Beijing retail veteran says market still strong for ‘fresh’ shopping experiences
Larger malls must customise their offerings to changing ‘specific demands’, such as weekend family shopping trips or work-time leisure activities: Parkview Green’s Oliver Lai
As China’s internet titans continue talking up the concept of “new retail”, which promises to transform the country’s shopping landscape using cutting-edge digital technology, it is easy to see why many think big data now holds the key to understanding and grasping the country’s consumer spending patterns.
But Oliver KH Lai, a 30-year retailing veteran and the general manager of Beijing shopping-office-hotel complex Parkview Green FangCaoDi, is one traditionalist who believes in an older-school approach to the sector.
Lai’s ethos instead is based on making sure what he offers is constantly being refreshed to give shoppers an “experience” rather than just somewhere to buy the things they need.
Parkview Green is a development popular with expats for its arts-driven vibe.
“Always fresh”, he says, sums up its operational ethos.
“Data acquired using people’s mobiles is important but it shouldn’t be the major basis for predicting consumer behaviour. Eating noodles today doesn’t mean you’ll eat noodles the rest of the week. Human behaviour just cannot be calculated by the algorithm.”
Lai says his team has helped “refresh” around 10 out of the site’s existing 100 retail tenants this year, every time to highlight “experiences” that customers are unlikely to get online.
Curating creative events has been at the centre of their efforts, as they racked their brains to figure out workshops that teach children how to draw, for instance, or young mother how to make tasty deserts.
To foster expertise sharing and identify problems quickly, Parkview Green invites its shop managers to weekly “morning sessions”, where they are fed breakfast and encouraged to consider new ideas.
The topics vary enormously.
One week Lai’s team hosted an event just for men, which offered coaching in unfamiliar skills, such as matching glasses and hairstyles with clothes, or even how to set a stylish dinner table, drawing on the expertise of various merchants in the mall.
In this era of e-commerce, Lai emphasises, it is becoming increasingly important for retailers to continue to remind their customers they offer something special, that they cannot find online.
“If a promotion showcases three types of fabric, allowing customers to touch and feel how different they are, customers will remember it,” Lai said.
This type of creative approach appeals especially to woman, aged 26 to 36, who have studied and lived overseas, who according to a survey commissioned by Parkview Green, make up most its customer base.
The chief reason for their visit to the complex, is to simply “relax. It’s time to themselves away from a busy work or domestic schedule.
“These people have established tastes and living styles. We do not just cater for them, but also lead them, by offering something they didn’t know,” he said.
Tin Sun, head of research with CBRE Northern China, says despite the runaway success of e-commerce, such retail spaces – normally larger than 100,000 square metres in size, that cater for specific people’s demands – are growing in popularity too.
“Despite the runaway success of e-commerce, more than 600 shopping centres offering retail space larger than 100,000 square metres in size are still operating in China,” said Sun.
“They cater to specific demands, such as weekend family shopping trips or work-time leisure activities. Interest in them has not waned, in fact it’s on the contrary – demand for such spaces is increasing,”