In the age of mass disruption, the exponential power of technology is transforming consumer experiences every day.
However, the department store shopping structure has not seen much evolution in the last thirty to forty years, with counters and beauty consultants sometimes becoming a barrier between shoppers and products.
Today, Japanese prestige beauty brand SK-II has taken on the task to change that and take the pressure out of shopping for skincare.
As an example, in December last year SK-II and leading Singapore department store Robinsons challenged the status quo and collaborated to launch SK-II Future X Smart Store — providing a completely "phygital" experience where consumers could interact and enjoy the products in a non- pressurizing way.
Coined through a mash-up of "physical" and "digital", this retail concept refers to the creating of an interactive, technology-enabled shopping experience for consumers.
Transformative retail partnerships
SK-II vice-president Sandeep Seth says the brand could not have done it alone.
He explains: "Transforming the beauty retail experience is a huge undertaking that is a collaborative effort. Together with our retail partner Robinsons, we were excited to bring the Future X Smart Store to Singapore as SK-II’s first beauty smart store in Southeast Asia. As business partners, we share same vision to transform the beauty retail experience."
Mr Simon Naga, vice-president of Al-Futtaim (which owns Robinsons) in Asia, adds that such a collaboration allows both brands to gain a fresh perspective and learn from each other.
"In fact, we got familiar with the term ‘phygital’ through our partner SK-II. We were very inspired by its Future X Smart Store executions in Tokyo and Shanghai.
SK-II has always been disruptive in its beauty innovations, and with the creation of this retail concept, we are confident that our joint forces are helping redefine and transform our retail offerings.”
Achieving industry buy-in
How long will it take for other brands to catch up? Mr Naga says the uptick in the launch of phygital concepts in recent months is a positive sign.
He says: "A basic level of omnichannel retail—enabling shoppers to buy online or in-store—is no longer enough to retain consumers. In today’s world, no consumer wants to be pushed to buy products and consumers are gravitating towards experiences.
"Here in Southeast Asia, we have already seen some of our local counterparts capitalise on the rising trend. Robinsons has collaborated with tech-integrated Nomadx at Plaza Singapura, which houses its exclusive brand Karl Lagerfeld, providing shoppers a heightened experience with technology such as smart mirrors and interactive product walls.
“More so than ever, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels; the change that’s happening around us only fuels our drive for growth and innovation."
Mr Seth notes, however, that brands should not simply jump on this bandwagon because it is the "cool" thing to do.
"All this tech and ‘phygital’ is to enhance the experience. It is not tech or “phygital” for the sake of being cool. As far as possible, we believe tech should be frictionless and invisible. Likewise, our journey with Future X Smart Store is not about replacing humans with tech, but supplementing to create a better and more meaningful shopping experience for our consumers.
"We believe the beauty industry is well primed to respond to this."