In an exclusive on-location interview with TRBusiness, Evelyne Ly-Wainer, Vice President Travel Retail Asia Pacific, for beauty giant, Shiseido, revealed that one of the division’s top priorities is to be “200% ready to capture any potential of the recovery,” especially once Chinese travellers recommence overseas trips*.
“We have been all waiting for the traffic to resume,” she told TRBusiness in Cannes this October. “But I think there is, across the whole industry, a dynamic movement going on; everyone wants to do things more innovatively and they realise that we might have been relying too heavily on one nationality in the past.”
Ly-Wainer refers to Chinese travellers who have long been considered the biggest spenders in global travel retail. Since the pandemic prevented these consumers from travelling overseas, global retailers and powerhouse brands have looked to China’s ‘duty free paradise’ of Hainan Island to recoup lost sales, particularly at airport shops.
The Hainan phenomenon
“In a way the whole industry has been blessed with such a phenomenon – the rise of Hainan – but in 2022, recovery in Singapore and Thailand has meant an increase of activities going on, as well as travellers coming back, so we are all very excited about that.
“I think the focus over the last two years has been very much on China and Hainan, but I am glad that now we are able to also talk about the rest of Asia and especially Southeast Asia.”
As well as observing a growing consciousness from the travel retail industry of the need to ‘open up’ to other customers, Ly-Wainer believes it is also important to return to the ‘roots of travel retail’ and ensure its solid customer service principles continue to underpin their day-to-day operations.
“We need to make sure that we satisfy our customers in terms of retail experience and retail excellence,” she said. “For instance, we have been working a lot on properly manning our counters, allowing our beauty consultants to bring an elevated experience and service to our consumers to live up to our long-standing customer service principles in the spirit of Omotenashi.”
On its website, Shiseido defines Omotenashi as ‘the key to touching the hearts of consumers around the world’. “For every Shiseido employee – not only those in direct interaction with consumers – the spirit of omotenashi is ever-present,” it states.
Anniversary year draws to a close
Of course in 2022, the Shiseido Group celebrated a huge milestone – its 150th anniversary – so naturally TRBusiness asked Ly-Wainer what specifically she had been most proud of this year.
As she reminisced on many pivotal moments for the recovery of travel retail in recent months, she felt it was pertinent to place these developments in the context of the last decade.
“If we look back to the 140th anniversary of the Shiseido Group there was no mention of travel retail. Travel retail within the span of the last ten years or so – or more specifically the last seven or eight years – we have grown into a very substantial region for the group.
“So we are kind of a latecomer to the game, but I think all my predecessors, as well as Philippe Lesne (President and CEO of Shiseido Travel Retail), and everyone has been really contributing to developing travel retail.
“For a Japanese group who may not have been fully aware back then of the potential of travel retail, or even the business model of travel retail, I think we have come a long way and I want to celebrate our achievements so far.
“For Asia Pacific travel retail, Shiseido is the No 4 beauty group. In TR China we are the No 3. We hope that we can continue to gain market share and ranking.” TRBusiness understands that the Shiseido Group is also the No 3 beauty company in global travel retail (according to Generation Research 2021 figures).
‘The beginning of a new era’
Ly-Wainer also highlighted the company’s important development on WeChat this year, bringing it closer to retail partner, China Duty Free Group (CDFG). The aim of Shiseido’s first virtual animation mini program on WeChat with CDFG was to strengthen its connection with consumers both online and offline, said the group.
“Working more closely with CDFG has allowed us to learn more about who are customers are and to better target them,” said Ly-Wainer.
“What we have started to see is a more positive response from the retailers to collaborate with us on that; to be more open on data and insights sharing. We are now really able to make a difference and personalise our approach with our customers.”
While she told TRBusiness ‘it is only the beginning of a new era’ when it comes to digital advancements for the division (and indeed travel retail), arguably Shiseido has been at the forefront when it comes to developing an omnichannel service to consumers.
“I think we have been placing a lot of focus in the last five years or so on new technologies and on how we should look at the whole digital transformation; how we should reach out to the consumers in a more relevant way, yes.
“We are also very happy with the foray we have made into the metaverse with Nars, for example. I think Nars is the most digital-savvy brand in our whole portfolio.” Ly-Wainer referred to the Nars avatar aptly named ‘Navatar’ which allows consumers to learn more from the brand without leaving their house.
But when it comes to ecommerce, Ly-Wainer highlighted that there are those who have concerns about what role it will play in the future of travel retail. She believes the answer is in a multi-faceted and fully integrated approach.
“I think in the same way that today, Chinese consumers shop a lot on Tmall or Taobao, they also believe the instore experience is equally important…the digital part will continue to be perhaps the preferred or most efficient place to communicate with consumers, but it won’t be the only facet, because customers still need human contact and consultation.”
She also quite rightly points out the personalisation opportunities which can be offered more easily (and more authentically) to consumers in physical stores.
“Ultimately if we go back to the essence of travel retail, people want to discover new things when they travel; bring back a souvenir or something that is unique that will remind them of their experiences while travelling.”
This interview was originally conducted during the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes, which took place in October.
*This could be sooner that Ly-Wainer had originally anticipated when she spoke to TRBusiness, as China has since appeared to ditch its zero-Covid policy (writing in early December).
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