Industry

Badly Hit by COVID-19, Country’s Biggest Retail Group Plans to Pivot More Into Ecommerce

SM will strengthen its digital tech initiatives because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Traditional retail has been one of the hardest-hit sectors of the coronavirus pandemic. With shopping malls and most other commercial estabishments closed for nearly three months, many establishments are strugglibg not just to earn profit but stay alive in the highly unpredictable times we’re living in. 

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The Philippine Retailers Association has estimated that total retail enviromnet has sunk 30 to 50 percent since the start of the pandemic. And SM Investments, the country’s largest retailer reported a decline of 10 to 20 percent in domsetic sales.

Still, with its shopping malls gradually opening up, SM is staying positive that the industry will recover. For its part, the conglomerate has said it is exploring other avenues to reach consumers.

“This pandemic has made us focus even more on two important things for our customers: convenience and safety,” SM Vice Chair Teresita Sy Coson said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange. “And two things for ourselves: adaptability and transformation. We have been improving both our online and physical experience and operations across the group—and building new ways to serve customers: from banking, to retail, malls, and property.”

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The company said that it has developed “hybrid” ways to reach its customers and that it plans to strengthen these offerings. Foremost of these efforts is a push toward ecommerce and digital technology, which the SM Group has said more people have come to accept in light of the pandemic.

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“This pandemic has revealed that digital technology offers fundamental opportunities to connect and serve communities,” said SM President Frederic DyBuncio. “We will continue to combine our online and offline capabilities to meet our customers evolving needs.”

Just some of the initiatives that SM instituted during the lockdown period are click-and-collect, curbside pick-up, smartphone messaging communities for deliveries and concierge style personal shopping via social media in response to increased customer needs.

Of course, SM is already present in multiple channels online, including ShopSM, TheSMStore, and Shop.SMMarkets.ph. Its merchandise is also present ith ecountry’s two biggest ecommerce platform, Shopee and Lazada.

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“We are all actively finding new ways to improve our customer experience and operations, and we aim to transform into a stronger and more adaptive SM after the crisis,” Coson said.

SM's decision to strengthen its ecommerce initiative was made simultaneous with its announcement that it would pay out a total of P5.1 billion in cash dividends to its shareholders. The company said that it's a total of P4.25 per share. 

The dividends, which are payable on July 23, 2020, is equivalent to 50 percent of its 2019 parent net income.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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