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The Background  

In Japan, there is a renowned chain of stores with an iconic penguin-mascot that is a must-see for tourists, serving almost 300 million customers a year. The famous merchandise stores started with humble beginnings offering a collection of discarded goods and samples from companies on the verge of bankruptcy in 1978.

With insufficient resources to hire workers, founder Takao Yasuda spent long nights restocking shelves and took note of the high number of late night shoppers who mistakenly came into his shop thinking it was still open.

Yasuda opened the first 24-hour store Don Quijote (also known as Donki) in 1989. Don Quijote, pronounced ‘dawn kee-ho-tay’, operates with the rare concept of a compressed display in which items are displayed in clusters, causing aisles to feel like mazes.

Browsers can find anything under the sun, from toilet paper, snacks, sex toys to luxury cosmetic brands and pre-loved Rolex watches.

The point of the display is hard to find, hard to take and hard to buy,” — Takao Yasuda, founder of Don Quijote Co.

Mr. Takao Yasuda, standing in front of handwritten cardboard signs and stacked displays in one of his Don Quijote stores. Source: Reuters

Strange to think that any shop owner would want their items to be hard to find but Yasuda’s compressed display is actually a brilliant strategy that led the business to grow to 350 stores in Japan and the US, with annual consolidated sales topping $7.4 billion in Japan.

Shoppers seemed to have taken to the treasure-hunt mentality making the stores a popular destination for tourists visiting Japan.

Japanese retail is built on the concept of saving time. We want our customers to spend more time at our stores,” — says Yasuda

By adopting a unique retail strategy to become a consumer magnet, what could possibly go wrong with Japan’s largest discount store?

The Challenge

Japan has always been among the world’s most loved destinations for travel and culinary experiences but in 2014, the country fell to 22nd as the most-visited destinations. Due to language barriers, foreign tourists contributed to only 3.5% of revenues, generated in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka.


Being a business that relies heavily on revenue generated by tourists who spend on average more than 40,000 yen ($365) each visit, compared with local shoppers’ 2,400 yen, Don Quijote recognized the need to spur the country’s dwindling tourism or be less dependent on it.

But around this time, the Japanese government increased consumption tax from 5% to 8%, sending Japan’s economy into freefall at an annual pace of 6.8% from April to June in 2014.

Despite the decrease of household spending at a worse-than-expected rate of 4.7%, Don Quijote’s sales rose 2.3%.  

But Yasuda knew it wasn’t enough, the company needed to find another stable revenue stream.

The Strategy

The important thing is to create a framework that attracts visitors to Japan, and that requires cooperation that goes beyond one company or industry,” — Yasuda told Reuters

Don Quijote’s strategy to pack its stores with more shoppers was incentives for more spending. The company signed deals with countless hotels and travel agencies to distribute membership cards that offered 3% cash back at Don Quijote.

The largest discount store in Japan was also reportedly behind the Japanese government’s decision to exempt tax for visitors. Starting Oct 1, all Don Quijote stores allow non-residents to shop tax-free nationwide and even pack the goods to follow airline guidelines.  

With emerging technologies and advancements in digital marketing and logistics, it seemed there was no better time to launch ecommerce.

Don Qujote’s online shopping website.

Don Quijote’s online shopping website positioned itself as the number one source for authentic, popular products from Japan straight to your home.

“When it comes to capturing inbound visitors, Don Quijote is unrivaled,” said Ryota Himeno, retail analyst at Barclays.

Although no official sales records from Don Quijote’s ecommerce site were found, an analysis at Barrons predicted that Don Quijote’s “store is immune [to the arrival of Amazon] because its price points are below the minimum break-even points for most ecommerce sites.” 

But its success, whether from online or offline stores, boils down to Don Quijote’s strong marketing tactics. Not only did the company specifically chose prime tourist locations across Japan to open its stores, the discount chain has adopted its own mascot.

The blue penguin donning a red cap is paired with its very own theme song called “Miracle Shopping” that plays on repeat in stores, bringing the Don Quijote stores to life.

Don Quijote has become woven into people’s lifestyles. For them, spending time at one of our stores has become part of their lives.”

The Japanese brand’s ability to attract flocks of young people and tourists to its stores has gained the attention of other notable retailers such as FamilyMart Uny that will transfer a 40 percent equity sake in wholly owned subsidiary Uny Co., a general merchandiser from Inazawa, Aichi Prefecture, to Don Quijote.

