Connecting with empowered consumers As brand-savvy shoppers across Asia select from an ever-enlarging choice of products, in-store strategies combine the best of art and science

Virtual store in a bus stop

The societal shift towards urbanized living and consumption-focused economic policies across Asia are heralding a modern consumer revolution. Brands from all parts of the planet are turning their gaze eastward, and seeking to better understand the evolving consumer trends. Adding an extra layer of complication is the interplay of unique cultural and ethnic factors across and within Asian markets.

Generally, however, brands are targeting aspirant consumers who share certain commonalities: primarily, an increased ability and willingness to spend on consumer products and who engage online to shape and share their brand preferences.

Take a stroll around a shopping mall in any Asian city, and it is immediately evident the effort and resources brands are devoting to connect directly with consumers. Sleekly crafted product launches and demonstrations, brand activations and interactive competitions draw large crowds, especially on weekends and holidays. Shopping centers have always been prime venues for connecting brands and consumers, but advances in mobile technology provide new options to creatively engage with mall visitors through experiential interaction and intelligent marketing initiatives that inspire visitors to stay and spend.

Pleasurable in-store experiences

In-store stock analysis

To differentiate themselves in fiercely competitive environments, retail brands are combining consumer insights, digitized technologies and creative promotions closer to the point of purchase. The objective is to creatively inspire shopper brand choice and convert brand curiosity into commitment and shoppers into buyers.

“A big trend for retailers is the change in shopping habits. Retail purchasing used to be an exclusively physical activity, but now there is a choice of digital and physical channels,” says David Smollan, Chief Executive of Smollan Group, an international retail solutions company that specializes in field sales and retail execution, brand activation, information and technology, that also established a field marketing joint venture with DKSH. “That makes perfecting the physical retail environment more important to give choices to consumers and to enable the retailer – who is essentially a service provider to shoppers – to compete. It’s no longer about retailer versus retailer, there is now a whole new category of competitors.”

In this context, retailers need to raise their game in terms of the in-store experience. The two key components are “location” and “convenience.” Today’s time-poor urban consumers tend to fit shopping into the precious spare moments in their daily lives, and expect a convenient, efficient and hassle-free purchasing journey each time they visit a store.

At its most fundamental proposition, shopping should be simple or pleasurable, or both, and retailers are using detailed analysis to discern the mode of each customer. “If you take a supermarket, for example, there are two key behavioral modes that apply. In an ‘exploratory’ mode, shoppers may be open to buying new brands and products, while in ‘replenishment’ mode, shoppers are looking for products they know and use regularly,” says David Smollan. “Over time, replenishment shopping is likely to become more automated, so for instance you could buy washing powder on a subscription-based model and just order a top-up when required.”

In each store, brands are always seeking to make their products “top of mind” to both regular customers and potential buyers. “The range, availability, visibility and positioning of products in a store are all very important. You need to make it easy for a shopper to buy. Our field sales teams are an extension of our clients’ brand in retail environments to ensure their products are in stock, on the shelf, all the time,” says David Smollan. “It’s important to think about how the experience feels like for a shopper, and keep in mind that time is very valuable today. If a store doesn’t have a replenishment product readily available and visible, and the consumer chooses to buy another instead, the chances are that customer may be lost for good.”

Omni-channel and retail theater

In-store promotions targeting shoppers with a little more time to browse are more experiential. “Exploration is about activation, so in-store experiences are based on creative concepts. You try to introduce an element of ‘retail theater’ to make real-world retail more engaging. Today, there is a lot on in-store activity in Asia’s urban centers to promote and demonstrate products and advise shoppers on the best ways to use them.”

Underpinning the enhanced store layouts and creative customer interactions is an advanced technical platform. Modern trade retail is systematically planned. Stock replenishment systems use complex algorithms and supply chain connectivity has to be seamless to meet the demands of discerning customers.

Asian consumer behavior is diverging from the solely bricks-and-mortar shopping model to buying across multiple channels. Analyzing key data is crucial to figuring out the best combination for them in terms of value, time-efficiency and product and service quality.

“Omni-channel retailing and its real-world impact is the lens through which we view everything now,” says David Smollan. “You need to know what are the digital disruptions that brands are experiencing to make their in-store strategies more effective.”

To deliver business intelligence that drives growth, brands operating in Asian markets should understand the levers that make an impact at the point where customers make purchasing decisions. From point of purchase audits to category management solutions, fast, accurate market intelligence can be derived at any consumer interface. These insights can positively impact sales at the point of purchase.