Retail sector buying into digital game-changers

(From left) Mr Alex Ng, senior account manager at accounting software firm Xero, Upside Down Coffee Alternatives owner Rashyd Haniff and head barista Ivan Tong at the cafe in Amoy Street. Upside Down Coffee has adopted digital business solutions, inc
(From left) Mr Alex Ng, senior account manager at accounting software firm Xero, Upside Down Coffee Alternatives owner Rashyd Haniff and head barista Ivan Tong at the cafe in Amoy Street. Upside Down Coffee has adopted digital business solutions, including software from Xero.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

As it tries to dig itself out of a rut, the sluggish retail sector could become the new frontier for digital game-changers like video analytics.

But industry insiders cited mindset change as the main hurdle.

Assistant Professor Ernst Osinga from the Singapore Management University's Lee Kong Chian School of Business told The Straits Times: "For online retailers, it is easier to collect and analyse consumer data.

"However, offline retailers can also benefit from new developments and should not shy away from technology. New developments include tracking the consumer's path through a store or mall using Wi-Fi tracking and the use of sensors."

Shoe chain Design & Comfort has been tapping video analytics since July to improve how it deploys staff and displays products. It now uses a system to monitor footfall and how customers move around the store.

Company director Nicholas Chan said: "Depending on the retail traffic counts at an outlet, we can easily decide how many part-timers are required to ensure optimal productivity instead of hiring a fixed number of staff."

Productivity has gone up by more than 5 per cent, he added.

Meanwhile, Japan's NEC Corporation, whose biometric technology is behind Singapore's NRIC system, kicked off trials last year that let Tokyo workers make purchases in staff canteens via facial recognition. Thanks to this, "paying with your face" could be an option by the second quarter of next year in Japan and in other parts of Asia, including Singapore, the firm said.

Mr Benjamin Low, Asia-Pacific vice-president of video management system provider Milestone Systems, is also banking on the expected rise of video analytics, which could be used to track repeat customers or fight fraud in stores.

But he added: "Even if you talk about ease of payment - using facial recognition, let's say - that has to tie in with your point of sale or with your merchant banks. The various components need to be at a stage where they are able to work together."

Some smaller businesses here are trying to make the leap.

Cafe owner Rashyd Haniff, who runs Upside Down Coffee Alternatives in Amoy Street,was previously reliant on manual data entry into a spreadsheet. But he now links his accounts in the cloud, after representatives from accounting software firm Xero - whose office is in the same building - invited him to give their product a try.

"This data software specifically helps me to project what is realistic in the near future," he said. "Let's say I want to get a new machine. I would have a better idea of how long from now I'd be able to get a new machine, at the rate I'm going."

Annabeth Leow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2017, with the headline 'Retail sector buying into digital game-changers'. Print Edition | Subscribe