The Future

In addition to turning some of FamilyMart Uny’s stores into Don Quijotes, the pair are in talks about developing a service similar to Alibaba’s Alipay, which currently over 4,000 Japanese vendors are accepting, including both Don Quijote and FamilyMart.

Earlier this year, the company announced its goal to reach operating profits of $537 million by 2020 – 20% higher than the current target.

In order to achieve this, the company also opened its first store in Southeast Asia in Singapore, a country-state Yasuda actually relocated to for retirement. Why did he choose Singapore as HQ for the region?

Singapore is a very important market for us. It is also a good base for us as people speak English here and it makes it easier for us to expand globally.”

Singaporeans queueing outside Don Quijote (debuted as ‘Don Don Donki’ in Singapore) before it was officially opened on December 1. Source: Straits Times

The 1,397 sqm double-storey building is also offering in partnership with Hokkaido Marche, a themed retail and dining experience. There are also plans to launch at least 10 more stores by 2022.

This is exactly what Yasuda wants – having customers staying in the stores longer.

Yasuda looks to capture the hearts of Thais next, where about 901,400 of Thais visit Japan every year, ranked as the 6th highest foreign visitors to Japan. In fact, Thais were among the top overseas customers of ‘Donki’, after the Koreans, Chinese and Taiwanese.

If Yasuda gets his way, there will be a piece of Japan everywhere in the world.

 

Retail has gone through a revolution. A glance at recent headlines indicate that many global brands in Q1 alone such as BCBG and Urban Outfitters have shown signs of trouble. The former filed for bankruptcy, citing changing consumer habits and increased competition from online players as key factors and Urban Outfitters stated that the ‘retail bubble has burst’. 

According to Bloomberg, shoppers’ visits to retail stores in the US are declining every year, leading industry veterans to wonder, “is anyone not seeing large foot traffic declines?”

Online retail, on the other hand, is thriving in the US. Retail sales through digital channels, including mobile sales, increased by a massive 23% in 2015.

One player enjoying this shift is Amazon. The company now accounts for 43% of all online retail sales in the States and has ventured aggressively into different verticals; from private label fashion brands to groceries. It also made entries into new markets, to the Middle East through the acquisition of Souq, a possible entry into Australia and a rumored entry into Southeast Asia.

A key aspect to its growing success is its omnichannel strategy – allowing shoppers to buy whenever, wherever. The company has been using offline to compliment its online platform, for example, with the launch of its offline bookstores in the US and its trial launch of Amazon Go, an offline grocery store that allows shoppers to scan items and pay through the Amazon Go app. 

Traditional retailers try their hand at omnichannel

The omnichannel strategy focuses on the idea that providing a ‘perfect’ shopping experience requires an integration of online and offline experiences. This is to encourage cross-channel shopping so that customers who shop only in stores will begin also buying online, and vice versa.

Although brick ad mortar players have an advantage here, pure-play brands and retailers are testing offline strategies to offer enhance their entire brand experience. Online brands such as NET-A-PORTER used this strategy back in 2012 by launching offline pop-up stores and eye wear brand Warby Parker launched its first offline store in 2013.

In Southeast Asia, more players are following suit. Thai online fast fashion label Pomelo has launched pop-shops in Bangkok and Central Group bolstered its online presence with acquisition of Zalora.

Retailers are counting on an omnichannel strategy to be their “killer app”. But is this true?

Harvard Business Review teamed up with an anonymous US retailer that operates hundreds of offline stores across the country to find out.

Out of the 46,000 study participants who made a purchase during the 14-month period from June 2015 to August 2016, only 7% were online-only shoppers and 20% were store-only shoppers. The remaining majority used multiple channels during their shopping journey – these are the omnichannel customers.

Omnichannel customer behavior

Findings showed that omnichannel customers loved using the retailer’s touchpoints in all sorts of combinations and places, such as purchasing offline and having the product delivered at home, or targeting in-store customers with personalized messages to their phones.

Shoppers were found to be avid users of in-store digital tools such as an interactive catalog, a price-checker, or a tablet. They were also leveraging their smartphones to compare prices between stores and to download discount coupons but it’s important to note that,

Among customers who lived close to a store, no type of coupon made a significant difference to shopping or profits – HBR

The more channels customers use, the more valuable they are

Omnichannel shoppers spent an average of 4% more on every shopping occasion in the store and 10% more online than single-channel customers. With every additional channel they used, the shoppers spent more money in the store.

