A true omnichannel approach that puts power into the hands of shoppers is what is going to strengthen the UAE and GCC region’s retail sector, experts at the 2019 Middle East Retail Forum said.

Officials at the event spoke about the evolution of omnichannel retail and how it is creating a shopping experience that is smart, experiential, and differentiated. Many described data as the ‘new oil’, with technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and blockchain positively disrupting the retail landscape.

“Many retailers think that launching an online app or a mobile responsive website is sufficient to cater to changing customer needs. However, customers no longer differentiate between online and offline channels; they switch between online and offline across the different touchpoints of their buying journey,” said Sandeep Ganediwalla, managing partner at RedSeer Consulting.

“We believe that omnichannel retail is not the future anymore – it is the present. Our research shows that around 80 per cent of customers in KSA and 70 per cent of customers in the UAE prefer omnichannel retail. This preference is ubiquitous across the verticals such as electronics, home, and fashion; so, retailers that understand this customer behaviour and develop offerings that transcend channels seamlessly will create sustainable differentiation in the market,” he noted.

However, many experts also cautioned retailers to remember the basics of human interactions in retail, as they look into blending emerging technologies pieces with the human touch to create future-proof smart businesses.

“Customers are actively looking for a true omnichannel experience where they can enjoy the ease of accessibility through e-commerce as well as the storytelling that is provided by traditional brick and mortar. The focus has to always be on customers. It is not just about the technology, but the people and what we can deliver to them as a brand. The challenge is to build an operating model, where we are able to deliver an amazing customer experience that is compatible with the expectations of future consumers. It is also important for the model to allow for innovation in the face of disruption,” said Yelena Demir, marketing manager at Nespresso, MEA region.

Amit Yadav, Head of Marketing at 2XL Furniture & Home Decor, also highlighted how digital transformation continues to reshape shopping and customer experiences.

“The only constant in retail technology is change. Omnichannel experiences offering seamless and consistent experiences across all channels from e-commerce to social media continue to be big. Consumers are heavily influenced by what they see on social media. We are also eager to take advantage of developments in Augmented Reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence as they are here to stay. We believe technology is a two-way process and needs to have a conversation engaging customers to offer a personalised experience that makes their lives easier, simpler and more convenient. Our ultimate goal is to build a strong and lasting relationship with our customers through continuous improvement in service and quality excellence,” he said.

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