BANGKOK: Thailand, Vietnam and India are set to lead the charge as retail innovators, with local brands embracing change to future-proof their retail operations against e-commerce.

With Asia's emerging markets becoming increasingly wealthy, retailers from across the spectrum – from big box stores such as Walmart to luxury shopping malls – are thinking outside the square to engage younger consumers and take on the region's booming e-commerce market.

And the key advantage retailers have, according to Chadatip Chutrakul, CEO of Thai retail developer Siam Piwat, is in customer experience.

"We were aware of digital technology and the disruption it was causing that may have led to a downturn in customers," Chutrakul, one of Asia's most influential businesspeople, told the recent World Retail Congress in Dubai.

"The fundamental needs and feelings of people don't change," she said. "Whilst online is efficient and convenient, it won't win hearts as there is no interaction." (For more details, read WARC's exclusive report: Retail giants in Thailand, India and Vietnam localise for future growth.)

Siam Paragon in Bangkok, one of the country's most premium retail spaces, created an open space in which products are displayed by type, not brand. Cash registers have been replaced by roving sales assistants who use mobile checkout devices and there is a heavy emphasis on interaction.

"It's not just about selling products, it's about engaging customers for the long term," Chutrakul explained. "We try to create stories and use a lot of interactive digital technology to help customers understand the products."

The company also developed an app to customize messages to consumers and track trends and user behaviour. Siam Paragon communicates daily with customers constantly giving them fresh and engaging content to keep the story alive and create brand advocates.

"With this approach, we try and have customers become our ambassadors. Our mantra is 'come play with us' not 'buy from us'," Chutrakul said.

Data sourced from WARC