As of this writing, Thailand – the land of smiles – has 69 million people, a GDP of $497.5 billion USD, and a 4.1% year-over-year growth rate, their highest reported growth rate since 2012. The wholesale and retail-trade sector accounts for 13% of the GDP, which brought in a total of  $113.5 billion USD for a growth rate of 3.1%. The numbers are impressive, change is imminent, and Thailand’s retail sector is one worth watching.

People are spending. It’s the how, when, why, and with whom that is all changing – and changing fast. Retailers are fighting to stay on the forefront, and with the speed at which we are seeing technological advancements, this is not a time to fall behind or you’ll be left eating dust.

aerial photography of village during nighttime

Winning technology

The Mall Group, whose brands include “The Emporium” and “The Mall”, is one of Thailand’s largest mall operators, and they have been quick to jump on the technology bandwagon, designing a new smartphone app that works with beacon technology, to draw in customers and make it easy for them to spend money. The Mall Group provides customers with information right at their fingertips. Beacon technology interacts with strategically placed hotspots to provide the customer with an interactive map, advise them of current promotions, and make loyalty point redemption quicker and easier. But that’s not all. MShop, The Mall Groups e-commerce website facilitates online orders, great for when items are out of stock or not available in store, and the purchase can then be picked up in-store or delivered to your door. Now that makes for easy shopping.

We explored Thailand as a startup hub in Southeast Asia

In a store near you

And the technological advancements in the region are not just customer facing. Working with Remark Holdings, 7-Eleven Thailand, operated by CP All Plc. will be launching KanKan data, an AI facial recognition and behaviour analysis technologies through all 11,000 of their locations. The goal is to improve the customers’ experience by facilitating the behind-the-scenes logistics, such as ordering, product placement, etc. Ultimately, of course, it’s to increase sales.

According to Remark’s website, “KanKan’s simple and easy-to-install retail solutions deliver deep insights on consumer behaviour, which allows store operators to create better shopping experiences at a much lower cost and with higher conversion rates.”

So what does this mean? Well, for 7-Eleven, which is conveniently located on just about every street corner in Thailand, it means some basic operations management will be covered, such as monitoring stock levels as well as employees and providing real-time operations performance and competitive analysis. It also helps identify possible safety concerns such as notifying management when private areas are breached by unauthorised personnel. However, more interestingly, not only will they be able to record customers in-store movements, but they can record their emotions as well, providing a gold mine of data to be used for laser targeted marketing.

Pair that with the anticipated changes in e-commerce spurred on by Thailand 4.0, Thailand’s economic model  that aims “to create a value-based economy that is driven by innovation, technology, and creativity.” It’s pretty clear that the entire retail landscape is about to change – this is where the dust picks up. It’s not only about what happens under the brick and mortar, but how customers are interacting with your brand long before and after they step into your store.

The interweb

According to The Nation, customers are doing their homework. In fact, 81% of customers are doing online research before committing to a purchase, and out those, 89% begin their buying process on a search engine. Consumers are becoming more price savvy, and are more likely to read and leave reviews. But here’s the kicker: not only are they reading reviews, but the reviews are very heavily impacting purchasing decisions, more so than “social media influencers.” According to PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC)Global Consumer Insights 2019 Survey, only 17% of consumers were inclined to buy a product or service following an endorsement from an influencer or celebrity, compared to 32% who were enticed by a positive review on social media.

According to PwC: “Social media-placed ads that allow consumers to interact with a brand is now ranked as the third most effective form of advertising, and among millennials, this is the most popular form of advertising, beating out traditional television ads.”

Given all this, it’s easy to understand why Yo-ren is planning to expand into Thailand using their $11 million USD funding. Yo-ren designs, develops, and operates smartphone-based customer management programs. They plan and operate e-commerce websites, provide retailers with social network services, collect and analyse user data, and develop market strategies based on user characteristics.

Yo-ren is focused on AI technology and looking to merge the digital with the physical. How this will emerge into the market place we have yet to see; however, they may be following suit with the giants and, much like Amazon Go, look at not only cashless systems with no lines, no checkout, and completely app-based shopping.

Cashless

Going cashless is a hot global topic. On one hand, it seems like the dawn of a new, cashless day may be upon us, but take a stroll down any of Thailand’s infamous markets and it seems a cashless society is a distant, perhaps even impossible dream. Managing a cashless system in an economy that is cash poor is a problem. Cheques need time to clear, time that many don’t have, when cash flow is tight even living “paycheque to paycheque” is a stretch, people need ready-for-immediate-expenditure cash. Then there are banking fees, the lack of banks in rural areas, and perhaps an even larger issue to overcome, a lack of faith in the bank system.

people walking inside food market

In fact, 87% of the country does not use credit cards and roughly 30% of the country remains unbanked – something the banking industry is having trouble changing, but it seems blockchain may be the answer.

Penetration of a cashless system isn’t a Thailand-specific problem. Japan is seeing an estimated 20% penetration, far below China’s 60% and a far cry from South Korea’s impressive 90%. It may be some time before Thailand achieves a truly cashless society; however, that doesn’t stop the ball from rolling.

Coming soon

With many different cashless systems now available, retailers are finding options that suit their needs and their budgets. From the low cost and easy to implement QR (quick response) codes to fully customised apps with cashless systems that also increase social engagement, and get people in the door and spending more with laser-focused marketing – social and otherwise.

7-Elevens “App Wallet” is powered by TrueMoney, in-app games with real-life prizes not only increase customer engagement but aims to increase cashless payments as well by offering three chances to win for every App Wallet payment.

Family Marts Famipay is simple but effective and will be rolled out in all 17,000 locations across Japan in July. The system will provide a QR (quick response) code through their app which cashiers will then scan. Money is added to the app by linking a credit card or by paying at a cashier. We can only imagine their Thailand locations won’t be far behind.

The Mall Groups Gourmet Market and Food Hall outlets are offering self-checkout for cashless payments with LINE Pay and QR code payment options.

Prompt Pay, initiated through Thailand 4.0 and launched in 2017, is a national e-payment system that transfers money using mobile phone or ID numbers. Since it’s launch it has processed 97 million transactions through 37 million savings accounts.

The numbers are good, the plans are in action, the retail landscape looks as healthy as its jungles and the future as bright as its people. Perhaps this really is the dawn of a new day, with retail tech leading the way.

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