When COVID-19 seemingly reached all four corners of the globe in 2020, many believed that it spelled the end of retail businesses as we knew it.
Locally, resident and tourist footfall at our malls fell drastically due to strict safe management measures and tightened travel restrictions. A walk in any mall – particularly during the Circuit Breaker period – was like stepping into a scene of post-apocalyptic movie.
E-commerce then, seemed like the way of the future. Financial institution Morgan Stanley reported that online sales accounted for 21 per cent of global retail sales last year, up from 15 per cent in 2019.
In Singapore, according to an Edmund Tie research, online retail sales share grew to an average of 12.7 per cent in 2020 and 12.2 per cent in the first half of 2021.
However, fast forward two years later, things are not quite what many had thought.
According to another Business Times report earlier in May, experts forecasted a possible plateau in online sales in the coming months due to the resurgence in physical retail sales.
In the US and China, both have reported retail growth in 2021, which could be the sign of the global economy bouncing back from the pandemic.
It would seem then that brick-and-mortar stores have not quite yet hit the final proverbial nail in the coffin.
In fact, local start-up and lifestyle brand, IUIGA, plans reshape the way people experience physical retail shopping.
The Retail Factor
IUIGA started out as a direct-to-consumer e-commerce company, selling a wide range of Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) home and lifestyle consumer goods.
From the successful launch of its online store in 2017, the company has since evolved into an omnichannel retail platform with some 13 retail stores island wide, providing a good retail mix experience – both online and offline – to its target audience.
Its Chief Growth Officer Jaslyn Chan very much believes that physical retail outlets still have their place in a business’s marketing mix.
She said many customers still want to visit the outlets to get a look and feel of the items before making their final purchase decision.
She said: “The competition online is very restricted to a certain target audience. If you are a mass market brand like IUIGA is, you need to serve other profiles and demographics as well.”
On the intricacies of retail shopping, she added: “When we first started [the retail business], we always thought that the best sellers online would translate to the best sellers in retail, but this was not the case. Each retail store services its own group of customers.
“For example, for our Funan and Capitol outlets, they are just separated by one street, but the profiles of customers for these two stores are very different.”
Despite their exponential growth of the last five years, IUIGA is now poised for its next ambitious retail move – a concept megastore.
Listening to Customers’ Needs
This idea of a megastore was not something that was born out of a boardroom either.
While IUIGA currently has differentiated stores to showcase different lifestyle products or home furnishings, Jaslyn shared that the biggest questions that she often gets from customers are “Where is your biggest store?” and “Where can I see everything?”
With that, Jaslyn and her partners have spent the last year searching for a suitable location for a megastore. However, not wanting to simply settle for a larger version of their existing outlets, Jaslyn and her partners plan to take the idea further.
She said: “Our main goal is to open like a huge store with all the SKUs, and that includes furniture. Beyond that, what this space will have is an IUIGA café. It will be an interactive space where you can rent out a portion of the space for events.
“We will also feature our bestsellers in a more inviting manner. Customers will be able to interact with the products in a way that they currently can’t with our smaller outlets. We want to introduce augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies, where you can actually put on VR goggles to see how the product is made, or use AR to drag and drop furniture to kind of see whether it will fit into like a standard modular-sized apartment in Singapore.”
Re-envisioning the Role of the Retail Assistant
To help man the new concept store, the company will transform the role of their retail workers into one that spans across different aspects of the business.
Called the Omnichannel Retail Specialist role, the worker will not only ensure the day-to-day operations of the outlet, both in sales and logistical matters, they will also become an ambassador for the IUIGA brand and play a part in the company’s overall partnership development and digital strategy.
It is a role that IUIGA has looked to fill both within and outside of its current workforce. In its external search, Jaslyn shared that IUIGA worked with governmental and non-governmental bodies such as Workforce Singapore and NTUC U SME, with the latter helping to familiarise the IUIGA team with existing government policies and grants of which they could tap on.
IUIGA retail supervisor of three years, Chin Si Yun, who was earmarked for the role, said that she is eager to embark on this journey with her company.
“With a bigger premises, hopefully we’ll be able to store more products on-site, which will lead to lesser delays and our customers getting their purchases faster,” she shared.
The concept megastore is still in the works, but Jaslyn feels confident that the company will have the store up and running before the year is done.
“I feel that it is a good time for us to refresh our thinking when it comes to retail. Traditional retail can be very boring, wages can be very low, and progression can stagnate. But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Jaslyn said.