Six Key Trends That Shaped Retail in Asia in 2018

As we move into the New Year, it is worth looking back at the retail trends that emerged in Asia in 2018. Spoiler alert: voice ordering technology or virtual reality are not among them. However, the six trends that Tofugear’s research team have identified look set to gain further traction in the region over the coming year, as retailers continue to look at new ways to engage with their customers.


Unmanned Stores

China is at the forefront of the development of unmanned stores, with all of the technology/retail giants such as Alibaba, and Tencent continuing to roll out new automated store formats, as well as fast growing start- ups like Bingobox. But increasingly, unmanned store technology is also making its way into other Asian markets, with retailers including Watasale (India) and 7-Eleven in Taiwan using innovations such as facial recognition, digital payments and RFID scanners to provide a seamless shopping experience.


Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality is in a more advanced state of development than Virtual Reality and there were a number of interesting applications of the technology in 2018. This included the opening of the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai, where the technology is used to tell the coffee chain’s brand story. More initiatives can be expected in the sector as retailers take advantage of new development platforms launched by Apple and Google, which make it easier to develop AR applications.



Omnichannel. New Retail. Boundaryless Retail. These are some buzzwords of the last few years, but in practice only few retailers are currently offering a seamless cross-channel experience to their customers. 2018 saw the introduction of some interesting omnichannel concepts in Asia, including the Lush Labs store in Tokyo – where customers can interact with the store through an app – or Intersport’s partnership with Tmall through a connected store in Beijing, which features an array of technologies to connect the online and offline worlds.


Livestream Commerce

In Asia, livestreaming had always been a trend within gaming and even eating (otherwise known as Mukbang); but recently the popularity of Douyin in China and other video-led social media have seen these channels become more focused on monetising the high levels of traffic that they generate. Retailers have gotten in on the act, with for instance beauty retailer Sasa reserving space in its Hong Kong store for KOLs to livestream from.


Interactive Lab Experiences

Pop-up stores are nothing new but recently there has been an evolution of this model to include more interactive elements, which transform these spaces into ‘interactive lab experiences’. While marketeers may focus on making pop-ups as ‘Instagrammable’ as possible, increasingly retailers also want to add new technologies such as AR/VR or commerce features to create a more digitally engaging space for consumer interaction. Examples are plenty, but a brand such as Chanel shows how this can be taken to the next level through their Coco Game Center in Hong Kong last year, which featured gamification aspects.


Experience the Moment

Increasing dwell time at a store is the key to increasing customer spend. An increasing number of retailers are creating stores with fun and interactive stations that allow shoppers to browse and explore as part of a journey, enticing them to engage with a brand through different touch points. Technology often fulfills a central role, but retailers need to be careful to use this responsibly – digital initiatives should enable and improve the overall customer journey.


To gain full insight into best in class examples of retailers in Asia that are harnessing these trends, download our Asia Retail Trends Throwback 2018 report through the following link.

Philip Wiggenraad

Philip Wiggenraad

As Head of Research at Tofugear, Philip provides insight on how retailers are adapting their digital strategies to target the connected consumer. Prior to relocating to Hong Kong, he led Retail Week’s research team in London, researching the tech and ecommerce strategies of the UK’s leading retailers.