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The future of retail is neither just online or offline – it’s both

The Peak speaks to Chris Chong, retail managing director of Capitaland Singapore.

Over the past decade, multiple Internet mega-platforms have emerged, each promising same-day shipping and cashback on purchases. Yet, against all odds, physical shopping malls have remained standing and evolved to meet new-normal challenges, transforming from places where one merely shopped into experience-driven, community spaces.

Funan’s 2019 revamp, for example, saw the mall reinvent itself as a lifestyle and social square. Technology was also wholly embraced, and the mall offered services such as a video system that scanned licence plates so visitors could easily recall where they parked their cars and a 24-hour drive-through that allowed shoppers to pick up items they ordered online.

With everyone staying home during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns accelerating the digital transformation of enterprises everywhere, this readiness to embrace technology has been paramount. Capitaland, Singapore’s largest mall operator, has launched two online services: eCapitaMall and Capita3eats (pronounced “capita-treats”).

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The former is an e-commerce site with a curated selection and the latter, a food ordering platform with options for takeaway, dine-in and delivery. “We have long recognised the importance of integrating the physical and digital realms to create a competitive advantage for CapitaLand’s retail ecosystem.

To this end, we have been progressively expanding our digital capabilities over the last few years to complement our extensive physical network of malls. As the eCapitaMall platform was already in the works, we were able to quickly launch it in the midst of the pandemic,” shares Chris Chong, retail managing director of Capitaland Singapore.

In fact, so much of a mall operator’s traditional roles have changed – in the past, it was mostly a landlord-tenant relationship – that even the terminology is different. Chong refers to Capitaland as a “retail ecosystem provider”, with said ecosystem referring to everything that would drive sales for its retail partners.

  • CapitaLand Retail Chris Chong

    Adapting to the Pandemic

    Chris Chong, retail managing director of Capitaland Singapore.

The word “omnichannel” comes up often, with many retailers citing a need to engage customers on all fronts, including a physical location for them to experience goods first-hand, an online store for ease of purchase, and social media engagement.

One of Capitaland’s first forays into non-traditional retail was the NomadX online-offline concept store at Plaza Singapore, which opened in 2018. “The NomadX experience gave us valuable lessons into the challenges of running an e-commerce platform and test-bedding solutions in a real retail environment,” shares Chong.

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While large online players such as Lazada or Amazon are often heralded as threats to brick-and-mortar establishments, Chong prefers to see the relationship between the different ecosystem players as collaborative since everyone can bring their value proposition to the table.

“We have long recognised the importance of integrating the physical and digital realms…”

“In recent years, more online entities have established their physical presence. For instance,
the Lazada Group launched the Amore store x Lazada in Funan last year. CapitaLand is happy to
partner with different ecosystem players to bring new shopping experiences to consumers.”

For Capitaland, its value proposition, says Chong, is an unrivalled physical presence as well as a captive and growing digital community. In 2019, its 17 malls saw a combined shopper traffic of
350 million while its lifestyle and loyalty app, Capitastar, has over 1 million members.

What does this all mean for the consumer? For one, increased convenience. Consumers can now shop from all the malls in Capitaland’s physical network and as the footfall returns to physical stores, shoppers can also pre-order via the app and skip queues.

In the case of the Capita3eats app, besides ordering food for takeaway, consumers can also use it as a digital menu, ordering food on-site and paying contactlessly – an essential service in the new normal. “Retail needs to adapt to consumers’ needs.

We want to make it convenient for shoppers through technology and to help them plan their shopping journeys in advance and in the quickest, most efficient manner,” says Chong.

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Photos: Capitaland