Customers who used more than four channels, spent 9% more in the store compared to those who only used one channel.

Omnichannel shoppers were also more loyal. Within six months after an omnichannel shopping experience, these customers logged 23% more repeat shopping trips to the retailer’s stores.

Findings suggest that deliberate searching beforehand led customers to 13% greater in-store purchases. This disputes arguments about the popularity of impulse buying and showrooming, which refers to how traditional shoppers conduct their research in the store and then buy online.

This particular retailer sees the rise of webrooming, consumers that go online to browse products before going offline to buy the products in-store.

Whether the richer, multi-touch point shopping experiences of omnichannel led shoppers to spend, return, and advocate more remains an open question – no causation can be determined – but the case for omnichannel retail is positive.

In a developing market like Southeast Asia, department store culture is huge but ecommerce is only beginning to emerge – less than 4% of total sales. Whichever player is able to reach omnichannel success first looks to capture a large share of the region’s $150 billion retail opportunity.

Traditional retailers with physical stores will do better not only by leveraging the power of the online world, but by synchronizing the physical and the digital worlds to provide shoppers with a multi-channel experience that online pure plays simply cannot match. – HBR

Findings in this article were taken from “A study of 46,000 shoppers shows that omnichannel retailing works”, published on Harvard Business Review.

Here’s what you should know today.

1. JD.id plans 5 new warehouses to strengthen infrastructure

Fresh off celebrating its first anniversary in Indonesia, the Chinese ecommerce giant JD.id is now planning to launch 5 new warehouses in the country.

It is also planning to launch new verticals on the site, including movie and plane tickets.

“What makes our business model unique is that we do more than just selling and buying; we also build an infrastructure. Promos and discounts are merely gimmicks, an entry point for customers to try shopping in our platform,” says Teddy Arifianto, head of corporate communication.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

2. Singapore’s central bank is ready to use the blockchain for inter-bank payments

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced that it has completed a proof-of-concept trial of using distributed ledger technology (DLT – of which the blockchain is a type) to power domestic inter-bank payments.

Next, MAS wants to try to improve investment trading and settlement periods with the help of DLT. It also wants to take payments using digital currency cross-border.

It is also currently talking to other countries to enable digital currency payments to be settled through central bank accounts.
Read the rest of the story here

3. Recommended Reading: What went wrong at BCBG Max Azria

By way of explaining its Chapter 11 protection filings, BCBG said on February 28 that online shopping and changing consumer tastes were responsible for its decline,

“Like so many other great brands, BCBG has been negatively impacted by the growth in online sales and shifts in customer shopping patterns and, as a result, has too large a physical retail footprint. In order to remain viable, the company — like so many others in its industry — must re-align its business to effectively compete in today’s shopping environment,” wrote spokesperson Seth Lubove in an email to RetailDive.

Another problem was that BCBG was overstored. It had approximately 600 boutiques around the world, and not the same margin they once did.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

With pure play online brands around the world adopting offline channels, which retail strategy is really the way to go? Is an online-to-offline (O2O) approach feasible for your brand? David Jou, founder & CEO of Pomelo, one of Southeast Asia’s best performing ecommerce fashion brands, shares his views on today’s definition of a “retail experience” and what it means for his company.


A few months back, I had a very memorable meeting with a prominent Indian investor. He was the number one ranked student among all Institutes of Technology in India back in his days as a student, sold his first company for a hefty sum to Amazon and now heads up one the leading venture capital firms in India. His perspective is particularly interesting because India over the last decade has experienced one of the steepest adoption curves for ecommerce globally.

I was given a bit of time to pick his brain at his office.

“Ask him your hardest questions, because he’s an absolute genius.”

I sat down, launched into a quick introduction of myself and Pomelo and got him up to speed about my margins, growth, the brand, our competitive advantage, the team, our factory etc. etc. I looked over and asked,

“Does that all sound good?”

“Yes, that all makes sense.”

“So, you think this all makes sense?”

“Yes I think you’re absolutely spot on and you’ve figured something out.”

So there it was, we were on the same page and the discussion could continue.

With the groundwork in place, I decided to ask him a question Pomelo had been considering over the past few months.

