“Food for Thought” at The Principal: Retail of Two Cities”


“Food for Thought” at The Principal: Retail of Two Cities”


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As part of CatchOn’s regular ‘Food for Thought’ luncheons at The Principal, we invited a group of online experts and retail gurus to answer the question, ‘Are Retail Stores Dead?’ Ably moderated by Divia Harilela, founder of D’Vine, Asia’s leading luxury and fashion website, and Catherine Shaw, freelance contributor to wallpaper* and Monocle, the  topic sparked a lively debate.

As the attendees noted, online shopping in Hong Kong lags behind other developed markets because products are so easily accessible and shopping is perceived as a leisure activity. Interestingly, though, the online cash registers are ringing louder. In this month’s MasterCard Online Shopping Survey, 66.4% of local respondents logged on to the internet to shop, a jump from 57.9% in 2011.  The most popular purchase categories in Hong Kong were apps, followed by airlines, travel and hotels. In contrast, online shoppers in other markets such as Australia favoured electrical items (62%), clothing, footwear and personal accessories.

Internet entrepreneurs and mobile marketers who attended the lunch maintain that online retailers have the edge because of their flexible return policies, 24-hour service and aggressive discounts. Social networks and group buying websites are also enhancing the virtual retail experience, with user ratings, shared recommendations and online forums impacting the way consumers shop.

Alternatively, senior representatives from cutting-edge fashion brand I.T. and luxury retailer DFS opined that consumers prefer tactile over technical experiences. The challenge, though, is to continually innovate and create retail environments that entice, engage and excite customers. Illustrating this point, London’s leading department store, Selfridges, has created a ‘Quiet Room’ to shield shoppers from the human traffic and retail noise while DFS emphasises a luxury experience with elaborate in-store installations and multisensory merchandising practices.

So ‘Are retail stores dead?’ In Hong Kong at least, traditional retailers are still breathing plenty of life into the economy. Rather than being an either-or proposition, attendees agreed that a successful brand’s in-store experience complements and drives traffic to the online offerings. When a brand’s personality is conveyed through both the retail outlet and online platform, the synergy immerses consumers in the brand. While online shopping shows no sign of slowing, for traditional retailers re-invention will be key to remaining relevant.

Jenny Lo

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