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We’ve identified the top five trends shaping the Asian retail market and influencing retailer strategy in 2019 and beyond. Nick Miles, our head of Asia-Pacific, discusses each one and reveals what it means for suppliers in the region.

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Mobile payments at convenience stores in South Korea have more than doubled this year.

Exponential growth

The percentage of mobile payments out of total transactions at convenience stores reached 3.5% this year, compared to 1.9% last year and 1% in 2015. The growth has been at exponential pace.

Convenience chain operators in South Korea adopted the mobile payment system in 2011, but the service only started to take off last year due to greater use of smartphones and expansion of mobile settlement.

Various mobile payment tools available

There are a number of mobile payment tools available to shoppers in South Korea. Using South Korea’s top convenience store chain CU as an example, it allows customers to use Samsung Electronics’ Samsung Pay and 19 other payment tools at its stores. Samsung Pay accounted for 85.5% of CU’s mobile transactions, Kakaopay 4% and LG Pay 2.8%.

Retailers in South Korea have also been putting great efforts to develop their own mobile payment platforms as more customers turn to using mobile payments at convenience stores.

South Korea has the fourth-highest smartphone penetration in the world, about seven in 10 own a smartphone.

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Official figures for China’s retail sales of consumer goods grew by 8.6% year-on-year to 3.55 trillion yuan (US$511bn) in October.

Robust online spending

The data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that online spending remained robust, with sales increased by 25.5% to reach 7 trillion yuan in the first 10 months.

Rural outpaces urban growth

Retail sales in rural areas increased by 9.7% in October, outpacing growth in urban regions, where sales was up by 8.4%.

Slower growth vs. September due to the Singles’ Day

The growth of 8.6% in October is slower than the 9.2% rise in September. It is partly due to the delayed consumption ahead of the 11.11 Singles’ Day shopping festival.

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The three leading convenience store chains in Japan are facing increasing challenges to hiring staff for their stores. Labour shortages driven by the country's ageing population is deepening and retailers opening new stores require new workers.

Discounts and benefits for workers

The current approach for many convenience store operators is to incentivise workers with benefits and discounts. The average wage for convenience staff is around JPY1,000 an hour, but varies based on location in the country.

Seven & i Holdings, which operates over 20,600 7-Eleven stores in Japan, opened a day care centre for employees on the second floor of a store in the northern city of Sendai in July. In April 2017, it began offering workers discounts on hotels and travel services.

The second largest CVS chain in the country, FamilyMart, is partnering with Iris Ohyama to offer part-time workers nationwide discounts of up to 60% on rice cookers and other appliances. While Lawson, which operates more than 14,300 stores, offers its employees discounts on DVDs and books, serviced by the retailer's subsidiary companies.

Automation part of the solution

At an recent exhibition, Lawson launched an unstaffed store concept, featuring a robot that can prepare food as per customer preferences, e.g. cook gyoza dumplings. About a year and half ago, we covered how Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is backing the introduction of RFID technology in retail. Since then, we have seen Japanese retailers in different industries trial this technology. Retailers are now working harder to retain and attract new employees, but also promote automation to drive efficiencies in-store.

CK Hutchison's retail division A.S. Watson and telecom subsidiary 3 have partnered China’s Meitu to launch a new platform that integrates social media and retail.

Partnership to enhance shopper experience

The new platform will combine beauty with social media, with the companies drawing on their expertise in retail, telecom and AI technology to provide shoppers a better online and offline shopping experience. The project will look to drive engagement and interaction with customers of particularly the millennial generation, allowing Meitu users to try beauty products virtually on their mobile phone and receive product recommendations. 

Meitu's COO, Bryan Cheng, said, “3 Hong Kong customers can design personalised products and enjoy a new, one-stop mobile shopping experience through our cooperation with Meitu. We are confident of this partnership and believe that it will create a three-way win for customers, Meitu and CK Hutchison [...].”

Watsons Hong Kong launching Meitu Magic Mirrors

Watsons Hong Kong will launch Meitu’s Magic Mirror at Watsons Mongkok Bank Centre and Cameron Road stores later this month. In the first half of next year, the retailer will roll out to around 30 more Watsons stores. Furthermore, Meitu and 3 Hong Kong will partner to introduce MeituDIY, allowing users to print their photos directly on mobile phone cases, clothes, and more, so that they can create more personal and unique products. After launching its global VIP loyalty program last month, Watsons continues to look for new ways to offer greater personalisation.

Watsons China to feature on Meitu's BeautyCam app first

Meitu’s BeautyCam app has been upgraded to make product recommendations via skin analysis. The app will help users match the right products available at Watsons store. This feature will be launched in Mainland China this month, while users in Hong Kong will have access in the first quarter of next year.

In addition, Watsons China will begin its partnership with Meitu Social Media later this month, enabling the retailer to deliver personalised messages. When customers edit their photos using in-app features, Watsons will recommend the right products based on customer habits and big data. The strategic alliance will help Watsons reach a wider customer base in Hong Kong and China, bringing in new, and what the retailer hopes will be loyal members.

Want to know more?

Subscribers can read more on A.S. Watson's Strategic Outlook here.

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