How many channels do brands need for a multichannel strategy?

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Any retail marketing strategy in Asia needs a minimum of three channels, according to regional experts.

The channels, the number of channels and which channels to use, will all differ depending on the brand and its objectives when it comes to multichannel strategy in Asia. However for a true crossover from multichannel retailing to a full omnichannel shopping experience, one constant remains the same.

“You have to be across all the channels where your consumers are,” says Stephen Hay, regional director, APAC, ICLP.

“The consumer might be looking at you on Tmall [in China], or on the website, but the seamless experience comes from being able to say to that consumer, take your pick and we will be there,” Hay says.

There are a number of issues that make the Asia Pacific region unique when it comes to implementing multichannel strategies. Here are a few things to consider when developing a multichannel strategy in this region:

1. Fragmentation

Having a presence in three to five channels is the minimum in terms of getting some real economies of scale in Asia, says Charles Gourlaouen, general manager, channel management, aCommerce Asia.

In Southeast Asia in particular, the big challenge around multichannel marketing is fragmentation.

Markets like the United States, Europe and China, have more mature ecommerce sectors and the number of dominant players are smaller.

For example, most retail brands position themselves on key ecommerce platforms such as Amazon and eBay in the U.S. and Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao or Jing Dong’s JD.com in China.

In Southeast Asia, where ecommerce is still growing, there are more players to choose from – all with equal market share.

“The pain point is to build a technical solution [across multiple channels] that will abstract that complexity and make it a seamless process for brands,” says Gourlaouen.

It is essential therefore that the technology is in place to synchronize stock availability and pricing information across all channels, he adds.

2. Different brands, different objectives

Aviandri Hidayat, head of channel management, aCommerce Indonesia, says key channels will be different depending on the brand and their objectives.

For example, if a brand wants to build a user database, or build brand awareness, the best channel would be to focus on a website. For brands wanting to concentrate on sales, ecommerce marketplaces or social commerce channels are the stronger option.

In Southeast Asia, the biggest marketplaces are Lazada and Zalora. Ensogo is popular in Thailand and Matahari Mall is an up and coming ecommerce platform in Indonesia.

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Line Shop, Instagram and local ventures Shopee and Carousell, are popular social commerce apps across the region.

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Currently aCommerce is working with L’Oreal in Thailand to manage the synchronization for a multichannel strategy. This includes managing the merchandising for L’Oreal’s pop-up stores on Lazada and Ensogo and the Line Shop app.

In addition, it ensures all promotions or product push campaigns are aligned across all the channels.

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“People are becoming omnichannel customers – they might browse on Lazada but buy on another channel,” says Hidayat.

Ensuring campaigns, and campaign messaging, is aligned across channels increases customer purchase confidence, he adds.

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3. Asia’s unique operating environment

In Asia, marketers must consider the region’s large mobile population and high barriers for operation when developing multichannel strategies, says Ohad Hecht, chief operating officer, eMarsys.

A minimum three to four channels are needed for good impact in Asian markets. For markets like China, with high barriers to entry, higher scale product lines can benefit from the huge reach of Taobao and Tmall, he adds.

Consumers in Asia are increasingly mobile first, and in some places, mobile only. For example, eMarketer estimates that 88% of China’s 700 million Internet users will go online this year via a mobile phone.

As a result, mobile social commerce apps with inbuilt ecommerce and payment capabilities such as WeChat in China and Line in Southeast Asia are playing increasingly important roles, says Hecht.

Mobile is also playing a key role in reaching audiences with limited connectivity – where audiences in emerging markets may be accessing the Internet on 2G networks.

Unique payments solutions are also evolving around these consumers, especially in emerging markets where credit card penetration is low. Payment options include using phone credit to pay online, ordering online but collecting in-store, and cash on delivery.

Conclusion:

The biggest challenges to multichannel marketing are legacy issues and integrating the back end systems. Two areas in particular limit this strategy:

1. Technology: Developing and implementing the technology to integrate all platforms for a seamless customer journey.

2. Procedural: Policy needs to be in place for brands to embrace omnichannel (for example, if the consumer bought online, can they return it in-store?)

Brand marketers must consider these as well as Asia’s fragmented market and mobile first approach to ecommerce when developing a multichannel strategy for the region.

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