On 17th May 2018, the conference room at the 29th floor of the One Chinachem Central, was transformed into the Asian Retail Arena and welcomed a full room of key players and disruptors in the retail industry.
The event was an opportunity to shed light on the changes and transformation that have been forging the contemporary retail landscape.
That’s why the name ‘arena’, a Latin word, borrowed to indicate a place for debate. Indeed, it was a moment for professionals working in the retail industry to engage in a fruitful discussion.
The three topics selected for the 1st edition were:
– From space to experience : what’s next for the physical store?
– Luxury and the digital equation?
– Travel retail shopping : a journey or a just a destination?
The Asian Retail Arena was the result of the interaction among different stakeholders within the industry, and the format clearly reflected the intent of the diverse organizing committee. Indeed, the three businesses involved are very different in nature, but all big players in the retail industry.
Here, a summary of the event.
Anna Romagnoli, General Manager at The Italian Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong & Macao, welcomed the guests and introduced the President of The Italian Chamber Of Commerce for the opening remarks, Luca Cico, who pointed it out the remarkable success of this 1st edition, which will lead to a bigger scale event next year.
Emcees of the event, our Chief Editor Esterina Nervino and the Managing Partner at People & Projects (P&P), Stefano Passarello, who manages accounting for the retail giants in Asia. The two Emcees, both fond of the topics diligently managed the agenda and engaged in the debate with moderators and speakers by bringing their perspectives into the table and stimulating the interaction with the audience.
PANEL DISCUSSION 1 – FROM SPACE TO EXPERIENCE: WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE PHYSICAL STORE?
The first panel, moderated by Theodore Knipfing, Principal at Plus Curiosity Inc., focused on the future of the physical store in the digital era. The panel included 5 speakers: James Assersohn, Director Retail, Asia Pacific at JLL; Alessandro Bisagni, Founder & Managing Director of BEE – Bisagni Environmental Enterprise; Paolo Giannelli, Founder – Senior Architect at Area – 17 Limited; Giovanni Musillo, General Manager at Zalora; Simone Pompilio, Retail Operations Manager at Lululemon – Asia Pacific.
James Assersohn kicked-off the discussion with the background information that retail market is starting to pick up in Hong Kong again in the last half a year and there seems to be a corresponding growth in transactions in the retail real estate market. However, his focus soon shifted to the pop-up concept which has been reshaping the retail experience all over the world and recently pervaded Asia. He explained how this is a novelty that is definitely revamping retail spaces such as shopping malls.
Shopping malls were often mentioned in the discussion, and Simone Pompilio explained how in the negotiation of a space with shopping malls, it also important to look at how tenants contribute to the creation of a lifestyle to drive traffic to the mall and provide visitors an enjoyable shopping experience. A huge role in the in-store experience is also played by the retail staff, Simone reminds the audience. The retail staff is an army of brand ambassadors if selected among brand enthusiasts and well trained.
Paolo Giannelli, based on his experience as retail designer for luxury and lifestyle brands in Asia-Pacific, stated that the physical store will become more and more a museum-like experiential space aimed to raise brand awareness and contributing to brand positioning, where visitors can learn more about the brands, discover new products, despite the actual transaction, which could be made online. Regarding the pop-up discussion, he is also developing a new sustainable modular system for pop-up installations aimed to help retailers to optimize their resources while developing temporary designs.
Following up on sustainability, as Paolo also worked on projects with Alessandro Bisagni, they agree on promoting a more sustainable future for the physical store. Alessandro enlightened the retail arena with the latest news about sustainability in retail and how luxury brands specifically are implementing sustainable practices, even though there is still a long way to go. Alessandro explained how if in the past the focus was on environmental issues only and the choice of lighting was mainly concerned with energy consumption, nowadays, sustainability means also understanding which types of light create a more comfortable work environment for the retail staff.
Giovanni Musillo, only representative of the online ecosystem in the panel, reassured the other panellists and the audience that e-commerce platforms like Zalora are out there to enlarge the market and appeal to those customers who prefer shopping from the comfort of their home. Giovanni pointed suggested the online and offline to be seen as contributing to the same goal of sales generation, and also data collection. Especially in SEA, where the retail infrastructure has a long way to go, online players represent strategic partners to test the market; even China market has developed in the same way.
Theodore and Stefano managed the Q&A engaging both speakers and audience in a debate about the experiential digital touchpoints that are emerging in the retail space. Those include technology like AR, VR, but also systems able to collect data in order to profile the new generation of tech-savvy customers. As takeaways from the session, there are definitely the following points:
– The physical store will always be there playing a key-role in raising brand awareness and contributing to brand positioning;
– The integration of digital touchpoints able to create a convergence between online and offline will characterize the store of the future;
– Pop-up experience represents a way to revamp the retail space;
– Sustainability will hopefully become key in the retail store development.
PANEL DISCUSSION 2 – LUXURY AND THE DIGITAL EQUATION?
Luxury has always been defined by its properties of exclusivity, uniqueness, scarcity, high quality, and limited access. However, in the 21st century features appear diluted and luxury goods popularized. Among the factors which have contributed to it, digital transformation has played a role in extending the access to luxury goods.
While there are still brands reluctant to sell their products online, big players such as Alibaba and Jd.com have launched exclusive e-commerce platforms to engage luxury brands and provide online avenues, which somehow reflect offline positioning.
The second panel moderated by Marc Ardisson, Managing Director Asia at Feelunique, focused on the paradoxical relationship between luxury and digital. Marc introduced the panel by focusing on the concept of luxury and the actual meaning of digital as for both of them there is a lack of common definition in the contemporary age.
