How SME retailers can compete with e-commerce giants

January 28, 2022 11:02
Photo: Reuters

As if it wasn’t difficult enough for small retailers to gain market share from e-commerce giants, a year into the pandemic saw Amazon record an eye-watering 200% profit increase due to a surge in sales. For businesses operating in the online sales space, taking on tech titans can be daunting. This is especially true when considering the enormous budgets they possess.

But with the emergence of new digital channels, coupled with careful planning and thoughtful strategies, smaller retail players are now in a position to quickly optimise their customer journeys and be able to compete more successfully. Increased access and affordable digitised solutions have enabled them to engage with customers at a variety of different touchpoints and, oftentimes, provide a more personalised experience than bigger players to keep users coming back.

In today’s hyper-connected world, there are many ways businesses can do this – from tracking and analysing user behaviour, to building customer profiles, and even tailoring messages. The opportunity is particularly ripe in Hong Kong as it has internet and smartphone penetration of 92% , a population that is highly active on social media (86%) , and excellent digital payment infrastructure.

Touchless engagement strategy

With the onset of the pandemic, one particular customer strategy that has gained momentum is ‘touchless engagement’. As consumers shifted their priorities towards health and safety, they began demanding a whole new type of customer experience (CX) and the trend is continuing. Beyond contactless payment options, they’re demanding remote and effortless experiences at all points of the customer journey.

Accordingly, retailers have been redesigning their CX. They’re now quickly adopting solutions that allow their customers to interact with keyword-driven chatbots via channels like WhatsApp; providing timely message feedback to update customers about orders and deliveries; and streamlining the order to payment cycle on smartphones. As customers of all ages go mobile, a solid app experience means you can learn a lot about your customers’ needs and get closer to them.

The long-term impact of touchless engagement in customer experience means putting in place technologies and processes that allow customers to choose their preferred communication channels and whether or not they want to opt-in or opt-out of human interaction.

By adopting this strategy, smaller online retailers can give their customers the choice over how they want to engage ─ be it through chat, voice, or other virtual experiences. After all, the engaged consumer is always the best customer.

Personalisation through omnichannel communications

Another effective way to stand out in a crowded pool of competitors is through personalisation. Smaller players are more agile and nimble, and unlikely to be caught up in layers of approval processes and red tape. This presents an opportunity to adapt to trends and customer needs quickly. This will result in the delivery of high-level personalisation and customer engagement.

Omnichannel communications are the key to unlocking bespoke CX that builds trust and credibility. By adopting cloud communication technology, such as Communication Platforms as a Service (CPaaS), businesses can be empowered to drive real-time conversations with their users on their preferred channels, regardless of device or location.

By analysing and utilising valuable data such as habits, behaviours, and tastes, omnichannel tools can be used to create personalised, prompt and impactful messages throughout every stage of the customer journey, enabling businesses to create meaningful interactions that increase sales.
Despite the ease and affordability of these solutions, many companies have not migrated their CX to connect with users at different touchpoints with tailored messages. It is low-hanging fruit as the platforms – from WhatsApp for Business, to Apple Chat for Business, and even SMS – to communicate are already there. As businesses start utilising them in quick order they’ll be able to compete more successfully.

Currently, only a quarter of Hong Kong residents shop online, with e-commerce accounting for just 11% of total retail sales . The sector is rapidly growing, however, with the market forecasted to increase with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.9% from 2019 to 2024 to a value of approximately HKD 226 billion . Although the likes of Alibaba and Amazon will almost certainly capture the lion’s share of this, smaller businesses can adopt customer strategies to increase and defend their portion of the pie.

In a digitally connected hub such as Hong Kong, embracing omnichannel communication to optimise the customer journey is a critical ─ but often overlooked ─ way of doing this. The value of working with an experienced technology partner that can integrate your communication channels and strengthen your CX cannot be overstated. Ultimately, businesses must aim to empower customers with choice over how they want to connect, collaborate, and engage, enabling them to build trust and establish long-term customer relationships.

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Regional Manager, APAC, Infobip