THE BACKGROUND

IKEA. There is no other furniture brand as iconic as the blue and yellow giant famous for its ready-to-assemble flat-pack furniture, dizzying warehouse stores,  and difficult to pronounce product names (GRÖNKULLAFYRKANTIG).

The Swedish giant claims its beginning started in 1926 when founder Ingvar Kamprad was born but it was only at the tender age of 17 when he started a mail order business selling pens, watches, jewelry, and picture frames after receiving seed money from his father.

Furniture would be introduced into the company’s product offering five years later and become a success.

IKEA ecommerce

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder and senior adviser of IKEA, is the world’s 10th richest man. Source: Aftonbladet

Six decades later, IKEA’s 300+ stores around the world require over 1%of the global supply of wood to make over 100 million pieces of furniture. No business can come close to the Swedish conglomerate’s size…right?

THE CHALLENGE

While no furniture business has been able to even remotely achieve the same brand identity and global scale that IKEA has in the last 60+ years, the world’s shift to ecommerce has forced the company to re-think its retail strategy.

The biggest threat comes from low-cost manufacturers going direct to consumer by following a “Warby Parker business model”, popular examples include Interior Define and Bryght in the US.

“By cutting out high-rent showrooms and warehouses, big-budget ad campaigns and big-name designer, these companies can offer great prices and bring in greater profits.” – NYT

“This year has been quite challenging in terms of sales. After many years of good sales, this year we have seen weaker launches, stiffer low-price competition and changing consumer behavior. We are revising sales targets downward for the year, but remain very optimistic and ambitious,” Jesper Brodin, IKEA CEO, then MD, told a global suppliers’ conference in Almhult earlier this year.

“People are making choices in different ways. Retail is getting tougher, and there is a bigger fight for the marketplace than ever before. We need to be much more aggressive and the price-volume equation, which is part of IKEA’s DNA will help us.”

With the success of ecommerce companies like Amazon making headlines everyday, IKEA, along with every other retailer in the world is being reminded that retail is evolving and the traditional company finds itself having to learn new tricks.

THE STRATEGY

While late to the online shopping scene, up until 2016, the company was officially present in 28 countries and offered ecommerce in 14 of them. Even with no new ecommerce ventures in 2016,

IKEA recorded at 30% jump in online sales to $1.6 billion, a small fraction of total sales but nonetheless impressive.

“We weren’t one of the early adopters but we’ve matured in our thinking about it,” Peter Agnefjall, former IKEA CEO told the New York Times. “We realised this is not a trend, it’s a megashift.”

The company has never been one to shy away from innovation. Its successes include its in-store cafeteria and very own startup incubatorfocused on food innovation, disruptive technologies, customer experience, disruptive design, sustainability, manufacturing, supply chain, and analytics.

It’s not then surprising to learn that IKEA has become one of the first to actually incorporate VR into its brand new mobile app launched only yesterday.

IKEA Place is part of the first wave of augmented reality apps that work with Apple’s new ARKit technology and iOS 11 to allow customers to “place” furniture in their apartments. While late to the show, the company has managed to outpace other pure players.

IKEA ecommerce

IKEA Place uses VR to allow users to easily visual what a piece of furniture will look like in their homes. Source: IKEA

Its push into applications could be attributed to world’s growing affinity for the mobile phone and by analyzing its own customer behavior. In Australia, the company’s website pulls in 40 million visits per year – 50% of which comes from mobile.

At this point in time, IKEA sells its products only on its own websites but has dabbled in the idea of establishing an official presence on Amazon but no confirmation has been made by the company yet.

There has however, been a partnership between IKEA’s “smart light bulbs” and Amazon’s virtual assistant device Echo to promote the latter’s line of smart home products. Owners of IKEA’s voice controlled light bulbs will be able to adjust the brightness of the bulbs through voice command by not only Alexa but Google and Apple’s Siri as well.

IKEA ecommerce

IKEA Smart Light Bulbs controlled by voice command.