The panellists included both luxury brands and online players called to define what luxury is after the digital transformation and how it can be successfully communicated online. Among the speakers: Diego Dultzin Lacoste, Co-Founder at OnTheList; Ernesto Miraglia, Regional Director Asia Pacific at Damiani Hong Kong Limited; John Steere, President at MyMM; Vincenzo Troia, Country Manager at Yoox Asia Ltd; Maurizio De Gasperis, Managing Director at Shanghai Tang.
Diego Dultzin Lacoste focused on the importance of data and why brands should not be afraid of digital; however, OnTheList, more than an example of online retailing, it is an example of ‘smart retail’ that invests in the digital ecosystem to drive traffic to the offline shopping destination and at the same time collect data to scrutinize to identify trends.
Ernesto Miraglia, representative of the hard-luxury category, pointed it out how luxury has definitely been diluted by digital transformation, but at the same time clarified that it is not the product which has changed in most cases, but the way it is promoted to appeal to a wider audience that dilutes the aura of exclusivity of the product.
John Steere, expert of influence marketing, unveiled the strategy adopted by MyMM in creating a community of brands, consumers, and influencers who genuinely promote products they love. As he works with affordable luxury brands, the aura of the products is more into the sense of belonging to that community more than the actual possession.
Vincenzo Troia opened up a discussion about the use of digital media over the print media, and also the strong power in terms of positioning that print media still carry. For Yoox Net-a-Porter, for instance, sales have increased in co-occurrence with the allocation of marketing budget to print media.
Maurizio De Gasperis, after explaining the direction undertaken by Shanghai Tang under the new management in terms of brand positioning to remain faithful to Tang’s focus on luxury as the result of quality and craftsmanship, explained how Shanghai Tang’s digital strategy starts from the corporate website, which is the most authoritative voice for brands on the internet. Additionally, Maurizio pointed out how the digital transformation has created the need for companies to hire more creative profile such as photographers and social media specialists.
Marc closed the panel explaining his preference for digital because more flexible and easy to experiment. However, very hard to match with the conservative luxury brands which prefer communication channels easy to control.
Takeaways from this second panel are the fact that even though luxury brands are opening their own .com, social media accounts, joining e-commerce platforms, they have not overcome the conflict channel with the internet. At the same time, even if sticking to print media for their brand positioning, a suggestion given also by our Chief Editor was to realize that even those print media have their own digital outlets, and they carry the same authenticity value of their print version.
What has luxury become after digital is something even more subjective than before, and since millennials and GEN Z seem to be less attached to possession than experience, is it the case that luxury needs the offline more than the online?
PANEL DISCUSSION 3 – TRAVEL RETAIL SHOPPING : A JOURNEY OR JUST A DESTINATION?
Shopping has become a key element of the travel experience for many passengers, and as such, the provision of duty free and travel retail goods is a service as well as an important generator of revenues.
However, together with the increasing demands and offer, issues such as price transparency, variety of products, poor customer experience emerge from the recent reports published about the development of travel retail.
The moderator for this panel, Pamela Chong, Director and Customer Experience Leader at PwC Experience Centre in Hong Kong, introduced the panellists: Silvia Tagliaferri, Tourism Director at Fidenza Village, directly from Italy; Pietro Scognamiglio, Global Head of Travel Retail at Kering Asia Pacific Limited; Ivano Poma, CEO at Retail Outlet Management Ltd.; Francois Chabaudie, Founder & CEO at Neoma Ltd.
The panellists provided their insights on travel retail from a quite different perspective, as usually travel retail is associated with airports, this was the occasion to understand a different concept.
Silvia Tagliaferri brought the audience through a journey to Italy, explaining how retail had to transform to welcome Chinese travellers, from retail staff to new payment platforms. The understanding of the customer profile is key in tailoring travel retail destination, and especially having retail staff able to provide the best service in their own language is key to succeed.
Pietro Scognamiglio discussed how travel retail has been changing in the past few years, how brands need to differentiate themselves within the wide variety of goods available at duty free by focusing on an attractive retail concept, as most luxury brands have monobrand stores inside airports; and how to train a staff who needs to be multi-lingual and empathetic to understand travellers from different cultures and background who also have a different consumer behaviour and being able to quickly respond.
Ivano Poma, reminding the audience the concept of outlet village, which was initially conceived as an area outside the city where to go to spend a Sunday for an enjoyable shopping experience, explained how Hong Kong is a unique city, where rules from other parts of the world do not apply. The retail landscape is always changing and new players emerge very quickly, and when you can find a competitive retail price in town, why travelling to an outlet village?
Francois Chabaudie completed the panel from the perspective of a service provide who works together with travel retailers to collect data and understand the consumer behaviour of travellers. Francois explained how even though retailers are now more keen to collect data, they do not really make use of those information.
Pamela, wrapping up the session highlighted the takeaways for travel retail and summarized them into: the need to brand a destination tailored to the demand of the new generation of travellers; payment platforms are key in securing sales; a multi-lingual and empathetic retail staff is fundamental to interact with customers from different cultures and backgrounds.
Stefano and Esterina closed the long afternoon and chose the word ‘inspiring’ to define it as it was a moment to stimulate a multi-perspectival discussion and take the opportunity to interact with the key players and disruptors in the retail industry among the speakers but also the audience.
After the closing remarks, the night was a moment of indulgence with a special canapes menu crafted by Silvio Armanni, Executive Chef of Octavium, the latest restaurant concept in town by Chef Umberto Bombana. A curated selection of wines was provided by Certa, the Asian communication platform for Argiolas, Castello di Ama, Ceretto, Tasca d’Almerta and Terroir al Limit’s wines.
A special thanks goes to the team of The Italian Chamber of Commerce, led by Anna Romagnoli, who managed the event.
Thanks also to First Shanghai Group for the support.