Singapore retailers urged to make shopping experience more fun and innovative

Shoppers at Ion Orchard shopping mall. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Many stores here remain focused on just selling products instead of embracing new retail concepts that stress giving shoppers more memorable experiences, according to professional services firm Ernst and Young.

Mr Andrew Cosgrove, its global lead analyst for consumer products and retail, said firms need to offer more than simple transactions and should use artificial intelligence to personalise shopping.

He spoke to The Straits Times on Wednesday (June 13) on the sidelines of The Consumer Goods Forum, where he talked about the consumer of the future.

Mr Cosgrove said at the event at Marina Bay Sands that research suggests buying and shopping will become two vastly different activities.

"Buying" will be the automatic and mundane purchase of necessary items such as groceries, while "shopping" will merge with entertainment to provide an immersive and enjoyable experience.

Mr Cosgrove later told The Straits Times: "Retailers need to think much more about what they can give consumers above and beyond what they're selling."

Luxury fashion brand Ralph Lauren, for example, installed interactive mirrors that recognise the clothes shoppers hold, as well as the available sizes and colours, while also controlling the lighting in fitting rooms to show how the items look in different settings.

Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon from the National University of Singapore's business school said Singapore firms generally lack the capital and expertise to adapt to new retail trends, especially since many of them are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

She added that even for large companies with deep pockets, Singapore's size could present barriers.

"Maybe for multinational corporations, Singapore is way too small a market to invest in such technologies," said Prof Ang.

However, the forum noted that local firms are stepping up.

Mr S. Iswaran, the Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said the goal of being a Smart Nation by 2025 shows how Singapore recognises the important and transformative role of technology.

He cited local furniture firm Commune, noting its three-dimensional floor planner and virtual reality simulation that allows shoppers to recreate their home and visualise how the furniture will fit inside it.

"This has enhanced their customers' retail experience and provided greater assurance, which ultimately is driving greater sales," said Mr Iswaran.

Commune chief executive Joshua Koh told The Straits Times that consumers who used this technology spent 30 per cent more than those who did not, showing how critical it was to the shopping experience.

"It is Commune's aim to inject fun into the furniture shopping experience and empower time-strapped working professionals to feel more confident about the products they decide to buy," said Mr Koh.

"Our virtual reality solution was designed to become an experiential collaboration between the millennial customer and retailer."

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