“Should Pomelo spend its capital on creating an offline retail footprint or on marketing its mobile app?”

I had asked this particular question to many before and heard variations of “forget offline, you’re online! Why would you want to deal with a non-scalable, hassle-filled business model that’s crowded and competitive. You’re exactly where you want to be. Double down!”

Without hesitation and much gusto he answered,

“Go offline.”

Astonished, I asked, “why?”

“Even 5–10 years from now, best case scenario, only 10–15% of retail spending in your markets will be online. 85% of spending will still be offline.”

So there it is. For the coming years, offline will remain an important part of the 360 retail experience. Think of Warby Parker, Amazon, Bonobos in the US who have all opened offline stores. Now how can online players really take advantage of clicks to bricks?

1. Provide concrete incentives to visit your offline location

Spend time with your team to figure out the ‘why’ behind your offline project. Why would your target customer come to this particular location and what benefits do they get from coming to it? Opening a flagship store for the sake of it isn’t a good enough reason, answer these questions first:

  • Is it to showcase your physical product because it shows better in the real world?
  • Is it to alleviate a particular barrier to purchase that exists in your category?
  • Is it to provide a space where you can build a community?

If your “why” is to drive more sales or a generic “to increase awareness”, it will be hard to determine if you’re set up for success or failure. Imagine the location you’re contemplating is really a physical billboard to drive customer acquisition and that the metrics you track should be on that basis.

Amazon recently picked up a lot of attention following the launch of Amazon Go, an offline grocery store that boasts zero queues and no check-out. The major realization was that Amazon could reinvent the grocery store experience by getting rid of lines and cash and draw in more users online through a highly attractive offline experience.

“Grab & Go” at the Amazon Go store.

2. Scrap traditional retail conventions

The key to success is to provide a differentiated experience and scrap traditional retail conventions. Remember that you’re not in the business of building more efficient candles, you’re after the next light bulb. Figure out how to disrupt the traditional store format that reigns in your category.

One great example is New York based workwear website MM.LaFleur that has become famous through a product it calls the “Bento Box”, a mail-ordered shipment that comes with four to six ready-to-try wardrobe staples.

The company focuses on professional women’s wear for the office and have been extremely successful, with revenue growing 600% in 2015 and a projected $30 million in 2016.

David-Jou-Pomelo

The “Bento Box”

The brand’s approach to its offline experience directly mirrors the Bento Box philosophy. Stylists curate a selection of products based on a survey customers fill-out when they book their appointment online. A lot of players in traditional retail would say the cost of having a personal stylist on hand for an unpredictable amount of customers is highly inefficient and consequently won’t scale.

MM.LaFleur’s success would suggest otherwise; they’re launching a showroom in Washington DC this March, in addition to a showroom in New York and pop-ups scattered the country.

David-Jou-Pomelo

MM.LaFleur New York City location

3. Have a built-in digital marketing plan

One thing I would say is if you build it, they will not so simply flock. If your brand is considering an offline location, you have most likely built up a loyal following on social media, your email database and an efficient conversion funnel online. The trick here is to take the same approach with offline as you did online, and fully utilize it for your brick & mortar venture.

One of the best examples I’ve come across was by fashion label Marc Jacobs at the Marc Jacobs Daisy Pop-up Tweet Shop in 2014.  The three day pop-up store in lower Manhattan used tweets and Facebook posts as viable payment methods, where customers walked out with products after tweeting or posting a picture about the pop-up event.

The pop-up was a huge success and the brand received a ton of PR via social engagement to reinforce the fun playful character of the brand all at the same time. This concept was later replicated at a few additional Marc Jacobs locations, including London.

Marc Jacobs Pop-Up Tweet Shop window

David-Jou-Pomelo

Signage showing how the tweet shop works

From eIQ:

What’s next for Pomelo?

Multiple mall staples in the US, such as BCBG and JC Penny are struggling to keep stores open. Long-standing department stores Macy’s had to shut down multiple stores, while scrambling to launch ecommerce strategies to stay afloat. Ironically, purely digital brands are beginning to adopt offline strategies, most notably eyewear startup Warby Parker and Rent The Runway. If the death of pure play retail is indeed true, then what is stopping Pomelo from pursuing an offline store strategy to become a global fast fashion powerhouse?

BY DAVID JOU, FOUNDER & CEO OF POMELO

Read more about David Jou in eIQ’s SPARK 40