Firms focus on innovation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 November, 2010, 12:00am

In the retail sector, much depends on finding new ways to enhance the customer experience, which is why the top companies put such stress on continuous service innovation.

'This is one of the fundamental factors for success in our business,' says Alessandra Piovesana, regional managing director, north Asia, for Nuance-Watson (HK), the leading retail operator at Hong Kong International Airport. 'So, we keep enhancing the value for customers, directly through innovations at store level and indirectly by empowering our staff management.'

Such enhancements include the use of technology to improve logistics and operational performance. The company has upgraded its point-of-sales system to capture more information on general customer profiles and, thereby, tailor products and special offers more effectively.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is being used in the Sound & Vision stores. When customers pick up a mobile phone, the screen automatically displays its key features and shows a comparison with similar products. This makes it easier for shoppers to reach a decision, especially if they are pressed for time with a flight to catch.

'We also plan to implement RDT [radio data technology] at our warehouse for the receiving and pick-up of orders,' Piovesana says. 'The objective is to increase the efficiency and accuracy of stock replenishment and, since EDI [electronic data interchange] communication with vendors is on the way, this will improve supply chain transparency.'

She adds that the introduction of such innovations requires close attention to the process flow, the requirements and reactions of customers, and the mindset of staff. There also has to be a sensible level of investment. This applies in terms of infrastructure - hardware and software - and the time and effort needed to review practices and then assess which innovations will have most impact on the customer experience and the overall business.

Once that is decided, the company obviously takes all necessary steps to re-engineer specific processes, arrange extra training for appropriate staff, and consult business partners on how things can work to best mutual advantage.

Joann Chung, controller - merchandising planning and supply chain, says: 'We have not only our own KPIs [key performance indicators] and reports to measure the quantitative results, but we also do qualitative reviews with relevant parties and do further research to evaluate performance.'

Piovesana adds: 'We find there are intangible benefits for things like reputation, word of mouth, customer loyalty and better working relationships with partners. You can't always anticipate these things at the planning stage, but they all add value to the company.'

Regarding the interaction with customers, she notes that service innovations, particularly involving new technology, require staff to be on their toes. They must be in a position to offer information and advice and have a well-attuned sixth sense to meet the needs and wants of individual shoppers.

'Enhancing value for customers is a key factor in our success,' she says. 'We will continue to drive innovation in services within the whole value chain through the use of technology.'