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Five lessons on the future of retail

Evolve or become irrelevant Elisa made a really good point in her response to the question of whether Hong Kong retail is booming. Unfortunately, the majority of mainstream retailers in our city have become too comfortable – thanks to years of being propped up by mainland tourist spending. We’ve paid little attention or investment in innovation. Hong Kong used to be “ahead of the game” with the launch of the Octopus card payment system but soon rested on our laurels and we’ve unfortunately been playing catch-up ever since, while other regional players such as China and Singapore lead the pack. Don’t be afraid of failure Perhaps it’s a Hong Kong-condition but the talk brought to light our acute fear of failure. Very few companies are doing anything challenging or risky in terms of retail. This could be attributed to the eye-watering rent in the city – a major deterrent to experimenting.

The retail giants

As I settled in for the recent session on ‘The Future of Retail’ at BT’s beautiful Innovation Lab in Quarry Bay, visions of drone delivery, AI personal shoppers and facial recognition technology danced in my head. While the discussion did touch on many themes around digital transformation - Jonathan Cummings from Fitch Hong Kong expertly moderated a fascinating discussion that helped me understand the future of retail will be driven by far more than just the robots. Here are a few of the themes I went away thinking about: The future of retail in some markets is already the present in others The combination of lessons from other markets and insightful homegrown innovation was discussed as a recipe for progress anywhere in the world. Elisa Harca of Red Ant talked about the advances in the UK, UAE and Singapore far surpassing the current state of Hong Kong in terms of both infrastructure and know-how.

Innovation in retail

The surge of e-commerce and m-commerce has disrupted the retail industry. It affects beyond the industry – it concerns the future of Hong Kong in terms of its ranking as a smart city. At The Marketing Society Hong Kong’s Uncomfortable Breakfast, Jonathan Cummings (Chairman HK, FITCH) had a frank discussion with members and guests: Simon Holt (head of Retail Transformation APAC, BT); Yardley Wong (Founder, Scandiastyle) and Elisa Harca (Co-Founder & Regional Director, Red Ant). The future of retail requires investment and innovation; however, Elisa has seen companies engaged in talks rather than investment and actions. Moving budget within an existing pot is not investing in the future.

The Business Blindfold

“80% of new product initiatives fail”  (Inez Blackburn, University of Toronto 2008) “Just 6% of companies are satisfied with their innovation performance, yet very few executives know what the problem is” (McKinsey Global Innovation Survey 2015) “ Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” Lord Leverhulme, founder of Unilever, 1851-1925 Strange, isn’t it, that on subjects as important as launching new products or developing effective advertising, the best brains in the business world seem unable to predict success or understand reasons for failure. My book ‘The Growth Director’s Secret’ suggests there may be a simple reason for this  - the research tools that the business world has been using to understand consumers since Lord Leverhulme’s day simply don’t work – or at least don’t work as regards understanding the motivations behind purchase decisions or advertising responses.

Brands: Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is evolving. Brands that turn a blind eye to the opportunity or think it is limited only to companies operating within China will lose out. While tradition and family remain the cornerstones of Chinese New Year, savvy brands are starting to think beyond these, creating new narratives through which to connect with the evolving Chinese audience – such as tapping into a desire to travel or self-gift. Re-imagining tradition holds even greater relevance for Chinese New Year 2019. Here are four key insights to get ahead: Tap into new consumer lifestyles Consumers across the globe are prioritising wellness and living more sustainable lifestyles. Young people in China in particular are questioning how their consumption and leisure habits affect their day-to-day life. As a result, health, fitness and eco-tourism are booming, thanks to a growing tribe of mindful xiao qingxin – or "little clean and fresh" consumers – who prioritise self-development and environmentally friendly lifestyles.

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