E-COMMERCE | editor, Singapore
Leonard Cheong

Rebuilding the retail industry on trust and security


It is a tough time for the retail industry. 2019 saw retailers struggling to make ends meet as sales fell consecutively for seven straight months. Meanwhile, the year 2020 has brought COVID-19 and widespread lockdowns that may well be the death knell for brick-and-mortar retail businesses. 

Amidst this, there is a dramatic shift in customer behaviour as more consumers turn to online shopping.

Two large ecommerce platforms, Lazada and Qoo10, reported an overall increase in sales during the height of the pandemic. At the same time, a study by market research firm Nielsen in March found that two in five consumers in Singapore increased their online shopping activities during the COVID-19 period, with three in four indicating that they expect to maintain such levels even after the pandemic.

The study also reported that 69% of the people who bought household goods online for the first time during COVID-19 will do so again in the next 12 months, signalling a greater acceptance towards e-commerce. In an affirmation of the “new normal” shopping experience, even the annual Great Singapore Sale (GSS) will be virtual this year and will have a dedicated app for shoppers to browse online catalogues, check out virtual showrooms and win prizes.

The shift towards e-commerce, whilst encouraging, brings new challenges for businesses in the retail industry.

One of these challenges is the growing demand for personalisation. In a survey by Redpoint Global, 63%of consumers said they expect a personalised experience as a standard of service when they interact with brands. Personalisation is, therefore, a critical part of consumer experience that retailers cannot afford to ignore. This is especially critical as brand loyalty has taken a hit, with consumers shifting their spending from discretionary items to essentials and becoming increasingly open to trying new brands if it means greater savings.

As more transactions move online, security should not be overlooked. In fact, the cost of cybercrimes to businesses has grown 72% over the last five years, according to an Accenture report. Safeguarding customers’ information shouldn’t be viewed as a short-term cost but rather a strategic investment in brand reputation.

Retailers that want to survive in the new normal must reimagine their business in a way that brings customers in and makes them want to stay. They can distinguish themselves from the pack by creating a more personalised customer experience, both in the digital and physical world, built on a foundation of trust and security.

Customer experience - the cornerstone of digital transformation

But how can retailers create that welcoming yet highly secure experience?

To create personalised and relevant digital interactions, businesses can make use of customer identity and access management (CIAM). CIAM is especially useful and relevant today, as it puts ‘user-friendliness’ at the core of its functionalities and allows for a better understanding of the user base.

It does so by leveraging the digital identities of the end-consumer, which provide the business with the ability to collect rich demographic and psychographic profile information about their best customers. What’s more, these insights are highly contextual, taking into account attributes such as age, location, device and time of day. This contextual information allows for more sophisticated, omnichannel marketing. For instance, based on device and location data, a savvy retailer can offer customers special discounts at nearby stores. A better understanding of the devices that customers tend to use can also help retailers determine which apps and digital services to enhance and promote. Retailers can also test campaigns for different age groups, creating tailored programs that cater to the needs, viewpoints, and emotional considerations of each group.

Such sophisticated and personalised campaigns can be created by synchronising profile data with email marketing systems, web analytics, and CRM systems in addition to the information extracted from various customer touch points. Doing so makes personalisation achievable, and even seamless, for the business.

In addition to personalised offers and marketing campaigns, CIAM can also drive better results in overall customer service including tasks such as processing refunds and exchanges. accumulating and managing loyalty points, package tracking services and password resets. These tasks are also vital to providing a well-rounded and flawless customer experience and leveraging CIAM here allows for these administrative tasks to be completed in a shorter period.

On the back end, the wealth of data captured through CIAM can also be used to create greater process efficiency and prevent waste. For instance, retailers can leverage access statistics to predict surges in orders, and employ these insights to manage inventory, backorders, warehousing, and dispatch management. Such insights can be particularly useful in managing food delivery, especially for perishables, and during busy seasons such as the upcoming end-of-year holidays.

Trust through security and privacy

More importantly, CIAM goes beyond personalisation. It helps ensure that data is protected at every step of the customer journey with secure multi-factor authentication (MFA). Technologies like advanced machine learning and biometrics are included as part of the solution to verify the user’s identity. This prevents unauthorised access to information and ensures that sensitive data – such as addresses and credit card information – is strictly protected. Strong CIAM also reimagines the authentication process by using behaviour-based analytics to ensure continuous monitoring. By analysing keystrokes patterns, session location and timing in ongoing sessions, such solutions can accurately flag abnormal behaviour patterns and prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.

Privacy is also enhanced as access to stored customer data is governed. Third-party access is limited to only necessary attributes, and customers have complete control over how their data is used and shared. This end-to-end data security creates a greater consumer trust in businesses to safeguard data, resulting in higher retention rates. At the same time, customers can also choose how their information is used for marketing purposes, ensuring that any advertising is not intrusive and doesn’t hamper the overall customer experience.

Other technologies, such as blockchain, can also be used with CIAM to further revolutionise the way we transact. Blockchain can be leveraged to create an immutable record for products like pharmaceuticals or packaged foods, where complete trust in the supply chain is essential. This can lead to higher sales and potentially open doors to new markets.

Striking the perfect balance

There is no doubt the way consumers shop has changed. Retailers need to stay abreast of these changes and demonstrate a thorough understanding of what their consumers want, especially in these uncertain times. CIAM can deliver a win-win for businesses and consumers alike by improving customer satisfaction – and therefore, sales – as well as providing a relevant and secure digital experience. A highly personalised experience built on a secure foundation will help retailers strike the perfect balance between relevance, privacy, security, and usability.

All they must do is to take that first step towards their transformation.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Retail Asia. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Leonard Cheong

Leonard Cheong

Leonard Cheong is the Managing Director for AdNovum Singapore and Vietnam. He is responsible for driving business development and sales both locally and regionally. Leonard joined AdNovum in March 2018 and took over the role of Managing Director in May 2018.

Leonard Cheong is an accomplished manager with 28 years of experience in the area of program and sales management within the IT industry. His career spans across institutions in the public sector and major corporations such as IBM, HP and SAP. From his previous positions, Leonard Cheong brings broad experience in advancing strategic offerings and fundamentally reshaping both public-sector and commercial business.

Leonard has a Master of Business in Information Technology from the Singapore Institute of Management, accredited by RMIT. He completed his Higher National Diploma in Computer Science in 1990 from Nanyang Polytechnic.

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