Innovation Is Everywhere

Innovation Is Everywhere

May 2, 2018

Asia is and will be a major player in the changing retail landscape. It is projected that the value of retail sales in Asia Pacific will reach US$11.8 trillion by 2021, representing a tremendous opportunity for businesses to get involved and accelerate a new phase of growth. Today, e-commerce is just 14.7% of current total […]

Asia is and will be a major player in the changing retail landscape.

It is projected that the value of retail sales in Asia Pacific will reach US$11.8 trillion by 2021, representing a tremendous opportunity for businesses to get involved and accelerate a new phase of growth. Today, e-commerce is just 14.7% of current total retail sales, valued at US$1.3 trillion. However e-commerce is expected to double by 2021 to US$3 trillion and represent 25.4% of total retail sales in Asia-Pacific, making the region one of the largest and fastest growing markets globally.

This growth has been influenced by factors such as rising income levels and the social experience of going to the mall as time to spend with family and friends where buying is not the only priority.

Outside of China, online retail is just a small percentage of sales in the region (at less than 3% in Southeast Asia). This has prompted businesses to refocus their efforts towards delivering engaging offline experiences to capture a new generation of buyers.

Here are 3 reasons retailers need to keep an eye on Asia :


I. Asia Pacific Champions Online-to-Offline (O2O) Retail

Online-to-Offline (O2O) is the concept of driving online customer traffic into offline locations.

China is the clear leader in this space due to efforts by its two biggest tech giants – Tencent, the makers of the messaging app WeChat and Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce player.

WeChat, the messaging app used by millions of Chinese for everything from ride-hailing to bill payments and investments, has been a key enabler in the O2O space. Its use of QR codes for easy offline payments via its in-built mobile wallet has enabled stores to connect better with customers. WeChat payments has enabled brands to collect comprehensive customer data in order to push specific offers in-app for use in offline stores.

Alibaba went a step further by further gamifying this process for its Singles Day sales in 2017. Using TMall, its business-to-consumer e-commerce platform, it launched the “Catch the Cat” game where users can play an augmented reality (AR) game of catching the TMall cat mascot. Played like Pokemon Go, each successful capture at home or in the mall, gave specific offline discounts and offers at places like Pizza Hut to drive online traffic into offline locations.

In other parts of Asia, to offer greater convenience to shoppers, non-retail players like Go-Jek are transforming the retail landscape by serving as O2O platforms. This enables offline stores to go online with minimal cost.

For example, through its Go-Mart service, users can get what they need delivered directly to them :

  1. Users simply select from the store they want via the app or search for a particular store or product in-app.
  2. Next they order what they need (Go-Mart has a maximum order of IDR 2,000,000 which is equivalent to less than US$145)
  3. After putting down the delivery address, users then select the payment method. If they use Go-Pay – Go-Jek’s inbuilt payment system – users pay a flat rate of just IDR 4,000 (US$0.30) for delivery within 60 minutes. Otherwise, they pay more than IDR 10,000 (US$0.70) on average for the trip, double the Go-Pay rate.

It enables mom-and-pop stores as well as bigger retailers like American convenience store chain Circle K to offer their products online without committing resources to aspects such as developing logistics infrastructure to enable product deliveries.


II. China/Asia Leads in Retail Experimentation

Asia-Pacific has also seen the emergence of multiple experiments exploring the future of the retail experience.

China has been the undisputed leader in this area, testing over 10 different concepts in real-world scenarios, ranging from small-scale fridges to actual stores.

Some players, like French retailer Auchan for example, have moved into the unmanned store concept. Called Auchan Minute, this new automated convenience store concept is the result of a successful pilot with Bingobox, a Chinese startup specialising in unmanned convenience stores. With the technology now powered by Hisense, Auchan has launched over 60 Auchan Minute stores across Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Sichuan and Guangdong. To enter, users simply scan a QR-code to enter the container-sized store and choose what they want. After, they simply scan the products and pay via their preferred mobile wallet and they are able to exit the store. According to Auchan, individual stores see over 100 customers daily with customers buying an average of two items. Based on data from purchases, the store is also able to adapt the products which it stocks and tailor its offering more specifically to shoppers in the surrounding area.

Another great example comes from China’s second-largest e-commerce player, It recently launched 7Fresh, a grocery store focused on integrating offline-to-online experiences. The store utilises technology such as “magic mirrors” to showcase information about the origin and nutritional value of a particular produce when a customer picks it up.


To enhance convenience for the customer, the store also offers automated shopping carts. Users simply scan a QR code to link it to their phone and put on the cart’s attached wristband. Not only can these carts follow the user around, they can even lead the user to the correct aisle of the product that they are looking for. When they are done, users simply head to the checkout counter when they can scan their face to pay for what they bought.


III. Social Commerce is King

As mentioned at the start, shopping is a big offline social activity in Asia where families and friends go out to the mall to spend time together and buying products is secondary. This behaviour has also driven the online experience where consumers seek the advice of their friends and forums to understand what to buy and where they can buy it online.

Hence the emergence of startups like Pinduoduo which aims to recreate the in-store shopping experience by allowing users to share ideas about what they like and get feedback from people they trust.

Pinduoduo functions as a group buying website and app in China, offering users discounts on a wide variety of products; especially when they buy more than one item. However, a key element is its social aspect where users can ask friends or strangers to join in on their purchases, via Chinese social platforms like WeChat, so that everyone may benefit from the lower prices. It has enabled users to get up to 90% in discounts! And to further encourage sharing on social media, Pinduoduo also offers cashback incentives and free products to its most loyal customers.

These strategies have enabled Pinduoduo to grow to over 114 million users, making it the third-largest ecommerce player in China today! It ranks just behind, China’s second-largest ecommerce player, which has 145 million active users. With this large pool of users, Pinduoduo’s growth has accelerated by five times, growing from US$317 million in gross merchandise volume at the start of 2017 to over US$1.6 billion worth of goods by the end of 2017.

With these developments disrupting the day-to-day business of retailers, Asia is the place to be in order to identify new opportunities.

Connect with us to get more insights on trends and startups in retail, or organise a learning expedition with us to meet the most innovative players in retail from Asia.