THE HEAD of the retailers’ association said companies need to digitize to gain insight into their customers and operations like inventory management, which will generate cost savings that will more than offset the cost of adopting new technology.

Philippine Retailers Association President Rosemarie B. Ong said companies in the industry must learn to integrate online and offline processes and streamline their use of data.

The pandemic has forced retailers to turn to technology due to the pandemic, notably the migration to e-commerce, in order to continue selling after commercial foot traffic declined during the lockdowns.

“With an omni-channel approach, your stores will be data-driven and tech enabled. That will help your business run efficiently and more productively,” Ms. Ong said at the BusinessWorld Economic Forum on Thursday.

“The cost in investing in an effective omni-channel system will definitely offset… losing customers and sales because of disruptions.”

Ms. Ong, who is also an executive vice-president at Wilcon Depot, said that the health, beauty, food and beverage and technology sectors have benefited most from the shift to online selling. Other sectors, on the other hand, benefit more when bricks-and-mortar sales are available to consumers.

“There’s still some businesses like groceries, home improvement, and fashion wherein we still see people tend to go back to physical stores when restrictions are eased,” she said.

Ms. Ong said retailers must offer consistent customer experiences both online and offline.

Ipsos Philippines Country Manager Vicky V. Abad said that not all real-world experiences have to be replicated online.

“Especially in these times when the lines between online and offline can be blurred, how customers approach shopping in each channel is still fundamentally different,” she said, citing an Ipsos study. She said that companies must redesign channels based on customer needs.

According to the firm’s Southeast Asia survey done in February, 78% of consumers have shopped online in the past year, with 53% increasing their online shopping. But 41% said that they would go back to malls once restrictions are lifted.

Exequiel C. Delgado, president and chief executive officer of Radius Telecoms, Inc., made three recommendations to retailers looking to improve connectivity: make sure services are available, secure, and have low latency.

“Imagine accessing a website and every time you click on an option, the website freezes. That’s a horror story as far as a customer is concerned,” he said. “Customers nowadays are not very patient.”

As more retailers transact online, UnionBank SME Segment and Platforms Head Jaypee R. Soliman said that banks need to invest in cybersecurity.

“There’s one big challenge that we have to make sure we address,” he said. — Jenina P. Ibañez