“Unlike other companies, IKEA doesn’t fear the cannibalization of offline channels by online channels.

This is not without precedent, IKEA’s UK online store becoming the region’s largest outlet, without absorbing sales from existing stores.

“It’s just one among our many initiatives to make our products available for as many people as possible. And we are seeing big opportunities by leveraging upcoming digital technologies to their fullest,” said Inter IKEA Group Chief Executive Torbjörn Lööf.

THE FUTURE

IKEA Group is aiming for 50 billion euros in sales for 2020 and to open 18 new stores by end of year. It also has been eyeing growth opportunities in India and Southeast Asia but execution has taken much longer in these emerging markets.

As a fully independently owned company, IKEA must ensure that an average of 30% of the production value of sold goods should be sourced from within India, and within five years of the initial investment. As ecommerce is new to the Scandinavian company, it must test various fulfillment models including pickup points, third-party depots and the use of small-format stores for click and collect.

But the company hasn’t stopped making strides towards its aggressive target and continues to invest heavily in ecommerce. IKEA recently announced that a shoppable IKEA webstore would go live in Singaporein two weeks and in Malaysia in 2018.

IKEA ecommerce

Jesper Brodin, IKEA CEO. Source: dagensps.se

New IKEA CEO Jesper Brodin, who recently succeeded Agnefjall in May this year, will focus on building multi-channel retailing in almost all of its markets before 2017 finishes. He definitely has a tough job ahead moving the giant forward.

But according to Agnefjall, the CEO job involves “working 365 days a year, 15 to 16 hours per day”, which explains the admirable dedication founder Ingvar Kamprad still has for the company.

“Oh, I have so much work to do and no time to die,” he said.

Amen to that.

THE BACKGROUND

Named after the biblical strongman Samson, travel luggage manufacturer and retailer Samsonite was founded in Denver, United States in 1910 and since been renowned for its high-quality and durable luggage.

With over 100 years of experience, the company is known for its high-quality and durable wide selections of innovative luggage. Samsonite also owns several other popular brands including American Tourister, High Sierra, and Lipault, making it the global market leader for travel luggage.

Samsonite Southeast Asia

Global market share of travel luggage in 2015. Source: Quartz

The company has changed ownership a few times, counting former Louis Vuitton’s CEO, Marcello Bottoli, as one of its past owners. In 2007, Samsonite was bought by private equity firm CVC Partners for $1.7 billion and the company raised $1.25 billion in an IPO in 2011 in Hong Kong.

But no company is without its own struggles to the top.

THE CHALLENGE

Samsonite counts Asia as its biggest market as China alone contributed to a quarterof the group’s sales ($124 million) in the first half of 2016. However, that number was 5.2% lower than the same period last year due to an economic downturn, and the shift to ecommerce.

Samsonite Southeast Asia

Samsonite sales in China are not growing as fast as it was before.

“In many of our key markets, our traditional channels of distribution have begun a painful process of adjustment to the shift in business online, and the implications for scale and type of retail estate,” said Samsonite’s Chairman, Timothy Parker.

Working with third-party platforms also proves to be tricky for the company as it attempts to protect its brand value by limiting the discount tactics used by ecommerce platforms to entice buyers to shop.

“We don’t want to grow ecommerce at the cost of our current model,” explainedSamsonite International CEO Ramesh Tainwala.

“We have to explain to the ecommerce players that they are offering enough advantages to consumers through convenience, through range shopping.”

The company is also aiming to double its luggage market share, where 50% of the volume is dominated by private label and unbranded sellers, by diversifying its portfolio and shed its stiff luggage manufacturer image.

“It’s [Samsonite] synonymous with luggage but we’re diversified into business backpacks, casual backpacks, and accessories. But we haven’t done a good job of telling that story,” said Stephanie Goldman, Senior Director of Brand Communications. Samsonite needs to find a better strategy for its marketing and distribution channels.

THE INNOVATION

“Consumers are spending, but they are spending more carefully, and looking for value. And one place that value is available is online,” said Samsonite’s Chairman, Timothy Parker.

