[Sponsored Article] While the local coronavirus outbreak is showing signs of levelling off, public health experts suggest that people remain vigilant and maintain social distancing. As more consumers realise that they can continue getting what they need without going into a store, it begs one big question: will Covid-19 transform customer shopping habits forever? The shift to online shopping is intensifying an already existing trend, said Plato Wai, general manager of SHOPLINE, an e-commerce platform for Asian merchants to launch branded online shops rapidly. “We do hope the pandemic will be behind us soon and that people can return to normalcy, but we do think that people’s online shopping behaviour will change after the pandemic, becoming the ‘new normal’ for the retail landscape.” To be more exact, not only will the continued integration of online and offline stores boost consumers’ confidence, the trend will also help improve operational efficiencies and potentially overall sales, online and offline, he said. New realisations Retailers running brick-and-mortar stores will realise the growing importance of e-commerce. During the first few weeks of the pandemic it was panic buying that drives online sales. Those who had been reluctant to do online shopping before were “forced” to buy essential supplies, from masks to foods, online. “Some consumers delay adoption of online shopping for some reason. Maybe they are distrustful about new ideas. But Hong Kong’s smartphone penetration rate is nearly 90 per cent right now, even someone like my parents have learnt how to shop online,” Wai said. “They have come to realise that online shopping is really convenient. So we believe though physical retail store sales will gradually improve after the pandemic, online retail will contribute more to overall retail sales in Hong Kong and around the world than before Covid-19.” Wai said the company had been inundated with enquiries from many different brands, large and small, who wanted to upgrade their online stores in order to stay competitive. The Distance Business (D-Biz) Programme, recently launched under the Anti-Epidemic Fund, is believed to prompt more retailers to adopt IT solutions for developing distance business, he added. “Click and mortar” 2.0 The term of “click and mortar” as a business model was first coined in the dotcom era some 20 years ago. But with the prevalence of smartphones nowadays and advancement in big data analytics, this strategy has been fine tuned to combine online and offline shopping into a seamless customer journey. “We expect O2O (either online-to-offline or offline-to-online) to be a big trend down the road. For retail business owners, it makes every sense to expand and diversify sales channels.” Proprietary POS system SHOPLINE has recently launched its proprietary point-of-sales (POS) system for merchants to manage online and offline transactions within one system. Compatible with iPad and Android tablets, the POS system offers a touch-screen interface, with an advanced set of features for managing orders, tracking inventory, managing store staff and reporting on sales. Maximising online exposure “One of the reasons why merchants join SHOPLINE is that we can maximise the online exposure of their brand and offerings. We are not only a Google Premier Partner; we are also the first e-commerce platform in Greater China to integrate with Google for Google Shopping Ads (GSA).” SHOPLINE is also a Facebook Marketing Partner, which enables its merchants to sync their product feeds with Facebook shops, thus allowing them to do retargeting campaigns like dynamic product ads (DPA). “We have integrated the Google and Facebook marketing platforms into our platform. Combined with our in-house analytics tool, called Shoplytics, our merchants enjoy a granular visibility into visitor traffic and the browsing behaviour of their customers.” Apart from the digital marketing module, Shoplytics further provides analysis and reports on sales, members, campaigns, product flows and order status, helping the merchant manage operations more efficiently. Local and timely support is key Unlike other global e-commerce platforms, SHOPLINE implements a well thought out localisation strategy to meet local shopping needs when entering a new market. For example, the company works with local payment and logistics service providers on the ground to help merchants ensure a better shopping experience their local customers are comfortable with. “Compared to mainland China, Taiwan or South Korea, Hong Kong’s e-commerce scene still lags behind. Many retailers are not familiar with online sales and marketing, so we have spent a lot of efforts in educating them on how to do it. They probably have been running a B2B business but do not know-how to turn it into a B2C business. We listen to our customers and work to address their pain points.” From time to time, SHOPLINE organises seminars and workshops, and works with partners on different e-commerce-related topics, such as payment, logistics and digital marketing. Though the SHOPLINE platform is intuitive, merchants still may not know what channels they can utilise to promote their offerings, or how to do it. “That’s why we have a very strong customer service team to support our merchants 24x7. They need a bit more human interaction to walk them through the process of setting up and running an online store.” Merchants empowered to succeed everywhere SHOPLINE was founded in 2013 in Hong Kong and in a few years’ time, it attracted about 200,000 merchants to open an online store with them. The company is now the leading e-commerce platform in Hong Kong and Taiwan. “As a leading e-commerce platform, we have gained strong expertise in store design, customer relationship management (CRM), digital marketing, transaction management, inventory tracking and logistics solutions. We hope to transfer the knowledge to merchants so that we can empower them on their digital transformation journey and achieve greater business success,” Wai said.