Experiences and retail in Tokyo and Shanghai
I traveled back to Shanghai recently, to visited friends & former collegues. I combined it with a short trip to Tokyo and Osaka in Japan.
Of course I also took pictures and videos from retail locations. This time I did a little less focus on the online commerce as I did that before already.
Earlier I wrote a few posts on LinkedIn on this trip. This blog post is a combination of those LinkedIn posts with some additional context and pictures. It will be a long post with many pictures and some videos, so be prepared to scroll down.
It was very nice to be back in China again and a pleasure to use their advanced fintech and payment technology. It makes retail so much more fun. It took a bit of work to get it working as a tourist this time, but I managed to get both Alipay and WeChat pay working again.There is really some improvement needed here, to get that more working more easily for tourists.
The first hotel I stayed at, already had some technology I didn't see before. When a delivery brother brings your food, he can place it in the robot and the robot brings it to your room. Much safer, non guests do not have to go to rooms and you don't have to go down to get your food. The robot even has a 'butler style" paint on it.
They told me, if it gets stuck it rings for help. These type of robots are also used to deliver food in office buildings, at least in Shanghai. Food delivery (during lunch) is massive in Shanghai. They go up and down the elevator and into offices to bring food.
In Shanghai, my second hotel was at the famous Nanjing shopping street. It is always packed with people.My favorite Chinese food is the Jian Bing, a Chinese breakfast pancake. Sellers sell them often in small stores in side alleys. On my quest for the nearest Jian Bing seller, I found this vending machine at Nanjing road that sells really good coffee. I made a video of it (in the early morning as at that time there are not so many people).
The machine can serve two people at the same time, it has a robot arm that makes your cofffee very transparantly. I always pay attention to interfaces, and the two tablets have -even in English- a great interface, you can really easily browse through the 70 beverages. There is upsell, there is lots of explanation about the beans and the quality of the ingredients (an important factor in China).
There is a loyalty and coupon function and if you or someone pre-orders, you just scan your QR code and the machine makes a coffee for you.
At the back of the machine you can rent a powerbank if you are in need of some juice for your phone.There is an Alipay miniprogram and with that it is possible to send over your profile data as well. Speaking of data, the machine has a big AI brain that gives all kind of data to optimize the experience and sales. Check out the company that created this machine's webpage.
I think this is a great machine also in the western world with a few adaptions:
- Airports or train stations. Railways or airlines can easily give coupons for free coffee or tea, you just have to scan the received QR code, and as it is all online, it can be even integrated in customer journey campaigns (f.e. automatic free coffee after x minutes delay and at station X).
- Shopping malls. The machine can also be very useful at shopping malls (it's fun to watch for kids, gives a break for the parents and the shopping mall can attract people with it with for example free coffee coupons).
- Workplace.The machine would be a great addition to many workplaces, reducing time to get coffee and increasing conversation.
A few adaptions are needed/useful. Think of:
- A bench at the side integrated, so you can take a rest and drink your coffee.
- Different payment methods of course, this one only accepted Alipay and Wechat Pay.
- Maybe to switch off the sound, as in Asia is common to have sounds everywhere, this one also plays a welcome music the whole day & night. Maybe not everywhere acceptable.
As many cities (at least in Western Europe) are often battling against vandalism, unlike countries like China or Japan, I think this machine is might not be suitable for outside placement in Western Europe in it's current state, unfortunately. That's a pity. Vandalism slows down these kinds of technology innovation in my opinion.
I located this machine at multiple places in Shanghai already.
Cloud Nine Shopping mall
Dream Cloud Nine Shopping mall in Shanghai is a shopping mall I often went to when I lived in Shanghai. It is huge and extremely easy to reach as three metro lines more or less run into this shopping mall. There is direct access from the subway station. Besides that it is next to a big park (when the weather is nice). A great location and the mall is very modern as well. It spans over 9 floors and you can really buy anything here, from cars, to a huge food court and supermarkets.
And yes, they sell cars in the shopping mall:
The most annoying things of these huge shopping malls I always find, is the walking part. It is so huge, and if you have to be at an upper floor that takes lots of time, especially if you do not exactly know where to go.
When I walked in the mall, I saw a couple of , what at first looked like robots, but appeared to be riding vending and information machines.
So I checked it out. Turns out the machine sells products (in this case small toys, but I guess this could just as well have been drinks for example). The machine promotes the shopping mall's loyalty programme at one side and the other side has an advertisement for a shop at the 6th floor. Now that's nice to get people up 6 floors, because as I wrote earlier, it is always so time consuming. There are always lines at elevators and 6 floors on escalators takes time as well.
It can inform /attract/motivate visitors of the mall to go to upper floors
As I wrote earlier, it is always a hassle to go to upper floors. In another shopping mall in Shanghai, I noticed this "express escalator". Such a good idea, it takes you from the 2nd to the 4th floor in one go. Now thats a good experience!
Try it yourself, this one is in the IAPM shopping mall at Shaanxi Nan Lu, also a great mall in a great area in downtown Shanghai.