Using China’s favorite messenger app WeChat, Samsonite utilizes social media to drive traffic to its brick-and-mortar stores and offer discount coupons to its followers. The initiative has succeeded in boosting 5% in offline sales.

Samsonite Southeast Asia

Samsonite joins a list of other global brands that utilize WeChat to attract consumers in China. Source: FashionChinaAgency

The company launched a marketing campaign with a tagline “We Carry the World” where it featured travelers using Samsonite products to show audiences its universal definition of “travel gear”.

Working with Connelly Partners, Samsonite USA also featured various influencers to advertise its business bag collection in its #WorkNotWork campaign and chose individuals with unconventional jobs like athletes, chefs, artists, and fitness gurus as brand ambassadors.

“Work nowadays can look much different from a typical 9-5, and we demonstrated the love that people actually have for their craft, and the hard work they put into it on a daily basis,” said Alyssa Toro, Chief Creative Officer of Connelly Partners.

Samsonite Southeast Asia

The ads for Samsonite’s campaign ‘We Carry The World’.

And in terms of corporate management?

“Samsonite has no head office — I am a CEO but I have no head office. I just have a room everywhere I go. Our business is not top-down. Our business in Japan is headed by Japanese and 100% of employees are Japanese. Our business in China is run by Chinese, 100% Chinese. We never move people from one country to another. So it is only myself — I am an Indian and work everywhere,” tells CEO Ramesh Tainwala to Nikkei Asia Review.

THE STRATEGY

To boost its digital retail distribution in Asia, Samsonite launched what it called a “three-pillar” strategy.

The company works with popular third-party sellers in the region such as Tmall and JD.com – these platforms now account for 60% of Samsonite’s online sales in China. In Southeast Asia, the company is selling its product in the region’s biggest marketplace Lazada. The company also selling through the digital outlets of shopping malls and department stores.

The third phase of its strategy is to further expand its own direct channels so more consumers in Asia can shop directly via the brand. As of right now, the company’s online channel only available in developed markets such as North America, European countries, Australia, and Japan. In June 2017, the company has acquired eBags, a Colorado-based online bag retailers, for $105 million to accelerate its direct-to-consumer plan.

“We are finding more and more that the online and offline shopping experience for consumers is getting blurred,” Samsonite CEO Ramesh Tainwala says. “eBags is strategically the most important acquisition for Samsonite over the past 20 years.”

Samsonite Southeast Asia

eBags platform

Through eBags, the company will expand to Europe and Asia and launch in India next year.

“At present, we have over 350 stores in India. We plan to open additional 50 stores by the end of this year. We are expecting a 12-15% growth in sales. This will be in line with our past growth trends,” said Samsonite President, Asia Pacific, Subrata Dutta.

Not only does omnichannel seem to be in Samsonite’s cards, the company has been busy acquiring other brands as acquisition seems to be the company’s favorite strategy to grow its portfolio.

Last year, Samsonite acquired luxury bag maker Tumi in its biggest deal to date for $1.8 billion following its acquisition of Hartmann in 2012.

“When we acquire a brand, it must have a very clear DNA, clear story and clear strength of its own,” said CEO Ramesh Tainwala.

THE FUTURE

The American major is expecting a 20-25% sales contribution from its ecommerce channel in the next few years as it undergoes the same business evolution that many traditional retailers have faced in the age of Amazon.

It’s also looking to emerging markets such as India and the Philippines.

“The Philippines is the No. 1 growth market for us. They all speak English, they travel abroad and their income level is increasing. Their governance has improved, and that makes people more confident to spend. That’s helping our business a lot,” said CEO Ramesh Tainwala.

The company has clearly demonstrated that it isn’t afraid to try.

Samsonite Southeast Asia

Lipault, Samsonite’s 2014 acquisition to appeal to more women.

By owning brands that speak to a variety of consumer segments such as luxury travel, everyday work bags and a line dedicated to offset its masculine brand and attract females, Lipault Paris, Samsonite is very likely to grab even more market share, especially seeing as there is no close competition in sight.

