Mobility and the new consumer class

Mobility is a new watchword in Asia’s consumer sector. A multiplicity of buying channels means consumers are now shopping online from home, in stores across their town or city and, increasingly, while on vacation. As a result, retail markets are dynamic, multi-layered and fragmented.

In general, Asian consumers are fast adopters of new technology, covetous of new brands and products, and confident in using multiple purchasing channels. Younger consumers, especially, are socially and geographically mobile, aspirational and value conscious. They understand dynamic pricing and limited-time discounting, and assertively seek the best deal – both inside a store and when buying online.

While contrasting customer behaviors are evident throughout Asia, certain identifiable trends are discernible – and brands are increasingly incorporating these demand-driven factors into their route-to-market strategies:

  • Seamless online-to-offline experiences
  • Personalized discounts and promotions
  • Engaging competitions with high-value prizes
  • QR codes (especially in China, Japan, Korea)
  • Inspiring social media contents and imagery telling intuitive brand stories that mobile users feel are relevant to their own lives.
  • Fast, responsive after-sales service
  • In-store and third-party collection points for online purchases
  • Inventive collaborations and partnerships with complementary brands
  • Tangible rewards for brand loyalty
  • Limited edition and special edition product lines – and online access to purchasing these items
  • Bespoke marketing – developers are working on applications that respond to website clicks to create individualized promotions, making one-to-one marketing a reality

Smartphone ubiquity has revolutionised the way Asia’s new consumer class accesses – both in urban and, increasingly, in rural markets – understands and processes marketing messages. Poorly-targeted information is instantly filtered, and mobile users are highly security conscious about their personal data. The power of social media and shared peer experiences, viewpoints and reviews should not be underestimated.

Whatever the mobile or social media purchase usages, whether it is using a mobile phone to check product reviews or prices, or accessing coupons, or making purchases outright, it’s likely that consumers in Southeast Asia are doing it more frequently than just about anywhere else in the world.

They say they want a revolution: Total Retail 2016, PWC (2016)

Brand loyalty remains low, however, and buying behaviors are stimulated by: new trends in urban lifestyles, a desire for convenience and the expansion of intra-regional tourism. 

Asia’s expansive new army of consumer tourists enjoys access to vast arrays of products via the multitude of duty-free malls and discount outlet centers being established explicitly for them in prominent locations ranging from Tokyo to Siem Reap and Seoul to Bali. Shopping tourism is one of Asia’s strongest growth sectors – and is taking duty-free purchasing from airports and city centers to the beach, mountaintops and major tourism sites. 

Consumer tourism is being integrated into destination master planning across the region, and is expected to grow at a high-octane pace in the coming years. In response, duty-free retailers are creating a new surfeit of choice for shoppers that is raising expectations about product quality and service – and is also challenging the way brands and retailers manage inventories and supply chains.

Another fast-growing sector is medical (or health) tourism, as newly affluent citizens, both young and old, utilize their vacation time to undergo advanced yet affordable medical procedures, cosmetic or wellness treatments overseas. Countries with a flourishing private medical sector, such as Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea, are increasingly promoting their services. Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport has its own medical travel information center, and the Singapore Tourism Board promotes the nation as “Asia's leading destination for advanced medical care.” The coordinated channeling of resources and governmental support into this expanding sector is providing new opportunies for healthcare investors and medical device companies.

Brand marketers across Asia are embracing this new age with an improvised toolkit of techniques to engage customers who are prodigious users of mobile technologies. Innovative, digitally delivered engagement tactics range from populist competitions, limited edition discounts and pop-up offers to product placements strategically embedded into online games and movies and TV shows that are frequently streamed online. 

Advertisers are crafting narrative-driven brand stories – that appeal to selfie-loving “Generation Me” consumers – created specifically for smartphone delivery. Forward-thinking brands are also signing up high-profile social influencers, bloggers and celebrities that “live stream” parts of their daily lives via social media and KOLs (key opinion leaders) to demonstrate their understanding of aspirational, in-the-minute consumer preferences.