Dominic Powers | September 6, 2011
Is it just me, or has our local digital industry become as stale as the recent weather in Hong Kong?
Since I first dived into digital in the mid-nineties, I have never been so underwhelmed by the lack of local innovation, be it from marketers or agencies, or those organisations providing digitally driven services to consumers. I know Asia is synonymous with its ability to ‘pay homage’ to the world’s greatest brands and create masterful copies, but come on, we are home to almost 60 percent of the world’s population and have a history of innovation that goes back thousands of years; with some of the brightest minds in the world coming out of local educational institutions, surely we can create something original?
Do we really need another local group purchasing site or social network that are just blatant rip-offs of those from the U.S. or Europe? How is it that founders of local group purchasing sites can win local awards for entrepreneurship when their ideas are simply copies? And let’s be honest, with Groupon falling foul of the Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K. on multiple occasions this year because of consumer complaints around less-than-transparent offers, the dreams of a multi-billion dollar IPO are in jeopardy; so perhaps it is time to stop building copies in the hope that they will be bought for ridiculous sums of money. The warning signs are there, people. A bubble is about to burst, and consolidation is on the horizon.
But innovators can and do survive the bubbles, as they have an uncanny ability to give the consumer what they need before they even know they need it. As Steve Jobs once famously said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
And so in my quest to find the innovators of the Asia Pacific region I had to look outside of our vast continent and across the seas to one of the world’s largest retail brands to show us how it is done, locally.
Tesco – a name that 20 years ago was unknown outside of the shores of the United Kingdom, and one that to many British consumers at that time conjured up images of old ladies in inner cities looking for the best deals on no-name branded consumer goods. A dying brand, a brand that many wanted to distance themselves from in favour of Sainsbury’s or Waitrose – two long-established supermarket chains that provided a better quality of food, and a more amiable shopping environment.
Fast-forward to modern day South Korea and you have a Tesco that has not only grown to number one in its native U.K., but has also revolutionised the way consumers are shopping for groceries in Korea in the form of the Homeplus brand and its subway virtual stores.
At number two in the South Korean supermarket wars and with fewer outlets than its leading competitor, Tesco was looking hard at how it could make itself number one without increasing floor space.
In the end, the idea and execution were simple: in a market where global research has shown that South Korean workers are the second hardest working in the world, bring the store to the consumer.
This has been done in the form of large displays in subways showing the products on the shelves, just as they appear in the supermarket. While waiting for their trains, consumers can use their smartphones to scan the QR codes of the goods they want to buy and upload them to their online shopping basket ready for checkout, either on their mobile or back at home.
The results of the Homeplus initial one-month roll out exceeded all expectations with more than 10,000 consumers visiting the ‘mall’, new user registrations for online shopping up by 76 percent, and online sales up by 130 percent in the same period. Tesco’s Homeplus store is now South Korea’s number one online supermarket and a very close second offline.
It is indeed a simple, but truly innovative idea, that in a digital and connected world gives consumers something they did not even know they wanted; the ability to shop in a virtual yet familiar way at a time when they are usually idle.
So Asia, to paraphrase one of the greatest innovators of modern times, where are our crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…the ones who see things differently…change things…push the human race forward?
I don’t see them yet; but I hope I see them soon.