Day 2 at NRF Asia: It’s all about customer experience

A recurring theme at Day two of NRF’s Retail’s Big Show Asia in Singapore on Wednesday was clearly the understanding among retailers of the need to deliver a great customer experience to succeed. 

Laurent Boidevezi, the Apac president of luxury liquor group Moet Hennessy kicked off the day by outlining the company’s plans to expand on building its maison’s direct retail spaces as it looks to boost engagement with new generations of end customers. 

The company has 26 maisons – as it refers to its brands – ranging from Champagne and cognac through to tequila and wine. While the vast majority of the French-headquartered company’s sales are still wholesaled through department stores and travel retailers, Moet Hennessy is starting to open more of its own stores in airports, stores-in-stores and standalone boutiques, typically located in the luxury precincts of major international cities. 

The initiative, explained Boidevezi, is part of a broader strategy to build the visibility of its brands over the next 50 years. And that follows a fundamental mantra for the group. 

“We are not in the business of selling bottles, we are in the business of selling experiences,” Boidevezi told delegates.

In-store experiences give consumers a reason to visit

By creating in-store experiences – such as tastings, masterclasses, and digital engagement, the company is giving consumers a reason to come to its stores, and to buy, he explained. 

A wholesale business by nature, a significant part of its business is driven by on-premise consumption at restaurants and bars and the balance through retailers, mostly department stores and travel partners. 

“The current food and liquor market is very much dominated by wholesale but it is evolving and changing,” he shared. “I’m not saying that we will become a retail business –  we certainly will remain wholesale – but we really want to use retail to elevate our product to another level. Our retail strategy is quite simple: it is about showcasing our brands to reflect their tone and inspire our customers.”

Within the stores Moet Hennessy is offering customers additional added-value services such as personalisation, customisations, and engraving. In Macau customers can try a cocktail in store at a rotating bar in the middle of the shop. In the luxury retail precinct of Taikoo Li Qiantan in Shanghai, the group has opened a 300sqm Hennessy boutique. 

Moet Hennessy has enjoyed success in the travel retail sector, once referred to as ‘duty free’.  

“Airports have basically transformed themselves into luxury shopping malls.”  

He said the scale of modern airport retailing, and the potential to reach so many customers passing through terminals has drawn the company further into that sector. Airports are “the perfect platform to start some retail activation”.

Whether airports or high street boutiques, Moet Hennessy is out to build the visibility of its maisons for the long term. 

“You do that by being very true to who you are – to your DNA, to your founders back in the 18th Century. So you need to be very true to your foundation, to who you are, but you [also] need to play to your crowd,” he continued. 

“You have to remain very modern and very exciting for the next generations.”

So the company is focussed on ensuring its brands are being creative and delivering excellence in everything they do, from “absolutely unique and amazing quality” products, by creating excitement, and by developing partnerships with celebrities that fit with the brands. The most recent of these include Lady Gaga, Daniel Craig, Jackson Wang, Alicia Keys and the US NBA. 

As malls age, CapitaLand looks to excite with renovations

Experience was also a core message of Chris Chong, CEO, retail and workspace (Singapore & Malaysia), at mall operator CapitaLand Investment.

With some of its properties approaching their scheduled upgrades, Chong and his team are looking for ways to integrate new features that will excite and attract consumers. He talked of an evolution in mall offerings which is driving CapitaLand to differentiate its properties. 

“We all know retail is very cyclical but at the same time it is all about relevance. From the past of retail being shopping destinations, we are looking at experiences – how do we transform a shopping destination into lifestyle hubs?,” he posed. 

“Before Covid we started to look at the lifestyle elements within a shopping mall. But with Covid we learned a lot of lessons:  That it is not all about offline-online, it is not about pushing sales, it is about getting into the whole lifestyle habits of the consumer. 

“This is where from shopping to the community element to the discovery, these are very important touchpoints.” That’s encouraging short term pop-up stores and collaborations in events such as masterclasses on perfumes, and consumers discover what makes them excited and interested. 

“Online is so pervasive these days, you learn so much about the products before you step into the stores, then how do you create current experiences?” 

Chong says CapitaLand believes every shopping mall should have its own identity. 

“One of the key things we always complain about is that every shopping mall is the same. I beg to differ because if you have a very strong point of difference, you are able to stand out for what you really stand for. It’s about serving a certain community. For example, you have locations that are very sports-driven, very lifestyle driven and you have a very different kind of food and beverage offer and environment. Then you have one very luxurious, and you put in place different marketing and different touch points.”

This means that centre management and retailers need to work together so retailers can understand they are part of an ecosystem. “There is no one size fits all.”

Chong advocates retailers and mall operators “put on the hat of the consumer” as they look at their offer because there’s always “a consumer part of every one of us”. 

“When we devise all these different journeys, we need to keep in mind what’s relevant in terms of our shopping habits: The frequency, the kind of destination, all are important. That’s where when we talk about coming together and identifying what really makes it work and the partnership with the retailer stands out as the most important. 

“Each of them have different ideas of what retail is about, but at the end of the day, for a shopping mall to really thrive it must have a very vibrant ecosystem.”

He concluded with another warning to retailers and shopping centre operators alike: “We always need to keep an open mind about what will be the next trend. One of the dangers we always fall into is that we assume what we did last year, could work next year. But as good retailers and good marketers, we never want to do the same thing.”

Low Ngai Yuen, chief merchandise and marketing officer at Aeon Group summed the message of experience up perfectly at the end of the session…

“We are not just fighting with other malls, we are fighting with consumers’ other activities and their gadgets.”

NRF Asia 2024 concludes at the Marina Bay Sands on Thursday, June 13.  

Read about Day One of NRF Asia here.

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