The Hong Kong-based company has been working on its digital transformation since 2012 with the goal of providing a seamless shopping experience for its consumers, emphasising on online and offline (O+O) integration.
Most recently, it has rolled out cloud-based stores in China and planned to further implement cloud technology to more of its stores later this year.
With the COVID-19 crisis looming overhead, the company said it would be accelerating those plans.
Malina Ngai, Group COO of A.S. Watson Group and CEO of A.S. Watson Asia & Europe said the company is taking every opportunity to improve its business despite the catastrophic situation.
“Don’t waste a crisis. We learn, look for the positives, and intensify our care to our people, customers and the society.”
One of the immediate challenges the retailer faced was keeping surgical masks and hand sanitisers in stock.
The team managed to leverage its global network to source supplies despite a tough situation. Ngai said one of the biggest obstacles the firm faced was time itself.
“Every second counts during the crisis. We had to deal with time differences while making decisions that had to be made in hours or even minutes. The long Lunar New Year holiday also added difficulty to the merchandising and logistics.”
In order to reduce hoards of panicked buyers and long lines, the firm rolled out a new reservation initiative, which allowed consumers to purchase and collect surgical masks at the designated date and time at Watsons stores in Hong Kong.
“To avoid people queueing overnight and forming crowds which may increase health risk, we’ve rolled out the first online reservation for surgical mask purchase so that customers were able to buy the masks on a designated date rather than queueing out in the cold weather overnight,” said Ngai.
This proactive response has raised the profile of the company in the eyes of the consumer.
According to a recent report by YouGov, Watsons Hong Kong has seen its scores rise significantly during these past crucial months.
The report measures how many people are currently buying from the brand, the positive responses people have been hearing about the brand, and how many people would recommend it.
In that order, Watsons has seen its scores rise 8.8 points, 7 points and 16.8 points respectively.
“All this proves that if a brand handles a crisis well, customers will love the brand even more in such a challenging time,” said Ngai.
According to Ngai, the company built the online registration page for surgical mask reservation in a week, thanks to an upgrade of its backend office system.
On the other hand, the webpage, which managed a waiting list of 1.5 million people at its peak, was able to handle the high volume of traffic because of its cloud technology.
“Using cloud technology, our webpage was able to handle the high volume of incoming traffic. A queuing page was set up when the traffic was higher than a certain level, giving customers transparency, just like when they are queueing up physically.”
Digital solutions for the office
The company had previously invested in technology that makes it easy for their employees to work remotely as many choose to work from home.
Ngai said that these investments have not just made working easier but has also allowed the management to stay in close contact with its employees to assure them during this critical time.
“With our e-platform for internal communications, we are able to use videos to show our care to colleagues in local business units and update them what measures we take to protect them. Human connection is critical in time of crisis.”
Moving forward, the company believes the market will be forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We expect that the COVID-19 crisis will change the way our business is run, accelerated mobile office, online training, online shopping, supply chain, and other aspects,” said Ngai.
She concluded: “While the end of the coronavirus may not be in sight and the full extent of its impact remains unclear, we embrace this time as one that will help us prepare our brands to emerge from crisis even stronger than before.”