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Easing the way to virtual retail

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Online shopping may be the wave of the future and will continue to grow even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, but it does not have to spell the end of big brick-and-mortar retail chains and department stores.

For Etaily, an e-commerce enabler, large department stores and retailers can establish both an online and offline presence that will showcase the diversity of their merchandise and enhance consumers’ shopping experience. Etaily, which has established its Southeast Asia base in the Philippines, offers its help in strengthening established online sellers’ digital capability and ease the birth pains for companies and brands with physical stores but also want to make their presence in cyberspace.

Etaily has raised $1.6 million in seed funding from Ayala Ventures, Foxmont Capital Partners, Magsaysay Shipping & Logistics, the Boston Consulting Group and other angel investors to provide a one-stop, omnichannel solution to help retailers and brands sell digitally. It offers a suite of services to attract consumers, enable online transactions, and conveniently deliver products and services.

At a recent Zoom discussion on “Breaking the E-retail Ceiling in SEA,” Alexander Friedhoff, cofounder and chief executive officer of Etaily, said the new company aimed to help retailers go online and avoid what he described as the apocalyptic end of large chains and stores in the United States and Europe.

“Traditional retail was facing massive challenges even before [Covid-19]. The pandemic accelerated its [downfall]. The apocalypse started in 2019 and major chains [had to close down],” he said.

Digital evolution

Franco Varona, managing partner of Foxmont Capital Partners, said the pandemic boosted the growth of e-commerce as retailers were forced to undergo a digital evolution. Filipinos, who are prolific social media users, realized the many other uses of digital connections.

“This opened up e-commerce not just in the Philippines but in the [SEA] region,” he said.

Friedhoff expressed the view that the shift to e-commerce would revive and revitalize traditional retail. “There are massive opportunities because of a young population,” which is more technically savvy.

“We don’t just give clients’ tools [to use in the digital market] but we are empowering them [by helping with] management, warehousing [and other essential needs],” said Toti Wong, Etaily chief commercial officer.

Tatiana Cziomer, Etaily chief operating officer, said the company was simplifying retail digitization. “We are providing the tools so any company, big or small, can harness technology to grow a brand, multiple industries, multiple products or multiple sectors.”

Necessary logistics

Jesse Maxwell, president and chief executive officer of Magsaysay Shipping and Logistics, said e-commerce created many challenges because it grew at a rapid pace as a result of the pandemic.

They wanted to help it achieve its fullest potential by providing the necessary logistics for such related requirements as warehousing, technology enhancement to enhance customer experience.

Etaily, Friedhoff said, wanted to give traditional retailers the digital fighting chance to compete in the local, as well as regional, markets. “We would not allow the retail apocalypse that happened in the US and in Europe … We are connecting online brands and retailers to Asean consumers by integrating their business offline and online.”

Varona said e-commerce should not be viewed as a competitor but rather a collaborator of traditional retail. Maxwell said e-commerce and traditional retail could augment and help each other grow, especially amid the prolonged pandemic.

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