A.S. Watson Group, the world’s largest international health and beauty retailer surveyed over 22,000 consumers across 20 markets in Asia and Europe to understand consumer behaviour in the aftermath of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Like many retail businesses, A.S. Watson saw its e-commerce business grow dramatically by 90% in the second quarter of 2020.
The survey revealed that 100% of respondents said they are willing to shop at brick-and-mortar stores.
This was especially true for Generation Z consumers, with one-third of them reporting that they would shop offline more often than before.
“While the pandemic accelerated eCommerce growth and technological developments, the crisis has underlined customers’ desire for human connections. For the future of retail, these bonds will become even more important,” said Malina Ngai, group COO of A.S. Watson Group and CEO of A.S. Watson Asia & Europe.
A.S. Watson believes consumers are eager to return to shops to see and touch products in person, as well as interact with sales personnel like beauty advisors.
Additionally, Ngai said that offline shopping has a social aspect to it.
“In Asia, it’s a common social activity to browse products and services in-store with friends. Being able to provide in-store experience is crucial to differentiate our brands from the one-dimensional offline or online shopping experience.”
The ‘third space’?
With the increasing presence of e-commerce, the firm envisions physical stores as touchpoints for consumers to get “service they can’t get online”.
“Brick-and-mortar stores will increasingly serve as a ‘third Space’ – a place that is not only about transactions but about human interaction... It’s just as much – if not more – about the customer experience, customer service and creating a unique, engaging environment,’ said Ngai.
As society settles into the new routines and standards post-pandemic, Ngai said the company was rethinking strategies and approaches to meet and adapt to the changing behaviours and demands.
“As customers are more emotionally demanding for relevance, care and personalisation, we’ve to innovate to engage our customers and optimise their shopping experience online and offline. We need to show them that we understand, we care, and we stay connected to them.”
She elaborated that the firm planned to introduce more relevant customer experience technologies will be in-store to encourage consumers to return to stores.
For instance, the company has introduced a virtual hair colour mobile application to help consumers in Taiwan find the right hair dye products.
Additionally, the company has accelerated the launch of WatsonsGO, a touchless payment system, by six months in Hong Kong and Singapore.
“WatsonsGO offers a convenient and safe shopping experience as customers are more aware of hygiene and safety than ever due to the pandemic. Customers can simply scan the barcodes of the products they want to buy with the Watsons mobile app and pay in-app,” said Ngai.
Having a link strong link between online and offline gives the company an edge over its peers and continues to be central to its strategy.
“Offering a seamless customer experience both online and offline (O+O) has been a core strategy for A.S. Watson Group as this is what customers expect from us,” said Ngai.
She concluded: “As we continue to be the most-loved brands of our customers, we have to innovate the way we operate to be more personal with the service we offer in store and further enhance online personalisation through cutting-edge technology.”