Loyalty programs are one of the oldest tricks in retail to get customers to continue shopping.

Members of these rewards, points or cash-back programs tend to generate 12%-18% more revenue for retailers than customers without membership.

The existence of a loyalty program is also a deciding factor for 72% of customers when choosing where to shop.

However, running one can be a considerable investment. In the US, companies spend $50 billion a year on these programs alone.

And just because a company has one doesn’t mean they always add value – some companies with loyalty programs reported a 2.28 percent comp sales increase, while companies without reported a higher 4.26 percent.

To ensure the effectiveness of a loyalty program, brands need to consider a number of factors and understand that there needs to exist a value proposition that addresses the needs of both the consumer and the brand.

loyalty program retail

Retailers need to consider different value factors that fits their objective for the loyalty program. Source L2

Important value factors for an effective loyalty program

Although monetary incentive is still the main drive for 67% customers to join a loyalty program, non-monetary benefits can distinguish the brand from others.

Offering a tiered loyalty program that provides differentiated rewards based on spend allows for more customer segmentation and targeted marketing as well as add interest and incentives for customers.

Giving exclusive access to the brand’s special promotions and offering an overall higher priority service for the members are the kind of personal experiences that customers look for when they joining a loyalty program.

 

Discounts tend to be the most popular loyalty features but only lift a considerably low points of consumer satisfaction factor. Source: L2.

Having a loyalty program, if done right, could actually lead to the biggest revenue generator for a company and lower the user acquisition costs. Amazon Prime by Amazon is one of the best examples.

In addition to offering Prime members the usual perk of free shipping, Amazon also holds an annual sale exclusively for Prime members called Prime Day. This year, the company broke its sales record by 60%

compared to the same period last year, selling most of its private label brands and highest number of new members sign up.

No wonder the ‘Amazon of Southeast Asia’ launched its own version of Amazon Prime called LiveUp.

Southeast Asia’s companies better ensure they have strong tactics in place to keep their customers loyal because the US retail giant is about to launch in Singapore in the very near future.

To build or not to build?

This is the question many retailers around the world are struggling to answer. In the US, the answer is pretty evident.

A 31% increase in 2017 retail bankruptcies from 2016 and an estimate from Credit Suisse claiming that as many as 25% of America’s malls will shut down by 2022 all point to no.

Source: Credit Suisse

It’s the “Amazon Effect”, analysts say, the shift of spending from offline channels to online ones as young people become more accustomed to ‘online-only’ retail. No money in means brick & mortar stores are bleeding out trying to operate labor intensive businesses.

ecommerceIQ

Source: FT

Meanwhile, news overseas is quite disparate.

The country’s largest retailers and department stores like Tesco Lotus, Robinsons, and HomePro are all planning to open new stores in the next five months. Big C SuperCenter has allocated roughly $351.5 million for store expansion locally and abroad this year.

Online or offline: what’s the right way to go?

Although the rise of ecommerce has been a major contributing factor to the demise of traditional retail; the brick and mortar store is not dead as most claim.

Ecommerce only accounts for a single digit percentage in overall retail sales in Southeast Asia and ‘mall culture’ is not seen as a chore but as a weekend excursion, especially with malls adding new exhibitions such as Central Embassy’s recent interactive art display, “The Beach”, in Bangkok.

ecommerceIQ

Credit: adaymagazine

“Considering rapidly changing consumer behaviour, we may create shopping mall concepts that fit such changes. We want our complexes to become a third home for customers,” says Pakorn Parthanapat, COO of Central Pattana (CPN), a development arm of Central Group.

As well, there will always exist a large population that requires to see, feel and touch a product before making any purchase decision – a problem that many pure players retailers can only ‘solve’ by burning up cash.

Retailers understand these concepts, which is why the smarts ones with existing offline and online footprints are using it to their advantage.

The answer isn’t to label brick & mortar as a dying breed but instead businesses must become more deliberate with how many stores, what to offer in each and their locations.

