AS Watson Group’s global survey reveals post-COVID trends


AS Watson Group, the world’s largest international health and beauty retailer, has announced the findings of a Global COVID-19 Survey conducted by WISE in April. Over 22,000 consumers across over 20 markets in Asia and Europe shared their shopping intentions post-COVID. The pandemic has changed the way consumers shop and live, with the value of relationships becoming increasingly high. The survey revealed that all respondents want to get back to retail store and to have human connections again.

Malina Ngai, Group COO of AS Watson Group and CEO of AS Watson (Asia & Europe), said: “While the pandemic accelerated e-commerce growth and technological developments, the crisis has underlined customers’ desire for human connections, and for the future of retail, these bonds will become even more important.

“AS Watson has been working to build retail brands that have a lasting, close relationship with our customers while also offering a seamless online and offline experience alongside industry leading technology. These technologies are designed to enhance the experience, but they can never replace an exceptional, quality service, strong relationships and personal connections with our customers.”

Demand for human connections

Due to the pandemic, people had no choice but to shop online and this saw AS Watson’s global e-commerce grew by over 90% in the second quarter of 2020. Many people have become more comfortable with e-commerce and are likely to stick with online shopping in future, which will give eCommerce a boost in the long term.

In the Group’s recent survey of over 22,000 customers aged 15-65 in over 20 markets, 90% of respondents said that they will continue to shop online, as expected, but most importantly, the survey revealed that 100% of respondents said they will go back to physical stores. This was especially prominent with Gen Z, with one third saying they will even shop in stores more often. 

This shows the customers’ desire for human connections in physical stores – the chance to see and engage with friendly faces and experience products in real life – this will play a crucial part in the business recovery.

Strengthen emotional bonds with customers

The global pandemic brought opportunities to build emotional bonds with customers. With over 138 million loyalty programme members worldwide, AS Watson Group has never stopped serving and engaging its customers and continues to develop innovative ways to do so. It resulted in 30-50% increase in social media contents we produced to stay close with our customers. Many of our operating markets have started live streaming and social commerce, receiving good response from customers.

In Mainland China, Watsons’ WeChat Work allows beauty advisors to stay in touch with customers. Customers can speak to the experts, receive product recommendations and get help with ordering anytime, anywhere. In Europe, the ‘Go In Store’ service available at The Perfume Shop and ICI PARIS XL. This online personal shopping service connects customers to store experts, who can then offer a bespoke consultation and help the customer with the decision making process.

Another example of how the Group builds emotional bonds with customers is the recent launch of an 18 Districts Cross-Merchant Consumer Spending Stimulation Reward Scheme by MoneyBack, the largest membership programme in Hong Kong with 3.7million members. The MoneyBack platform will be opened up to all retailers and restaurants in the city to stimulate local consumer spending – helping other businesses on their roads to recovery.

Embrace the next normal with customer insights

In the global survey, over 70% of customers said their income has been or will be affected by the pandemic. When asked about how their lifestyle would change post COVID, 92% of respondents said they would take part in outdoor activities, followed by cooking at home (91%) and doing DIY beauty treatments (84%).

In Mainland China, Gen Z now has the greatest spending power, with spending reaching RMB4 trillion and this represents 13% of national household consumption. The Female Beauty Trends Report is released to tell customers’ shopping trends and habits in China. More and more customers are shopping at night between 11pm and 1am, with dental floss, face masks and shampoo as the top selling items.

The Trends Report showed that customers in China do not only pay attention to the efficacy and quality of the skincare and makeup products but also the ingredients. The Trends Report also revealed the correlations between sensitive skin, climate and lifestyle. Customers from coastal tier 1 cities have a higher tendency of skin sensitivity issue, 1 out of every 15 products for sensitive skin are sold in Shanghai. The insights present great opportunities for international health and beauty supplier brands to target customers in Mainland China with more precise product development plans.

Ngai added: “As AS Watson enters the new normal, we need to rethink our strategies and approaches to meet and adapt to the changing demands of our customers. Our insights show that in addition to seamless online and offline shopping experiences, customers are more emotionally demanding for relevance and care. As we continue to be the most-loved brands of our customers, we have to innovate the way we operate to be more personal with the service we offer in store and further enhance online personalisation through cutting-edge technology.”