29 Jul 2020

Exploring New Consumerism in Post-COVID-19 China and ASEAN for Business China’s 4th FC Global Business Series

Business China held its fourth session of the FC Global Business Series on 28 July 2020. Titled “Respond, Reset and Renew: New Consumerism in Post-COVID-19 China and ASEAN”, the webinar featured well-known experts and business leaders from Singapore, China and ASEAN with in-depth knowledge and expertise on the subject topic. The speakers for the event were Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Chairman of Business China, Mr Ma Jinnan, Assistant President of 36Kr, Mr James Chang, Chief Executive Officer of Lazada Singapore and Mr Douglas Benjamin, Vice President of Singapore Retailers Association; Group Chief Operating Officer of FJ Benjamin Holdings Ltd. Mr Roy Tan, Managing Director, Global Enterprise Banking, International, OCBC Bank was the moderator for the session. Business China CEO Ms Tin Pei Ling kickstarted the session by giving the opening remarks.

The webinar, co-organised with the Economic Development Board was strongly supported by various organisations such as the China Enterprises Association (Singapore), Orchard Road Business Association, Restaurant Association of Singapore as well the Singapore Retailers Association. Bank of China, OCBC and Temasek were the special partners for this event.

In a pre-recorded speech, Business China Board Director and Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Transport Mr Chee Hong Tat addressed participants and provided valuable insights on how businesses can focus on the 3 “D”s of enterprise transformation – Digitalisation, Design and Differentiation - so as to seize opportunities and overcome challenges in an ever-dynamic business climate.

During the panel discussion, Mr Lee Yi Shyan set the backdrop for the webinar by explaining the three major ongoing trends that had been prevalent in the world – globalisation, technology disruptions and digitalisation as well as the Asian century.  However, these trends were subjected to disruptions and COVID-19 was one of the unexpected factors. Business models had to be relooked to cope with the current situation.  He outlined the different scenarios that might happen depending on how long COVID-19 will last. Singapore companies should continue to regionalise and add value to the market or lower their product prices as compared to local players. Mr Lee still remains optimistic of Asia as the growth region and believes that the region will offer opportunities for Singapore companies despite the pandemic.

Sharing from a retailer’s point of view on the post-COVID-19 world, Mr Douglas Benjamin described the pandemic as a “generation crisis” due to the disruptions caused. Retailers now had to reexamine the different ways and items that consumers will shop for post-COVID-19. Product differentiation is crucial whereby younger people nowadays place emphasis on the product value and on companies which pursue social causes such as sustainability. He felt that it was opportune for companies to re-evaluate themselves and their value to consumers as they are driving the demand with clear expectations of their needs to be successful in the competitive retail industry.

Mr Ma spoke in detail on some of the changes in consumers’ behaviour observed over the past few months during the pandemic. There was a higher demand on healthcare products and services due to COVID-19. Consumers were more concerned of the quality and cost effectiveness of the products rather than on brands names. With more time on their hands, there had been a shift in the way people purchase products on e-commerce platforms. Watching live streaming videos was more popular in China as compared to looking for items through search engines. E-commerce models from China such as traditional e-commerce as well as delivery of essentials and groceries had also been exported to other countries.

Mr Chang concurred with Mr Ma’s viewpoints and elaborated further on the e-commerce landscape in Southeast Asia. E-commerce is still rapidly developing in the region whereby consumers’ focus had transited from the trust and safety of the products in early stages to prices of products on e-commerce platforms. The next differentiator for Southeast Asia’s e-commerce industry will be on the services provided by e-commerce platforms. For instance, RedMart offers sunrise delivery services which leverage on consumers’ desire for faster delivery and less interaction during the pandemic period. He believed that the growth of e-commerce will still continue and will in fact be accelerated in the future.

Mr Tan concluded the discussion by asking the panelists to give their views on the future of consumerism. Despite the challenges ahead, most of the panelists expressed optimism on the outlook of the regions but also stressed the importance for businesses to adapt, adjust and restructure to be competitive in the market.  

The webinar session was well received with an attendance of around 345 participants, who also raised many questions during the Q&A segment, with topics ranging from the e-commerce support for companies, what Singapore can do to become a regional e-commerce hub, how non-economic trends such as sustainability and AI are affecting consumers’ behaviour, whether companies should focus on particular markets in ASEAN or develop a coherent retail strategy for the region as well as Singapore’s digitalisation of healthcare and active healthcare consumerism plans.

The next session of the FC Global Business Series will be on “Accelerate China-ASEAN Venture Capital investment and Start-up Innovation beyond COVID-19” on 25 August where Managing Director of the Singapore Economic Development Board Mr Chng Kai Fong will be one of the panelists.