Even retail therapy has found a new normal

It may be a given by now that the Covid-19 pandemic and its resulting economic downturn have caused many companies across sectors in Singapore to pivot creatively in order to remain competitive.

But for businesses operating in the retail sector, the situation and circumstances are not quite as well-defined. Because as departmental stores and non-essential mall tenants were closed during the circuit breaker period, e-commerce platforms were experiencing a boom (and is continuing to do so) since tech savvy Singaporeans headed online to gather necessities and indulge in retail therapy.

And as locals stayed comfortably indoors, they shopped incessantly.

Addressing the changing landscape of retail

As Asia’s leading e-commerce platform, Shopee observed that the pandemic impacted their users through thorough changes in shopping habits, plus an increased demand for a more social but personalised shopping experience.

According to data released by the local corporation launched by the Sea Group, a 40 percent increase in screen time by app users was clocked per week since the Covid-19 pandemic besides robust traffic and transaction volumes throughout the circuit breaker period. Predictably, more users continued browsing online for a growing number of various product categories to adhere to the government’s stay-home regulations.

Since donning a mask became a mandatory requirement in the fight against Covid-19, the sale of surgical masks increased, alongside the demand for essential household items and non-perishable food and beverage products. At the same time, more purchases were made on items such as computer peripherals and home furnishings, likely an outcome of the widespread work-from-home arrangement.

“It is clear that the pandemic has further accelerated the adoption of e-commerce among consumers, and the upward trend in online shopping is set to continue as more people become reliant on the sector for their everyday needs,” comments Zhou Junjie, Chief Commercial Officer, Shopee Singapore.

To cater to the changing landscape of retail, Shopee has been nothing short of generous in offering opportunities for consumers to shop more, both efficiently and cost-effectively. One of these methods includes introducing in-app entertainment for engagement, which reap real rewards for players. The coins acquired from these game plays are available to be exchanged for cashback and price deductions on purchases.

“Our suite of in-app games also aim to capture attention and build engagement with users. For example, on Shopee Farm, users can water their plants and their friends’ plants to accumulate points and win prizes. Shopee Farm offers rewards for long-term effort, as opposed to previous games which focused on one-time rewards. In Singapore, in-app games were played over 60 million times while Indonesia saw 1.6 billion times in 2020, speaking to the success of our strategy thus far.” Zhou continues.

That’s not all. Recognising the crowd desire for more personalised and social elements, Shopee is continually working on offering an integrated, 360 shopping experience through exciting campaigns, innovative features and interactive engagement.

Zhou also shares: “Shopee Feed is a key component that addresses the social nature of online shopping today, catering to the increased time spent and levels of social interaction on Shopee. Through this feature, users can share content on what they are listing, buying, and selling with the community, receiving real-time updates from their friends, as well as sellers and brands. As for the Shop From Home campaigns, they help users leverage the convenience of e-commerce to purchase daily essentials. We have also implemented additional support measures where necessary, to manage demand and supply, so that essential items remain easily accessible and available to all.”

Accelerated moves online prove to be a success

Joining Shopee and other major online retailers in the boundless, digital dimension is CapitaLand, as the Singaporean real estate and infrastructure management firm that owns multiple shopping malls islandwide wasted no time in heading online since many of its venues’ tenants were not allowed to operate during circuit breaker.

In debuting eCapitaMall as well as Capita3Eats that is a curated digital mall and mall-operated food ordering platform respectively, both of which features the merchandise of retailers that mostly operate within CapitaLand’s Singapore malls; the organisation was able to build a growing digital presence and community successfully.

“We have long recognised the importance of integrating the physical and digital realms to create a competitive advantage for CapitaLand’s retail ecosystem. To this end, we have been progressively expanding our digital capabilities over the last few years to complement our extensive physical network of malls.” says Chris Chong, Managing Director, Retail, CapitaLand Singapore.

Yet, this swift, digital move isn’t exactly CapitaLand’s first venture into the world of online retail. NomadX.sg, which is the e-commerce site of the NomadX online-offline concept store that opened at Plaza Singapura two years ago, provided the company with valuable lessons regarding the challenges of running an e-commerce platform and test-bedding solutions in an authentic retail environment.

“The eCapitaMall platform was already in the works and hence we were able to quickly launch it in the midst of the pandemic. The main plank of CapitaLand’s digital engagement programme is our CapitaStar app, which has around 1.1 million members in Singapore. In fact, more features have been added to the CapitaStar app in recent years. With CapitaStar’s e-commerce capabilities coupled with a captive and growing digital community, launching eCapitaMall and Capita3Eats is the next evolution to drive more bricks and clicks sales for our retailers.” adds Chong.

Ramping up on efforts across all fronts

BHG has hired young Singaporean designer Esther Choy to helm three in-house labels including Societe, Otona Mode and SBT. 

Finally, even longtime departmental store BHG has seen a digital transformation in hopes of reinventing their brand and catering to the now capricious local retail market. Over the course of its government-mandated outlet closures, the frontline customer service staff underwent upgrading sessions in anticipation of understanding retail in the new normal, while others hunkered down on developing their reinvention strategy.

And the brand rejuvenation is going strong, largely thanks to steps taken since late 2019, when BHG hired their very first in-house clothing designer Esther Choy, who has produced three new labels for the departmental store. Recognising the importance of sustainability and how the subject resonates with the new generation, Choy also leads the team in incorporating deadstock fabric and sustainable materials like tencel into clothing pieces in an effort to be more environmentally friendly.

“We are actually currently working on a menswear and athleisure line, developed with the exact same care and consideration as our other in-house labels. Keeping in mind the shopping habits of a younger and more technologically savvy generation, we have also integrated a greater use of technology in our stores for convenience. For instance, BHG outlets have introduced mobile POS for customers to skip the queues and receipts are issued directly via email as an eco-friendly measure. We’ve partnered with Hoolah to offer customers the choice to buy now and pay later at no minimum spend in both our retail outlets and e-commerce store too.” tells Vivien Lim, Head of Merchandising, BHG.

In addition to the entire slew of initiatives, BHG has plans to integrate various unique interactive media in the store to offer a strong personalised retail experience as well. At the Beauty Hall and Beauty Library, expect to be able to browse and learn about products through the use of interactive digital elements such as the Lift & Learn technology, where testers and product information will be available at your fingertips.

These are all undoubtedly massive and impressive undertakings by local retailers large and small, digital or physical as they foray into burgeoning markets while juggling the different demands and expectations in an era of crisis. Ramping up on all efforts to cater to local shoppers as the pandemic drags on is no easy feat, and it is up to customers such as ourselves to ensure their labour does not go unnoticed.

Wherever possible, shop and spend local. During these tough times, it’ll be more vital than ever to help keep Singaporean businesses viable to stimulate our economy so we may swiftly emerge from this recession.