Exclusive interview

Retail’s new look: Cost, convenience and choice

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Retail’s new look: Cost, convenience and choice
Interestingly, while ploughing resources into online is a priority, today’s brands are now seeing human engagement and staff investment as crucial, Matthew Crabbe, Regional Trends Director, Asia Pacific at Mintel, highlights.

The new O2O age

The O2O (online-to-offline) business model that encompasses sales and marketing to formulate a strong strategy and successful customer experience has gained popularity with both buyers and brands.

It has also added extra layers to its brand mix in recent years, through the addition of pop-up stores, celebrity influencers on social media and compelling content messages.

When it comes to specifically appealing to Chinese consumers, Matthew Crabbe, Regional Trends Director, Asia Pacific, at Mintel claimed: “Global brands need to realise that there has been this strong shift towards online-offline convergence, and respond to it”.  

With this said, not all the emphasis should be placed on building a formidable presence online as shoppers still highly value the experiential beauty experience and the importance of customer service.

Humans cannot be replaced

As a result, “human engagement through frontline staff is a key element in brand building" ​and so companies are "increasingly investing in more staff training to that end".

Whether online or offline, companies also need to build their O2O strategies around the lifestyle habits and preferences of its target markets.

Exploring this landscape in China, for example, brands must realise that “Chinese consumers are both travelling more (including overseas) and shopping online from overseas, so they need to engage with these people wherever they are—within China or elsewhere”​, Crabbe noted.

Chinese consumer purchasing preferences

This will prompt brands to evolve to keep up with growing competition. It will also enable brands to present a specific offering to Chinese consumers both in its domestic market and throughout the world. 

To achieve this, brands must focus on providing Chinese-language content and information, ease of payment using Chinese credit cards and online payment systems, learn about the cultural sensitivities of their Chinese consumers, and research who their core consumers are— their likes, dislikes, hopes, aspirations and lifestyles, Crabbe revealed.

Keeping the offline alive

Physical shops are in a position to attract consumers in-store by focusing on the experiential shopping experience. After all, “immersive store experiences are set to grow, and will be a core component of attracting consumers to stores”,​ Crabbe shared.

Moving forward, however, this has to be “backed-up with more substantial benefits, especially the human interaction between customers and well-trained, knowledgeable in-store staff”.

Brands now need to focus on offering “flexibility, giving shoppers the choice of whether to buy in-store now, to buy in-store for home delivery, to shop online, and also using online to find the best product for them even when shopping in-store through in-store terminals”.

New and emerging technologies can also help to encourage shoppers to try products, such as magic mirrors. Overall, “all of this technology is changing the role of physical stores towards being more about service, rather than simply sales,”​ Crabbe continued.

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