How Can Brands Build a “Phygitalised” Consumer Journey?


Alexander Wei | August 22, 2022

From left: Jason Titman, Executive Director at Integr8 Investment Group; Jeremy Ang, Chief Strategy Advisor at BytePlus; Ravi Shankar, Country Head of Lenskart IndonesiaCredit: eTail Asia

As brands ramp up their omnichannel efforts, the consumer journey has become increasingly sophisticated. Brands are introducing more "phygitalised" services and experiences to reduce friction across channels. This trend was discussed in detail during a panel discussion at this year's eTail Asia.

A new era in omnichannel is dawning, with 81 per cent of respondents in PwC’s 2022 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey stating that they have shopped across at least three or four channels in the last six months. Depending on their needs, the vast majority of consumers will switch between online and offline channels over the course of their purchase journey.

This has made it necessary for brands to diversify their transactional channels, and most have already done so following the impact of COVID-19 on offline retail. However, a new challenge has emerged. Given the increasing fragmentation of the consumer journey, brands need to reduce friction across channels while consistently providing an innovative experience for consumers. With the notion of "phygitalisation" starting to reshape the retail landscape, how can retailers and brands implement such offerings to improve the omnichannel experience?

A panel discussion at this year’s etail Asia conference held in Singapore – moderated by Jason Titman, Executive Director at Integr8 Investment Group – delved into this subject. Jeremy Ang, Chief Strategy Advisor at BytePlus, Ravi Shankar, Country Head of the eyewear retailer Lenskart Indonesia, Anand Narang, VP Marketing & CX at Bata and Anurag Mukherjee, Head of Technology at retailer PT Matahari participated in this discussion.

The biggest question for brands now is how to build engaging and personalised consumer journeys that complement the online and offline experience.

“We all know there are trade-offs when you start your journey online or offline, to each his own, but we do see the value of both spheres of retail,” says Ang. “At BytePlus, what we are really trying to do is to extend and merge both spheres very closely.”

BytePlus is an affiliate company of Chinese tech company ByteDance, which is best known for its digital platforms Tik Tok and Douyin. Besides growing its foothold in commerce-driven short videos and livestreams, the company has also been building up its e-commerce infrastructure to include payment solutions and CRM functionalities, not unlike that of other Chinese tech giants Tencent and Alibaba. According to Ang, the rising “videolisation” of online commerce is set to be the next frontier of retail.

AR and VR experiences are also effective in improving the digital shopping experience. According to Shankar, the retailer’s augmented reality try-on service has contributed to a significant increase in sales in the two years since its launch. In fact, over 50 per cent of the brand’s online sales were attributed to this function.

With an increasing number of marketing tactics and communication channels available, brands tend to be wary of image dilution. It is therefore crucial to ensure that its values are always reflected across the variety of experiences developed.

Footwear retailer Bata has always prided itself in being accessible, with choices available for the whole family. However, with the increasing penetration of e-commerce, the brand discovered that its universal approach was actually working against it. “The one-size-fits-all definition for e-commerce was actually not in line with what our target audience was. Thus, we have evolved the definition of e-commerce experience for audience based on what they are,” said Narang.

According to Narang, the brand segments its customers into three age groups: “digital natives” (primarily Gen Z), “digital adopters”, and “digital novices”, offering distinct digital services to each group. For example, "digital adopters" over 30 prefer to use chatting tools like WhatsApp and prefer genuine and authentic communication with sales associates to receive information and recommendations. As a result, Bata launched its “Bata Chat Shop” service, which allows store managers to make one-on-one video calls to customers, and helping them with in-store purchases.

Consumers are returning to physical stores, and offline performance is gradually picking back up. However, the shift in digital behaviours over the past two years has started to shape the offline retail strategies of brands as well – in-store digital initiatives are being used to reduce consumer attrition as they switch channels.

Bata now makes use of cloud marketing to enable in-store sales associates to identify whether a consumer has previously made a purchase and access the related purchase history. At the same time, the brand encourages sales associates to communicate with customers after they have left the store, via digital channels.

“If you want to create seamless experiences across channels, you need to borrow good things available from one channel and apply it to the other channel based on the target audience,” he added.

According to Murherjee, one effective way to increase offline conversions is to borrow data-driven recommendation functions from digital platforms and apply them offline – for example, by cross-selling products at the checkout counter based on customers' online and offline purchase histories. He explained: “It’s all about the point at which that data gets back to you, what it tells you, and how you plan to push the customer on.”

The panel discussion also looked at another current issue: the rising cost of customer acquisition, both online and offline. Community building has become one of the strategies used by businesses across industries to increase customer retention and reactivation.

“Community building is very important, but I think for a lot of retailers, one framework to use is whether you are skewed towards pleasure shopping or necessity shopping,” says Ang.

The retail ecosystem is rapidly changing and consumer habits are constantly shifting together with it, making the development of a seamless omnichannel strategy an uphill task. To deal with the capricious market landscape, brands must develop an agile approach and be willing to take risks. As Mukherjee rightly noted, trying will never amount to failure; it will be a learning experience no matter the outcome.

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