Retail in Asia

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Exclusive Interview: Fortnum & Mason APAC MD Carmen Chiu

Set to take place on 15 March at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), MarketingPulse and eTailingPulse 2023 offer a rare opportunity for marketers and e-commerce leaders alike to stay ahead, presenting coveted insights, research and trends from industry experts.

SEE ALSO: What to expect from MarketingPulse & eTailing Pulse 2023

Retail in Asia speaks with Carmen Chiu, Regional Managing Director for APAC at Fortnum & Mason – a heritage brand which celebrated its 315th anniversary in 2022 –and a key speaker at this year’s event.

RiA: Fortnum & Mason cherishes its heritage, but there is also a need to stay relevant. What have been some of your key learnings in the last five years?

Chiu: There has always been a strong appeal for authentically British brands like Fortnum & Mason. The connotation of quality and reliability stems from a long history of British brands that are appealing to Hong Kong customers who look for quality, mastery and heritage.

We gathered immense learning from our shops at Lane Crawford, which gave us confidence to deliver a full Fortnum’s experience in Hong Kong. Our first Asia flagship opened at K11 Musea in Nov 2019, and during Covid when travel was restricted, Fortnum’s offered a taste of Piccadilly to our guests.

RiA: How do you approach digital transformation?

Chiu: The pandemic prompted us to accelerate our digital strategy. Ultimately, having a stronger online e-commerce presence, such as being on Tmall Global, allows us to achieve one of our core missions, to bring more moments of joy into more peoples’ lives. It’s about testing and learning. For the growth of the brand, we wanted to learn about the digital innovations and engagement, for example with livestreaming.

We are redesigning our third floor in Piccadilly to create more experiential engagement and I am sure this will add another layer of authenticity from the UK.

Once we understand the Chinese consumer better we can think about offline expansion, classic 020. Using customer insights, we can understand and decide how we can better cater to driving the physical experience across China.

RiA: Fortnum & Mason’s Hong Kong flagship opened in 2019, as the first international store in Asia. What was top of mind for you as you approached this market entry?

Chiu: Taking a global brand to a new market, we need to be relevant to appeal to the local audience in order to have a sustainable business. Very interestingly, we have reduced our sweetness and saltiness in Hong Kong because the palate is different. We have also implemented some localisation strategies – creating exclusive products with the introduction of mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival as well as Lunar New Year product range to capture the local gifting seasons.

Our opening took place in November 2019 and we had to overcome the challenges from the social unrest and Covid. The business was set up with 50 percent tourists [in mind] and unfortunately with Covid we have only started seeing tourists recently.

We had a new team to build, a new market to operate, and new customers to serve during the most challenging era. I think it is fair to say no business would foresee the challenges back then. This has made us stronger as we learned through agility and ambiguity in the last three years.

RiA: As a Western heritage brand in the Asian market, what brand building practices have you found most effective?

Chiu: The in-store experience has been an invaluable part of brand building. We initiated many in-person engagements when situation permitted, including store and tasting experiences in retail and hospitality, and small-scale events with media and influencers.

Our popular storytelling sessions with Father Christmas have proven to be the talk-of-town over the last two Christmas seasons. We also helped our customers to send over 300 hand-written Christmas postcards to their loved ones around the world last December.

Word-of-mouth through our customers is also as important. Fortnum’s is a trusted brand and many share their experiences on social media, which has been hugely helpful for brand awareness.

RiA: Are there initiatives or product innovations that have been introduced since entering the Asia markets?

Chiu: One of the best innovations we introduced in Hong Kong since our opening is sparkling tea, a certified organic blend of eight of our famous and rare brews – and despite its celebration-ready appearance, contains zero alcohol. This has been one of our top-selling items. We sell more bottles in Hong Kong than the UK, as Hong Kong customers are very wellness driven.

Another great introduction has been Fortnum’s mooncakes, developed for Mid-Autumn Festival for the Hong Kong markets. Lunar New Year has been another local festival with exclusive product range.

At Fortnum’s, we believe sustainability is a continuous journey and a long-term commitment. It is our responsibility to conduct business today in a way what is sustainable for the next 300 years. From our packaging to our supply chains, we’ve made progress. At times this may mean sacrificing short term commercial gain for long term success, but we know our customers want sustainable luxury.

RiA: The retail landscape has evolved significantly in recent years and digital transformation has increasingly become key. Fortnum & Mason recently launched a store on Tmall Global; what else can customers in China and the rest of Asia expect from Fortnum & Mason’s online presence?

Chiu: Digital has been an instrumental growth pillar for Fortnum’s in the UK during Covid and the shift in consumer purchase behaviour. The Tmall global flagship store launched in June 2022 and the learnings have been instrumental to provide early insights on what appeal to Mainland China customers. Our digital strategy to start building brand awareness and connections with our customers from Mainland China will ultimately create a flywheel to our Hong Kong flagship and Piccadilly as travel resumes. Online experiences are as important as offline. We have started live-streaming to enhance the online presence to showcase the brand and our heritage, and continue to tell brand stories.

RiA: What else is in store for Fortnum & Mason’s APAC expansion?

Chiu: As the world starts to recover, we added our first travel retail location in Asia at the Hong Kong International Airport in December 2022. We will continue identifying new opportunities in the APAC region, and our top priority now is to drive growth for Hong Kong and Mainland China as well as exploring new markets in the next three to five years.

Chiu will share more about her uplifting brand revitalisation experiences at MarketingPulse, on the topic of “Brewing the future of Fortnum & Mason’s Tea: How to revive and evolve a timeless brand?”.

Source: HKTDC

Other than Chiu, attendees may also hear from seasoned marketers, including Dennis Chan, Co-founder, Chairman and Creative Director of the legendary jewellery brand, Qeelin; Mauro Porcini, SVP and Global CDO of PepsiCo; Margareth Henriquez, PhD, and Clément Brunet-Moret, Global and APAC CEO of Baccarat respectively; Brian Yiu, CEO of FILA China and Gao-na, Head of Overseas Business, Hong Kong & Macao Region, Mengniu Dairy and David Bell, Founder, Pretty Ballerinas.

They will share the forum with next-gen brand pioneers including Gaëtan Belaud, Global Head of Ads Resellers of Spotify; Alex Zhou, Chief Customer Officer of Chinese toy giant POP MART that made blind boxes a craze; and Louisa Zhu, Co-founder & CEO of Meta Human Centre of RM GROUP, creator of AYAYI, the first hyper-realistic virtual human in China, and many more.

The conference will explore topics such as Web3, ChatGPT, Gen Z, virtual influencer, data driven marketing, brand storytelling, design thinking, happiness and marketing, ESG marketing, future of retail and borderless customer engagement.

A series of digital marketing and e-tailing workshops offering a wealth of practical marketing knowledge and advice for participants. Representatives from about 40 companies will share innovative marketing strategies, bespoke solutions and technologies to marketing professionals and brand owners. Alongside the illuminating discussions, one-on-one business matching service is also provided as marketing and e-tailing experts will offer professional advice while showcasing their solutions.


Event: Marketing Pulse x eTailingPulse
Date: 15 March 2023

Book your ticket now with 65% off special discount code for Retail in Asia readers: MPR05L3P on