According to our forecasts, over half of retail transactions in the Asia Pacific region will be transacted via online retailers by 2023. It goes without saying that change is happening, with decades of traditional retail is coming to a head through digital retail disruption.

During a recent event hosted by Edge by Ascential in March 2020, the focus of discussion was on planned and unplanned disruption, and how retail brands can survive and thrive under such conditions.

Disruption comes in many forms – planned or unplanned and presents us with an opportunity or threat and therefore risk. Edward Pank, Managing Director APAC at WARC pointed to the Chinese word for crisis – 危机 –which can be broken down to (wēi) = "danger" and 机 (jī) = "opportunity". 

It’s an interesting mindset to be in when brands around the world are right now are entirely focused on the impact of the coronavirus and how to deliver business continuity and minimise loses.

Utilise planned disruption to maximise impact

Online shopping festivals like Singles Day and Cyber Monday, are geared toward shoppers making purchases under the impression that they’ll get a bargain for what is perceived as a single day flash sale.

But Terence Lim, key account manager at Heineken Asia Pacific Breweries, said brands need to think more holistically and link several sales festivals into a single brand strategy, with each event geared toward common objectives, and building on the customer relationship with the brand.

During last year’s 9.9, to 10.10, 11.11 and 12.12 sales festivals, the alcoholic beverage brand executed a planned strategy, seeding messaging in the months leading up to the event, which resulted in Tiger beer’s 40 pack cans being the single biggest selling SKU (stock keeping unit) on Lazada Redmart in Singapore for 11.11.

How brands can connect multiple shopping festivals:

1. Festival A: Recruit shoppers through trial mechanics that create interest

  • Low cost of entry
  • Ensures immediate trial – eat, drink, use, etc
  • Free samples

2. Festival B: Convert shoppers via low barrier to entry purchase

  • Bundles with other products relevant to the occasion or need
  • Promo small pack format
  • Special offer for repeat shoppers

3. Festival C: Retain shoppers through value offer and loyalty-style marketing

  • Bulk promotional offer (shoppers have engaged, and bought your product already, now is the time they are confident enough to spend a bit more)

4. Ongoing: Consider how to bridge online and offline and create true O2O campaigns

Using data to survive unplanned disruption

Unplanned disruption is being experienced right now, with many brands and retailers overwhelmed by the sudden spike in demand. They are struggling to fulfil orders, and unable to replenish depleted stock levels because of unexpected shopper behaviour in response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

According to data shared by Declan Kearney, Managing Director APAC at Edge by Ascential (owned by the same parent company as WARC), many categories on Tmall China are experiencing explosive growth, and not the categories you might expect – face mask sales are up 18x that of same period in 2019, alcohol 6x, snack & confectionary 4x and children’s clothing 3x.

A key strategy for retail brands in coping with unforeseen fluxes in demand is to ensure that they have greater visibility into their portfolio availability and can identify and respond quickly to reduced stock levels - There are solutions available in-market that can leverage data to offer such a view.

An Edge client used information captured from ecommerce sites in China at a location (post code) level to focus their replenishment efforts. It was instrumental in ensuring shoppers weren’t faced with stock issues preventing their purchase and ensuring that the retail site could make the sale and ultimately the brand could continue to realise its expected sales.

Portfolio availability in China: Sites with out-of-stock critically low levels are indicated by red dots while those with enough stock are in green.

Should brands cash in or build sustainable brand love in uncertain times?

“Remain true to brand purpose and demonstrate genuine care in tough times” was the key message from WARC’s Edward Pank. “While disruption presents us with immediate opportunities, to win or lose, the decisions brands make, and the way brands navigate storms certainly has a lasting impact on the consumer when the dust has settled.”

Pank explained the need for brands to walk the talk in terms of demonstrating ‘brand care’ during uncertain times citing that only 34% of consumers trust brands. A great example of disruption and trust building was shared with a case study from Australia where the largest consumer insurance provider, NRMA Insurance, flipped the theory of insurance on its head; they identified high risk properties based on data they’d collected for many years of claims and external sources, and paid the owners of those homes to “de-risk” with preventative measures and thus lower the risk of something going wrong and them having to make a claim.

A clever way to gain consumer trust and do good with the data they had while remaining true to the brands core purpose, We Care, through tough times. [Read the full case study: NRMA Insurance: Safety Hub]

While brands, retailers and consumers come to terms with a new wave of planned and unplanned disruptive periods, it’s a great time to remind ourselves we will survive, and we can thrive. And the best way to do so is by realising the opportunity that’s presented rather than dwelling on the threats.

To watch the Edge by Ascential Southeast Asia Digital Commerce Accelerator event in full, click here. The next accelerator event will be taking place in May 2020 and focus on the role of availability and how it impacts the online shopper experience. To join the list for more information please email