In general, we see the common picture of the aggressive and annoying salesperson bothering Asian shoppers who generally are seen as quiet, shy and patient as they listen to the sales pitch without rudely interrupting them. We also expect that at the end of this picture, the shopper ignores the advice completely and ends up purchasing something else. 

In truth, the value of in-store advice is much more complex and has a multi-layered element to how the information is absorbed by the Asian shopper. The Asian shopper might not actively seek advice, but certainly when they do seek advice, they have certain expectations about the way sales staff provide the information. 

This clearly indicates that the training methodologies of retail sales staff in the past need to adjust to the needs of the shopper. If in the past, it was the key duty of the salesperson to be aware of the product, prices and basic benefits, now it is necessary for the same salesperson to be aware of competitor retailers, general category trends and even social etiquette practices. The retailer certainly needs to take another closer look at the hiring and training criteria for its sales personnel in this day and age, especially given the advent of social network service technology.

The proliferation of new technologies like smartphones and social media has changed not just online consumer behaviour, but retail shopper behaviour has also been significantly impacted in ways that few people could have foreseen. For example, because Japanese consumers can get ‘online advice’ through new technology, they will travel to stores farther away from home (whereas in the past, location was king for retailer success) to get the service they need. One of the key reasons for this exodus by Japanese consumers was ‘annoying salespeople’ and now the same Asian consumers have the ability to ‘spread the news’ about a retailer almost immediately to their friends and family.

Grey and G2’s Eye on Asia – Retail study tells us that an average of 87% of Asian shoppers are generally seeking advice and information on some level, including those open to being approached. The main reason for needing advice is that the shopper’s mindset is having trouble making a brand choice, showing the great need to have as many brand sales staff in the retailers as possible. The other key element is the Asian shopper has been found to be quite interested in any product demonstration whether this was on their shopping list or not. The physical shopping experience is just as important, especially given the technology available to do most of the shopping online.

Since eight different nations were covered in this survey, the responses tend to vary but in general, most Asians are not completely negative about receiving advice. Taking the hypermarket channel as an example, even the most negative countries like Australia (25%) do not seek advice and do not want to be approached) and India (22%) still have large percentages of shoppers that are open to different information and choices. The most open countries are Indonesia (94%) and China (92%).

The failure of Wal-Mart in Korea four years ago is an interesting case study. Wal-Mart had plenty of strategic locations. What it failed to recognise was the customisation of its staff and services to the needs of local shoppers. Providing products and prices at the lowest prices has a limitation in the age of online shopping. Asian shoppers now do both physical and online shopping and have greater expectations of shopper experiences at retailers. Why else do shoppers spend an average of 52 minutes at busy, crowded hypermarket channels?

Contributed by Steve Yi, Chief Strategy Officer, Grey Group Korea

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