eTail Asia 2017 Recap

On March 8th through 9th, I had the opportunity of attending eTail Asia 2017, which is the region’s premier conference organized by World Business Research (WBR). The conference gathered senior e-commerce directors of leading retailers such as Sephora, Lazada, Puma and Foodpanda to address pressing challenges and opportunities in digital retail with greater focus in pan-Asian markets. Through a series of workshops, clinics and case-studies, speakers and delegates engaged in key issues including seamlessly merging online and physical retail experiences, implications of third-party local marketplaces and mobile engagement. Industry experts and retailers were eager to gauge the rate of e-commerce expansion and plan an effective omnichannel marketing strategy. This is part one in a two part series.

Technology revolutionizes the way we shop, yet what we want is still the same

On the first day, Ken Kralick, Head of Global Ecommerce of Puma, unveiled current issues facing many retailers during his opening keynote – “How to master the digital retail experience in the new customer economy?” He shared that kiosks, experience walls and augmented reality are expected to transform the digital retail environment. Ken highlighted the importance of big data analytics, leveraged through social media and multiple e-commerce platforms. It enables greater flexibility, labour efficiency and automation process. Ken also talked about the trend of social showrooming, which integrates social media into bricks-and-mortar stores. For example, in the US, shoppers at Nordstorm find popular footwear and handbags with a prominent Pinterest tag attached. The department store improved displays in a fun and interactive way to attract consumers to their stores.

In the panel, “All Star Panel: What keeps the experts awake at night?,” Aspa Lekka, Managing Director of Foodpanda, Thanawat Malabuppha, CEO and Co-Founder of Priceza, Kevin Hagino, Senior Marketing Manager of LEGO and Magnus Ekbom, Chief Strategy Officer of Lazada shared interesting insights on future directions in their heads.

From a marketing perspective, Mr. Hagino from LEGO tends to explore the best possible advertising opportunities, aiming to reach a broader number of customers. Whereas, with Foodpanda being the market leader in online food delivery, Ms. Lekka focuses on business sustainability by thinking about how to keep customers satisfied and happy. She mentioned that in a crowded market, retailers should consistently look to differentiate themselves and boost customers’ confidence. On the other hand, the number one e-commerce player in Thailand, Priceza, is ambitious and constantly strives to outperform the rapid-growing market.

In my opinion, Mr. Ekbom from Lazada gives the most crucial directions to retailers that prioritisation and basic needs of customers should always be top of their minds. As an optimist, Mr Ekbom immerses himself with abundance of new functions and ideas that technology brings to online platforms, and believes that the elements of human interactions and influences remain fundamental to many online shoppers.

To summarize, the panelists echo each other and bring out a clear message: despite technology speeding up retail competition, to stay relevant is not just about pricing strategies, but also social experiences that are fun and engaging. The use of “Emojis” is proven as effective strategies in push notifications shared by Wego, a leading travel metasearch platform. Moreover, the experts highlighted that effective content marketing drives customer engagement, and retailers need to consistently integrate with the real world consumer behaviour in order to innovate online.

Online marketplace is more than a distribution channel

This year, eTail Asia also brought the attendees new interactive formats, with debates and round-table discussions. Led by Jasper Knoben, E-commerce & New Business Development lead of Philips and Roger Yuen, Chief Executive Officer of Clozette, a leading local online fashion shopping portal, an Oxford-style debate on the question: “Is a local marketplace the best way to brand your product and tell your story?” was hosted in afternoon.

From a manufacturer standpoint, Mr. Knoben, from Philips, stated that a marketplace enables to reach a wider audience and boost product awareness. As a manufacturer, Philips mainly sells through retail partners who have greater playing fields in terms of pricing and promotions. A multi-channel sales strategy is a necessity nowadays for online retailers and marketplaces are key component in this strategy. Retailers take advantage in the millions of “eye balls” on popular marketplaces and customized shop-in-shop stores help to build brand recognition and promote flexibility. Online marketplaces help retailers expand revenue streams and create brand awareness, and thus often served as an ideal platform to enter or test new markets. Through big data analytics from third-party marketplaces and own sales performance, retailers are able to understand consumer preferences in new markets with practical low costs.

On the other hand, coming from an online retail background of fashion apparel, Mr. Yuen pitted himself against Mr. Knoben. He argued that online marketplaces provide little room for brand marketers to tell their stories. Successful online retailers such as Net-a-Porter showcase excellent content marketing that simulates the brand’s e-commerce site as online fashion media, offering fashion inspirations and trends. Mr. Yuen continued his argument that online marketplaces put barriers to develop customer relationships directly and shopping experiences.

In conclusion, Mr. Knoben expected to see more consolidation in local marketplaces in near future. Instead of increasing price competition, marketplaces will likely to continue evolve and introduce more innovative features such as loyalty programs and improved flexibility of shop-in-shop. Both retail merchants and online marketplaces share the mutual objective to transform the channel as effective branding tool. After all, large marketplaces such as Zalora and Lazada serve as easy channels for many manufacturers. E-commerce development is still in its infancy in most Southeast Asia markets. As e-commerce platforms become crowded, brand marketers should see the channel as a battleground, striving to differentiate other category brands through brand positioning, product innovations and authentic customer reviews.