Along with many retail and e-commerce brands, A.S. Watson in Hong Kong had already committed itself to digital transformation before COVID-19 hit, but no one expected the extensive economic impact that has followed. 

The stage of transformation that A.S. Watson was at when this happened is typically a precarious time anyway. The very nature of integrating new solutions without knowing for sure how long implementation will take or what the setbacks might be creates a lot of pressure in the best of times.

Now add in COVID-19 which has effectively shut down parts of the world. Who could blame a brand for rethinking their technological shift in the face of so many unknowns and scaling it down or eliminating the initiative altogether?

But that’s not what the international health and beauty retailer did. Instead, A.S. Watson redoubled their efforts, revealing that sometimes a crisis is the best time to innovate and prove to customers that a brand respects them and will only provide relevant and customer-centric engagement during a pandemic.

Ramp Up Innovation

A.S. Watson had invested greatly in matching up online and offline data to get a complete profile of each customer, and like a lot of brands as the pandemic spread, they had to figure out what they could do to help their audience as everything shifted to e-commerce and public gatherings were prohibited. 

The brand wanted to go beyond COVID-19 response emails, and they wanted to leverage their recent technology upgrades. Partly to start seeing that digital transformation ROI, but also to push innovation during a time when it could really help customers. 

Engaging customers is great, but A.S. Watson wanted to give their audience something useful during this strange time, something that would help the brand stay connected with customers, make the shopping process frictionless, and contribute to global efforts to decrease the spread of COVID-19. 

Use Tech to Enable Customers to Do Something They Couldn’t Do Before

Early on as the virus spread through China, two items immediately became difficult to keep in stock: surgical masks and hand sanitizers. Consumers were emptying the shelves, inadvertently depleting resources for others. They were also standing in long checkout lines within a foot or two of each other. 

A.S. Watson realized they could solve two challenges (depleted stock and long waits at the cash register) by launching an online ordering system where customers could purchase products online and then go to one of their Hong Kong stores to pick the item up at a designated time. This quickly deployed innovation reduced both stock depletion and long “close quarters” queues at stores.  Find out more from Group COO Malina Ngai about how A.S. Watson has placed their customers first in this uncertain time.