Uniqlo is closing down stores in the US to only build others in premium locations.

In Thailand, HomePro’s new stores are testing its “HomePro S” concept, a shop that occupies only a sixth of its original store and in locations where young people frequent.

ecommerceIQ

Source: Marketeer

As well, Makro is opening one medium and three small sized cash and carry stores.

[cash and carry]: “Cash-and-carry” refers to a business model that virtually excludes all credit transactions, requiring up-front payment for all goods and services. Companies with a cash-and-carry business model eliminate accounts receivable from their books and are able to match all sales with actual cash receipts.

JD.com Inc., China’s second largest ecommerce company is also expanding into both urban and rural China with over 1 million JD convenience stores in the next five years.

Jason Yu, GM of consumer research firm Kantar Worldpanel comments, “it is more challenging to grow purely in ecommerce, so both Alibaba and JD move into offline business.”

Ecommerce is not the ‘end all’ solution to today’s retail evolution, but the trend appears to be that pure play companies – Pomelo, Xiaomi – are the ones that have a say in whether to open more offline locations or not, whereas traditional retailers are scrambling to go online in order to save their businesses.

Multi-channel is the inevitable future.

Despite its reputation as the next biggest ecommerce market after China and India, Indonesia’s playground has caused many players drop out.

Alfacart, an e-marketplace offering products from various categories, is the latest name in retail that has shifted strategy in order to remain in the game.

After more than a year operating as a horizontal marketplace, Alfacart has reverted back into an ecommerce channel selling products solely from its parent company, Alfamart – Indonesia’s second biggest convenience store chain.

The pivot has not only caused the downsized in the team and C-level management to resign but as well, all third party sellers.

What happened?

Alfacart’s beginning

Alfacart was first introduced to the country as AlfaOnline and built in 2013 when Alfamart realised the importance of having an online channel to expand its reach. The platform at that time focused on selling groceries and various daily necessities.

After three years and a lack of significant growth, the company decided to open its platform to third party vendors and increase their product categories to include items under Fashion, Gadget, and Lifestyle.

“Our digital presence needed to be transformed into full-fledged ecommerce to be able to win the market and contribute significantly to the group’s revenue,” said CEO Catherine Sutjahjo at the time of the transformation.

This pivot came along with a new name, and Alfacart was born.

Alfacart pivot

Alfacart portal before the pivot

To distinguish themselves from the other many horizontal marketplaces – Lazada ID, elevenia, Mataharimall, blibli, etc. – they introduced O2O (online-to-offline) by leveraging Alfamart’s offline network of over 7,000 stores nationwide.

Customers ideally could pickup and return their order at any Alfamart counter, which also widened their payments options to cash.

However, despite its efforts, Alfacart struggled to compete with the already established marketplaces. A quick look at web traffic ranks in Indonesia show that Alfacart hasn’t managed to come in the top five.

Alfacart pivot

Alfacart (purple line) traffic is seen declining in the last three months

Say yes to the horizontal marketplace?

Alfacart is not a lone case in Indonesia’s saturating retail space. Only a month earlier, Cipika, a  marketplace backed by Indosat Ooredoo – one of the largest telco providers in Indonesia – announced that it was shutting down its business.

Similarly to Alfacart, Cipika also evolved into a multi-category marketplace model by offering snacks and electronics in an attempt to reach more potential customers but called it quits after almost 3 years.

Alfacart pivot

Cipika’s shut down announcement on their website

The company’s reason for closing down?

“B2C ecommerce will take a long time to reach profitability,” admitted Prashant Gokarn, Chief Strategy and Digital Services Officer at Indosat Ooredoo.

Say no to the marketplace.

The landscape for B2C ecommerce in Indonesia is indeed crowded and becoming more so as big corporations and conglomerates scramble to back new ventures by pumping in millions of dollars.

Alfacart pivot

Indonesia’s crowded B2C space

The problem though is a lack of any distinguishing factors between these marketplaces as they all offer similar product categories, operate on the same models, and target the same people.

