The organizers of Retail Congress Asia Pacific 2017 invited Alessandro Medi, Regional Director for South East Asia of Sunglass Hut, to close the congress.
Alessandro had the hard task of summarizing the topics discussed, and remind his peers about the importance of localizing the products to the target market among others.
Retail in Asia has asked him to expand this discussion and focus on the issues, which have emerged from the Congress, and those ones, which have not, but Sunglass Hut faces in its business practice in South East Asia.
RiA : What topics from the Congress were of your particular interest, and which topics were you expecting based on your experience, which instead did not emerge from the discussions?
Alessandro: Many topics have been discussed, and all relevant to the retail world. I will focus on few aspects, which are directly connected to Sunglass Hut, and caught my attention.
Firstly, the opportunity provided by e-commerce and digital in general, and how to relate to this opportunity. Guru Gowrappan from Alibaba highlighted how online businesses are looking at offline, and are willing to understand brick & mortar. Perhaps, because as we all know, or we just say it to re-assure ourselves, is that e-commerce will grow, but will reach a peak at a certain point. We do not know at which percentage it will stop, but it will eventually stop.
What offline can offer instead, which online retailers desperately need, is the interaction with consumers.
Secondly, as Edith Chen, CEO Asia Pacific for Brooks Brothers, pointed out, there is the importance of localizing the products to the markets, avoiding mistakes, which a lot of brands, have made in the past. Moving assortments from Europe to the U.S., from one market to another, thinking that consumers will buy the products just because of the brand, is definitely a mistake.
In the same vein, another mistake, frequently made, is to consider Asia as a unique market. Each country has its own specificity, people have different ambitions, different brand awareness, different expectations, and fashion concept, it is our task to know them before proposing a product.
At the same time, Asia is so unpredictable. A brand, which works well in Korea, it will not be necessarily successful in Thailand, for instance. You need to look at each market individually, it is an investment, it requires time and resources, but to think locally you need to go step by step.
Thirdly, shopping malls. In Asia, people love shopping malls, maybe because of the weather, they can enjoy the air conditioning, in the Philippines, for instance, you see families enjoying the kids’ attractions, food courts, cinemas. They have become lifestyle places, developers are working not to let them die, and traditional retailers can feel re-assured by that.
Overall, the takeaway which I am bringing home, and I think my colleagues should consider as well, is to invest in in-store experience. John Elliot, Managing Director of TOMS for Australia and New Zealand, talked about elevating the purpose for the sales associates. They need to feel proud of belonging to a brand, which is not concerned about profits only, but which sees beyond that.
People are looking for emotions, millennials want new experiences, want an emotional connection with the brands. Sunglass Hut has succeeded in Europe and the U.S., but still working in Asia.
The problem in Asia is the lack of enthusiasm in young generations towards a retail career. In Asia, retail is not yet conceived as a relevant career development opportunity. There is no culture of seasonal jobs and young generations do not yet understand the role of sales associates, which may explain their tendency to buy online.
I think we should be working with education institutions to explain how this industry can provide great opportunities for fast-track career as well.
RiA : Who are the consumers in South East Asia, what is the profile of millennials in this particular area?
Alessandro: South East Asians are very different. They are brand-conscious, they understand how brands perform, which one is popular, which one is declining. They are very fast in adopting trends, Korean brands thanks to k-pop are very known in all Asia, and they are growing.
Customers are continuously connected, before going to the store, and while they are in the store, they keep checking products online, they check reviews, prices, so there is great opportunity to engage them online, through different media.
In Asia, consumers are more brand, design, and price-conscious than in other countries. Brand performances are considered, designs are relevant to the consumers, and prices need to be balanced across countries.
Design plays a key role in our business. We have noticed that Asia consumers do like seeing themselves with very wide frames. They are concerned about other people’s opinion. They take pictures, they share, they ask for comments, not only friends, or sales associates, but also strangers, both online and offline. Strangers will give more genuine comments, they believe.
Honesty with customers is key, not only in Asia. Retailers need to be honest and professional advising the right product, not the most profitable one. Thankfully, each Sunglass Hut store has such an assortment that I challenge everybody not to find at least 10 pairs he or she really likes to wear, so for us it is very easy to genuinely advise our customers.
RiA : What type of adjustments have been made, specifically for South East Asian consumers?
Alessandro: In Singapore and Thailand, we have launched a collection of wide frame glasses, as we have noticed that this type of frame is very much appreciated among the young generations. They like flash and mirrored lens, they want to be visible, they want something unique, which make them standing out from the crowd.
RiA : What’s next for Sunglass Hut in South East Asia?
Alessandro: South East Asia, and Asia in general represent a fantastic opportunity for our brands, and we are working on that.
We are not very well known in this area, at least we are not as known as in the rest of the world, and we are quite ambitious.
Our mission is to turn Sunglass Hut into the top of mind destination for eyewear globally. When you need to buy eyewear, we want to come first, brands, design, colours, if you do not find what you want, you are free to choose something else, but we want to be the first ones you can think of to learn about what’s new.
Sunglass Hut, founded in 1971 as a small kiosk in a Miami mall, Sunglass Hut has grown into one of the world’s leading destinations for high quality and performance sunglass brands. Sunglass Hut is currently present in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, South Africa, China, and South East Asia, providing consumers with a fun, highly engaging shopping experience.