a vital role.

“Connectivity has surely become a huge driving force behind businesses which have pivoted and retrofitted their operations to potentially serve the ever-changing needs of our customers,” said Exequiel Delgado, president and chief executive officer of Radius Telecoms, Inc.

According to Mr. Delgado, telecommunication services become an important catalyst in business recovery and resilience.” Thus, he offered advice on how retailers can maximize connectivity and digital solutions to enhance their business.

“A wired and stable Internet connection is the preferred route. Wired Internet access provides opportunities for business owners to multitask and address the increasing demands of their customers,” he said.

Furthermore, in designing the network, portal, or touchpoint, Mr. Delgado said it should be highly available, highly secure, and have low latency.

He also said that digital transformation cannot happen without innovation. “You really have to innovate, look at your existing process to make sure that they are continuously improved.”

Meanwhile, UnionBank SME Segment and Platforms Head Jaypee Soliman believes that “the biggest contribution of banking would be activating payment channels in terms of the omni-channel experience.”

Mr. Soliman said that, in the omni-channel experience, ensuring cybersecurity is a big challenge. Unifying multiple modes of payments is a also concern.

Nevertheless, he said that UnionBank is working on these. He shared that the company launched a campaign to educate their customers about security threats.

“We maximize social media and direct communications with customers, and advise them on how to really protect their bank accounts and their information from scammers,” he explained.

Mr. Soliman also shared that they are building a payment gateway that will unify different modes of payment channels available.

“[Unifying] all those channels into one gateway will be a very big help for SMEs, businesses, and even the consumers,” he said.

“We continuously listen to our customers to the point that we involve them during the innovation process,” Mr. Soliman said about UnionBank’s plans that intend to meet the demands of consumers.

“We ask our customers to walk us through their journey, the exact experience they want to have,” he said.