I was at IAPM at a rainy day, then they put this machine at the entrance, a machine where you can quickly dry your umbrella. Great idea, many malls in Asia have such a machine, I never saw one in Europe.
It is great to make walks in Shanghai. There is always so much to see. One of the areas that is specifically nice is the area around West Nanjing road. To bring back memories I was just walking a bit one evening and I noticed this flagship store from "the North face"
This store even has a "fridge" where you can try and test before you buy your expedition clothes:
I did not go into the freezer, but they even made it a little nice and comfortable inside when you are testing your clothes. Now that's trust in the quality of your product!
In the shop there is also a mini exhibition. You see clothes that were really used in expeditions, with the story behind it.
Walking in Shanghai surprises many times. That is one of the reasons Shanghai is such a great city. Suddenly in some not too busy street, Isee this 'phone booth like' box.
Turns out there is a traditional phone inside but also a screen. I think it is mostly catered to elderly, as you can also get your pension information from it.
Yeah and you can even create AI versions of yourself! This one is from me:
The AI probably improved version of Alex generated in the phone booth in Xuijiahui
Tech in Shanghai is everywhere and this little phone booth was a great place to rest after a long walk.
Just to give an impression, small stores often include live streaming in China to sell their products.
Love the grind!— Marco Castelli (@macastel3) November 4, 2023
8am Saturday morning streaming online selling vintage luxury bag! pic.twitter.com/ONPCyLLnXC
Retail in China
China is awesome in retail. There is so much competition, online and offline often go hand in hand and there is something new to see every day. The online commerce space is so vast, competetive and interesting that I can write hundreds of blog posts on that, so that's not for today. I am sure I will be back in one of the Tier-1 cities next year.
As I was this time on a transit visa, I had to leave Shanghai after a few days so I decided to visit Japan again. I haven't been there for maybe 7 or 8 years, so nice to travel back again.
Japan has a great retail landscape. Digitally less mature than China, but still a thriving retail environment with so many unique shops, themed bars and more.
This visit, I mostly visited some larger brands and took pictures of the shops. I did not have time to visit all the stores I wanted to, but still, I think this overview might help others to get inspired.
Physical retail accounts for the vast majority (71%) of all retail sales in Japan (2022). Despite the decline in the number of stores recently, the average sales per store has been increasing. In 2022, the average sales per store were JPY68 million (USD600,000), up from JPY63 million (USD550,000) in 2019.
Unlike last time in Bangkok, this time, I do not zoom in on the online retail, but just pictures of stores (and a few ads).
I visited a unique bookstore called Tsutuya. This is way more than a bookstore. I felt it was more of a park combined with a bookstore. A place where you can unwind and spend a day.
Tsutsuya Books stores also sell a variety of other media, such as DVDs, CDs, and video games. They also have a wide selection of stationery, gifts, and other lifestyle items.
One other thing that makes Tsutsuya Books unique is its commitment to promoting culture. Many of the stores have event spaces where they host readings, signings, exhibitions, and other cultural events. They also have cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a meal or drink while you read or socialize.
Official site: https://store.tsite.jp/daikanyama/english/
Robot Advice Tokyo Metro
Tokyo subway is vast and it's a labyrinth of tunnels and walkways. It's great if you know where to go, if not you can easily get lost. Did you know there are even websites explaining all these underground walkways and creating routes for it?
Well every day I passed this robot machine, had to try it of course :)
Walking in the underground of Tokyo is great, it's safe, clean, there are lot's of retail outlets and mini stores, also from famous brands. Compared to for example, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Bangkok, the underground passages of the Tokyo subway are more vast and more interesting from a retail perspective. There is really a lot to see and do.
Antenna stores are stores are located in major cities and cater to specific prefectures of Japan. They are set up by local governments to promote their region's products and culture. They offer food, drinks, and products, but also in many cases travel advice. The most popular antenna shops in Tokyo have 100,000-500,000 visitors a year.
It might be a great concept in Europe as well.
I visited the Hokkaido Antenna store in Ginza and bought two small souvenir products from this prefecture
There are lots of Hokkaido food products available and when I was there, a cook was making fresh Hokkaido food.
Yodibashi is the largest electronics store chain in Japan. I
went to the Akihabara store, which might be the largest store itself in
Japan. It spans 9 floors full of electronics, home appliances, and more.
They even have at the rooftop a golf and baseball area.
This is really an awesome area and building for electronic fans. I remember my first visit here (and I remembered the company song), where I went to this building to experience the at that time famous i-Mode phones from NTT Docomo. At that time in Europe we didn't have anything like that.
Sometimes they also organize events at Yodibashi, like the Yodibashi Akiba (Playstation) Gaming event that took place recently.
Just like other stores in Japan, also Yodibashi has a company theme song, that plays in the store very very regularly. It is part of Japanese retail culture, many brands have a company song in their stores, often memorable and unique. The Yodibashi one is very nice, link below.