Innovations in Asian Shopper Technology

Tokyo may still be a playground for technology’s early adopters, but much of Asia is quick on Japan’s heels when it comes to wireless penetration.

Smart retailers are taking notice and quickly driving innovation through their shopper marketing techniques to hit the always-connected consumer through their device of choice.

Today, Korea and Japan represent the top two markets in the world in mobile penetration and mobile broadband usage.

Home Plus, Tesco’s Korean business unit, pioneered the QR space for the region with a 2009/2010 campaign whereby it placed a virtual store on the walls of Seoul’s subway. Commuters using QR readers on their phones could shop while waiting for the train and have their groceries delivered to them. This campaign was a major success, growing online sales by more than 130 percent and turning Home Plus into Korea’s number one online retailer.

With the Home Plus campaign setting a new bar, retailers across Asia have tried to mimic its success. However, technology for technology’s sake can often ring hollow, especially at the cash register.

Japan: Kinecting to Convert Window Shoppers to Customers

While retailers have focused on mobile commerce (m-commerce) to drive shoppers’ path to purchase, this first case is the only one showcased using a different technology.

In an attempt to buck the trend of m-commerce and shopping online – believing that driving traffic to the store is the way forward – United Arrows launched “Marionettebot” in the spring of 2013. United Arrows, a boutique-style clothing store chain, used Kinect (a motion-sensing device for the Xbox 360 gaming console) and attached 16 wires to store window mannequins called “Marionettebots” – marionette meets robot. When window shoppers placed themselves in front of the mannequin, it would mimic shopper movements. This piqued interest and also drove traffic to the store. Shoppers were graded on their motion chemistry and would win in-store discounts based on their score.

The campaign drove traffic outside the store, but luring shoppers into the store was a bit harder. While a great gimmick, there is little to motivate shoppers much past the awareness and possibly consideration phases of the customer buying cycle.

Verdict: C-

South Korea: QR Campaign With Quantified Sales Impact

E-mart, Korea’s largest retailer, released its own campaign in spring 2012 laden with QR codes called Sunny Sales. Created to drive sales during 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., E-mart created 3D QR codes, which it placed throughout downtown Seoul. These 3D codes acted like sundials that in the noon hour created shadows that allowed consumers to read it like a QR code. Once scanned, they were brought to E-Mart’s Sunny Sales mobile website, which offered a $12 coupon and discounts on items that could be ordered and delivered next-day to their home. Sunny Sales was both smart and successful, increasing sales during this period by 25 percent and new membership by more than 50 percent month-over-month after the first 30 days of the campaign.

A great combination of technology and old-fashioned retail strategy.

Verdict: A-

China: When Technology Fails to Deliver Convenience

While QR codes have deeply penetrated the Korean marketplace, they have had much less success within other markets in the region. Thus, marketers in other countries have utilized different methods to drive m-commerce.

Enter Yihaodian, an e-retailer with no brick-and-mortar presence. Yihaodian is utilizing augmented reality to create virtual stores in the real world. Once you have downloaded its app to your mobile phone, you can point the device at eye-level in specific locations (open plazas, empty lots, warehouses, and other outdoor spots) and you are virtually transported into its stores where you can shop for items, thus allowing the shopper to make this e-commerce site feel more like a traditional store.

This usage of technology is much more about a buzzy gimmick than about driving path to purchase.

In a country with infamous pollution, rain, and snow, shopping outside is just not practical.

Verdict: D+

Singapore: Converting Buzz to Business

A more successful usage for AR in Asia was ibutterfly. Created in Japan in 2010, this app has quickly gained users and expanded across the region.

After you download this app, you can point your phone around you to locate virtual butterflies. Once you “catch” them you can click them to learn more about a specific product and in most cases redeem a coupon for the purchase of that product in-store.

In the fall of 2011, The Body Shop in Singapore filled its stores with these ibutterflies for its 35-year anniversary, creating a virtual aviary of offers on products and 10 grand prizes of $500 worth of store merchandise.

The collaboration of technology and shopper marketing strategy 101 helped connect to a younger audience and drive both traffic and sales.

Verdict: A-

North American retailers can learn from their counterparts in Asia on how best to localize technology for consumer groups’ use patterns and the regional landscape.

At worst, technology can be used to create buzz and even possibly traffic to shelves. At best, when used to enhance traditional shopper strategies, companies build a perfect storm by reaching out to new demographics and reinvigorating activity among existing shoppers, all at a fraction of the cost of traditional TV and print campaigns.

bryanharaBy Bryan Hara, director, global and U.S. accounts, Asia Pacific from SGK.


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