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Monday, 22 January 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

A hybrid model

ALTHOUGH there is a growing need for businesses to go online to remain relevant to their customers and consumers, more and more companies, particularly large retailers, are also looking at integrating online and offline to offer better customer experiences.

Increasingly, e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Alibaba are moving into the brick-and-mortar segment to boost their businesses.

A report notes that while having a network of physical stores would require greater capital expenditures and operational costs, these e-commerce companies could integrate these stores with their online presence and also use these stores as “warehouses” to improve delivery efficiency.

According to Alibaba, the future of retail will be an integrated online and offline experience. A pure e-commerce company could find it difficult to compete in this environment.

An offline presence will be helpful for growth, as consumers prefer a more personal experience for many products.

Food delivery company Epic Fit Meals Co co-founder Lai Wick Kee believes a hybrid of offline and online will also be the way forward for the company to grow.

“It’s really a click-and-mortar business. At the moment, more than two-thirds of the orders that come in are from online. The rest are through walk-in customers.

“Those that order online have the option of picking up their meals at our outlets or we can deliver it to them.

“And customers that prefer to try our food first at our physical store can come back to our online platform for recurring orders. We have quite good conversion rate from our walk-in customers.

“So it’s a mix of online and offline to cater to the needs of our customers,” he says.

Lai and his partners invested about RM200,000 in its online platform to integrate online orders with its kitchen operations to minimise the intermediaries needed to prepare an ordered meal.

This also increases efficiency and saves costs, which helps boost margins.

They are also looking at ways to increase in-store automation to improve on services for its walk-in customers.

“This is how we are going to grow. We are using a lot of technology but physical stores still serve a purpose. And this will be the model going forward,” he adds.

But Lai insists that Epic Fit Meals is not a tech startup.

“We are not a tech startup, like most other new players in the industry like to call themselves.

“The F&B industry is already a very established industry and there really aren’t that many inefficiencies to fix. They would have already been taken care off over the course of time.

“So we are not here to ‘fix a problem’. We are an option for consumers,” says Lai.