5-Star Advice From Long Yin

Star Advisor Long Yin, Solutions Architect at Alibaba Cloud, shares on creating a seamless omni-channel retail experience.


Long Yin is an expert in using big data and artificial intelligence solutions to help companies with their digital transformation journeys. She also holds several patents and received her Ph.D. in Operations Research from the National University of Singapore.

We get her take on how retailers can grow their businesses by combining their physical and virtual channels into one integrated shopfront.

Why is it important for retailers to have an integrated online/offline shopping experience?

Online and offline commerce have different advantages. Online commerce has no physical limits and makes it easier to collect and analyse customer information. Offline commerce, meanwhile, usually offers a better customer experience by providing face-to-face customer service and real-time response. By combining their online and offline services, retailers can provide a new, enhanced experience for customers.

In October 2016, during Alibaba’s Annual Computing Conference, Jack Ma described this integrated offering as “New Retail” for the first time. He said: “The era of pure e-commerce will end in the next ten to twenty years, and only by combining online and offline commerce as well as logistics can we create a truly new retail experience for our customers.”

How can SME retailers start on their journey of transformation to create such an omni-channel offering?

For SME retailers that reach customers through a single distribution option, the next step is to build both a physical and digital presence. Building multiple channels – such as online, catalogue, mail-order, face-to-face selling or traditional retail - can accommodate where and how consumers make purchases, ensuring that producers and retailers will be present when the purchase decision is made.

After moving from a single to multi-channel platform, retailers can then intensify their efforts with an omni-channel strategy. The omni-channel concept not only recognises the range of channels available to consumers to transact, but also considers the varied interactions in the shopping process that consumers have before, during, and after their purchase.

What are the benefits for retailers with an omni-channel offering?

There are various benefits to having an omni-channel strategy. These include improved customer experience, data integration to improve business value, and opportunities that may arise from online and offline traffic management.

An omni-channel offering also allows retailers to provide personalised services to consumers, increase conversion and repurchase rates, expand their touch points, as well as reduce costs and drive revenue.

What are some of the common pitfalls to avoid when adopting such a strategy?

There are three common pitfalls when adopting an omni-channel strategy:

  • Adding channels but without integration. Omni-channel is not just about opening additional channels for sales, but deeply integrating these online and offline channels, whereby merchandise, inventory, membership and service form a link, and runs as a seamless whole. Only with such integration can retailers really help customers shop any where, any time, and any way they choose.
  • Lack of a centralised data platform. Data from multiple channels should be integrated to generate significant business value. A centralised platform will allow retailers to integrate the online and offline sales data for more efficient sales forecasting and inventory management. Based on their customers’ online and offline shopping behaviour data, retailers will also be able to identify their customers across multiple channels and create a 360-degree profile for precision marketing.
  • Lack of supply chain management strategy. A visual, intelligent and agile supply chain is the foundation of “New Retail” businesses. Around 75% of retailers claim that the challenges in inventory management are caused by an ineffective sales forecasting strategy, opaque inventory management systems, and the lack of inventory planning.

Why are some retailers still hesitant to adopt digital solutions?

Some retailers are unclear on how to utilise digital solutions to drive their business. Some do not know how to set up the necessary infrastructure, such as cloud-based systems that provide higher efficiency and optimisation to their operations. Retailers can take advantage of public cloud providers that offer training workshops, seminars, and consulting services to ensure seamless cloud adoption.

Retailers may also not be aware of new applications – such as facial recognition for payments, real-time personalised recommendation engines, or image searches – that can help drive their businesses. Finally, many SMEs still do not understand the concept of “New Retail” and why it is important for engaging today’s customers.

Alibaba’s mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere in the world, and we want to provide businesses with the capabilities to realise this vision. We hope to share our best practices which has benefited millions of SMEs and billions of consumers.

What assistance is out there for retailers on their digital transformation journey?

Alibaba Cloud provides online learning, hands-on labs, classroom training and professional certification programs on cloud computing, big data, cloud security and retail solutions to support SME retailers on their transformation journey. We also provide consulting and delivery services as a digital transformation expert in age of intelligent business.

As a DBS BusinessClass Star Advisor, Long Yin offers her insights and advice exclusively to BusinessClass members through networking sessions. Check out more of her insights here! Also, if you require specific advice or support from any of our Star Advisors, get in touch with us here.

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