The Future of Retail in Asia: 3 Takeaways for 2021

Jan 12, 2021

The global pandemic has radically changed the retail industry, leading to new consumer behaviours and a disrupting digital transition. If such effects are likely to last, they are unevenly distributed. Asia-Pacific is projected to experience the fastest recovery in GPD, retail and wholesale. While China is still a digital leader, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia are expected to have strong market evolution and fast digital modernization. If seizing the moment seems tempting, understanding the rising consumer behaviour and retail trends is vital to be relevant. Here are some takeaways for this year. 

1.Targeted content and local partnerships

As increasingly more consumers move online, content saturation increases competition to attract new customers and maintain loyalty. Understanding your consumers and the peculiarities of each market will help brands deliver unique and targeted content. This is vital in Asia, where consumers are highly digitalised (online penetration grew from 9% to 19% between 2014 and 2019, compared with 6% to 11% of the rest of the world) and the social media landscape is very peculiar. Chinese social media apps like WeChat, Tik Tok and QQ were among the top 10 most used apps in 2020. Thus, creative technology, gaming, live streaming, and video content will be fundamental to create immersive shopping experiences and customer engagement. Moreover, local partnerships with micro-influencers, KOLs and distribution partners that may best present your values in a new culture may make your brand core values more understandable and reliable for local consumers.

2.Seamless shopping experience across physical retail and  e-commerce

We Are Social and Hoosuite, Digital 2020, Mobile Ecommerce Adoption

In 2019, 82% of Chinese consumers used shopping apps: Alexa placed Alibaba’s Tmall, Baidu and QQ respectively as the third, fifth, and sixth most visited websites in the world in 2020. Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, and Taiwan were among the top 10 countries in terms of e-commerce adoption in We Are Social Digital 2020 report. Results were even more accrued for mobile e-commerce adoption, where the top 10 was dominated by Asia-Pacific countries, with Indonesia ranking first. Hence, extreme flexibility and omnichannel integration should ensure a smooth shopping experience, no matter whether shopping happens online or offline. However, as travel ban and social distancing foster local shopping, an initial physical presence is crucial to have visibility and build brand awareness and long-term loyalty. Stores are to become experience centres, differentiating your brand in a fierce competition where the borders between online and offline are blurring. E-commerce apps like, Shopee, Lazada, and Zalora as well as comprehensive apps like WeChat and KakaoTalk, provide social media, chats, streaming, e-commerce, C2C and B2B marketplaces in one app. As Asian consumers are used to searching, engage, and buy a brand all in the same place, reducing the time between brand awareness and brand purchase at its minimum though a presence in local apps is pivotal and offers an asset-light retail development option. 

It is also always worth mentioning that having a direct presence in the market will help establish brand awareness and in turn increase sales in the domestic market.

3.Market knowledge

Creating a culture of agility and continuous learning is crucial to acquire new skills and adapt to changing consumer needs faster as the new digital retail surges. Asian consumers are far from being homogeneous: each country has different habits, trends, and culture, that impact consumer behaviour. Thus, while expanding to Asia may be appealing as economies are already recovering, it is important to have a detailed market analysis and local knowledge to thrive. Brands need to set a targeted marketing strategy for the specific market they want to enter in Asia, while also keeping a general sense of the rising trends. Thus, advanced data analysis, local social media expertise, and market knowledge will be hugely important to succeed.

Hence, detailed knowledge and analysis of the new markets, consumers, and channels are at the core of retail expansion and growth in 2021 in Asia, where Thailand, Vietnam, India, Philippines, and Indonesia will be the rising economic forces. Follow us on our social media to stay updated.

If you want to know how to boost your retail strategy and growth in Asia, reach out to us at

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