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AS Watson marks 15,000-stores milestone

AS Watson’s international store rollout program is continuing at a rapid pace, with an average of one new outlet opening every seven hours.

AS Watson 15000 stores

Yesterday, in Kuala Lumpur’s new Central I-City shopping mall, the company cut the ribbon to its 15,000th store, coincidentally its 500th in Malaysia.

“From one small store in Hong Kong to 15,000 worldwide, we’ve come a long way,” AS Watson Group MD Dominic Lai told supplier partners, celebrities and other guests at a celebration in Central I-City’s atrium.

“We are one of the longest-standing companies in the world with 178 years of history. To be able to reach yet another critical milestone is only possible with the love from our customers, passion and commitment from our 140,000 colleagues around the world and the unfailing support from our business partners.”

The newest Watsons store represents the latest iteration of the health and beauty brand’s format, called G8, with an impressive array of technology and categories fitted into a 4200sqft site on the lower ground floor.

Highlights include a StyleMe augmented-reality station where customers can see the effect of cosmetics on their face using an interactive mirror.

At another station, Watsons’ new Hi Mirror skin analysis technology allows a staff member to take skin impressions from different places on a customer’s face before it is assessed using AI technology, the software recommending treatments from the store’s range. The customers can have further scans after using the products for a few weeks and gauge the changes so they know whether to continue the treatment or move to a different solution.

Malina Ngai, AS Watson COO, says like every part of the G8 store concept, the Hi Mirror was introduced in response to customer feedback, when shoppers were asked what they would like to see introduced to stores.

“The number one response was skin analysis, because that is something you cannot do online.”

After testing and refinement, the Hi Mirror will be added to more stores across Watsons’ 7200-strong network in 13 Asian and European markets, starting with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Turkey later this year.

AS Watson 15000 stores 2

Online and offline strategy

Lai believes the secret to AS Watson’s success lies in its approach to customer connectivity – “our ability to connect customers with products, trends and experiences they want in beauty, personal care, health and wellness”.

“Our Online and Offline strategy focuses on providing an extensive store network, excellent in-store customer service, and the most relevant health and beauty assortment, combined with seamless digital experience and loyalty schemes that help put smiles on customers’ faces.”

Watsons Central I-City features an express lane for Elite-level loyalty program cardholders – those who have spent a minimum of MY1000 (US$250) within a year. They represent the top tier of 135 million members across the world, said to be one of the largest loyalty programs run by any health and beauty retailer in the world.

Data from member transactions is at the core of a US$128 million investment in digital technology since 2012 to optimise the customer experience and maximise sales, both online and in store.

Watsons encourages customers to shop online and collect items in a store of their choice, guaranteeing the products will be ready for them within four hours.

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Health and beauty is at the core of AS Watson’s retail network, and Watsons is the flagship brand of that business. Other banners it operates include Savers in the UK, which it acquired in 2000, and European chains Superdrug, Trekpleister and Rossman, operated by Dutch-based Kruidvat Group, which it acquired in 2002.

Outside health and beauty, AS Watson operates the Fortress electronics stores, Watsons Wine and ParkNShop in Hong Kong. It is a subsidiary of CK Hutchison Holdings, with Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek holding a 25 per cent minority stake.

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