Global brands navigate learning curve for Asian omnichannel ops

With "omnichannel" becoming a retailing buzzword, global brands are looking to translate the concept to consumers in Asia and diversify from their brick-and-mortar presence there. Several multinational consumer giants discussed the challenges of implementing this strategy during March 7 sessions at the eTail Asia 2018 conference in Singapore.

"The consumer behavior is completely different," Anne Jivananta, head of Southeast Asia e-commerce at Adidas AG, said during a panel discussion when comparing the U.S. and Asian markets. "It is a mobile-first and socially connected society here. That's why Thailand is a major market for Facebook. In the U.S., everyone is more individualistic."

The sportswear giant, which is aiming to quadruple its annual digital revenue to €4 billion by 2020 from the €1 billion seen in 2016, is rolling out omnichannel operations in Southeast Asia that allow customers to easily pick up and return products, according to Jivananta.

However, international brands often forget there are varied characteristics across Southeast Asian markets, Jivananta said. "Southeast Asia is not just one country. You can't build a one-size-fits-all strategy for the whole region," she added. "You need to have a certain unique experience that serves each market."

Swedish furniture retailer IKEA is a newer player in the Southeast Asian e-commerce space, having launched an online store in Singapore in 2017. It is in the process of optimizing its digital platforms to better cater to consumer needs, according to Koen Besteman, head of e-commerce at IKEA Southeast Asia.

"I was given a platform here when I arrived in Southeast Asia. At first, what I did was to hire a hacker, to really make sure that we challenge the platform and the way we offer to our customers," Besteman said during a keynote at eTail Asia.

He added that even a dining table can reflect cultural differences: "For most of you [in the region], the dining table sits in the living room, not in the dining room, because you simply don't have it."

In response, IKEA reorganized the product ranges in its Southeast Asian online store to allow customers to browse by products or by rooms. "If I'm a quick shopper, I will go to products. Or if I'm looking for more inspiration, I'll shop by room. And when you click on the living room, in there you will now find the dining table. Same thing when you go to the kitchen — you will still find the dining table. It all depends on how you live."

While IKEA's goal is for online revenue to represent 10% of its total sales by 2020, the retailer still faces major challenges in making that transition, Besteman said. "The mindset of the company is still toward brick-and-mortar stores. ... A lot of the systems are really built toward the stores and toward what we created in the 1980s."

Growing digital dominance has also challenged Procter & Gamble Co.'s efforts in marketing, according to Dong Hyun Kim, APAC e-business leader for the multinational consumer goods maker.

Personalization is a key strain on the company, which has been focusing on the mass market, Kim said during a panel discussion at the conference. He added that P&G plans to address the issue by teaming up with more retailers for accurate consumer data and generating more targeted media and content.

Meanwhile, the company is working to change the behavior of its creative teams in developing content for mobile devices. "One of the reasons why omnichannel is coming up is [because of] mobile devices — people want to search before going to the store. They check the price and reviews of the product," Kim said. "We have more than 100 marketers developing content and media, but all the content-creating is based on a big-sized computer screen."

Steve Carlile, head of the global digital center of excellence at Nu Skin Enterprises Inc., emphasized that brands need an ideology shift in the age of "digital Darwinism," where technology, society and consumer behavior are evolving faster than companies' abilities to keep pace with them.

Carlile gave a snapshot of today's consumers during an eTail Asia session, citing statistics from Nielsen Global Survey. He noted that they are spending at least 50% of their total shopping time researching products online, while 53% are socially connected and would abandon an in-store purchase based on negative online sentiment.

"We need to rethink our strategies. Let's toss out a go-to-market strategy and embrace a go-to-customer strategy," he said.