With the same people vying for the same slice of pie, one way to win the consumer is by offering heavy discounts — a strategy that hasn’t changed since the birth of ecommerce in the country 4-5 years ago and still yields the same little return. Another way would be to diversify.

Blibli is a good example of a B2C site offering new categories such as local Indonesian goods and travel through the acquisition of Tiket.com.

What’s important to note is that the playing field is about to get even more rough as notable C2C players like Bukalapak, Tokopedia and Shopee have also branched out to B2C by onboarding big brands like Unilever to their platforms.

Who will be standing at the end of the year?

Alfacart pivot

Alfacart’s C-levels: CCO Ernest Tjahjana, CEO Catherine Hindra Sutjahyo, CMO Haryo Suryo Saputro with Alfamart’s IT Director, Bambang Djojo (in red)

As retail preferences continue to shift in favor of online shopping, retailers are facing pressure to keep up with the latest technology to stay relevant to their customers’ expectations.

However, expanding business online is proving to be difficult and retailers are often faced with many challenges, be it from external or internal factors, that hinder efforts to provide a satisfying omnichannel experience.

What is the challenge these retailers are facing? And what can they do to improve their omnichannel experience? PwC has shared its latest insights based on a survey conducted globally to help the retailers make the digital leap.

What channels are retailers using to generate sales?

In addition to the offline store (79%), a website is the next popular platform for 73% of retailers to sell products.

Meanwhile, unsurprisingly mobile apps (24%) have become the next channel to reach a wider audience.

21% of retailers around the world are still using catalogs to promote their products and as much as 18% of retailers are still dependent on a call center.

improving omnichannel experience

What are the challenges to creating an omnichannel experience?

30% of the retailers surveyed stated ‘budget constraints’ as their biggest challenge.

Many of them don’t come from a global household name and find it challenging to devote their limited resources to manage another channel.

They also have to face challenges branching from the existing system. 13% of the leadership team doesn’t consider omnichannel as a priority and many are resistant to the idea of changing their legacy system (21%). Even when they are willing to, they find it difficult to integrate (20%).

The lack of talent and expertise in the field (16%) continue to be another bottleneck in online retail.

improving omnichannel experience

What can retailers do to improve?

With limited resources, retailers need to have smarter strategies to optimize budgets and reach the right audience. Omnichannel is not about favoring one over the other, it’s about the synergy of different channels to create a more satisfying customer experience.

A smarter strategy comes down to two things:

  • Mobile website, not app

Although in-store is still the most common channel for people to shop, mobile is an increasingly popular way to browse and shop and will continue to gain popularity in the future.

improving omnichannel experience

Keep in mind, a mobile strategy doesn’t necessarily mean investing in an expensive app, retailers can focus on improving their current website to be mobile-friendly.

The mobile app is becoming an unpopular method of reaching people as more individuals feel reluctant to download another application that they will not use regularly.

By making sure the mobile version of a website is easy to use and intuitive for both browsing and shopping – making sure the checkout and payment process is smooth-, customers will have a better experience with your brand.

  • Optimize in-store experience

The offline store is not going away anytime soon, people still want the physical experience of seeing the product before buying it.

This may be an advantage that traditional retailers have that pure-play online player doesn’t but the survey showed that there are many customers who feel unsatisfied with their in-store experience.

improving omnichannel experience

Training the sales associates to have a deep knowledge of the product range is a worthwhile investment as 78% of shoppers feel it’s an important experience to have in-store.

The ability to check inventory real-time is integral – i.e. knowing when an item will be back in stock – as customers coming to the store suggest an immediate need for the product. Shoppers are also craving a personalized experience when they’re visiting an offline store – this has been found to be especially true for luxury brands.

By using technology such as an integrated data platform for offline and online channels, customers can easily access inventory information and pick up their online purchases in the nearest store. Collecting this data also allows retailers to create a more personalized in-store experience with each customer visit.

PwC’s report can be found here.