I spent the week in Hong Kong and Macau with a quick stop on the way back in Bangkok.
Hong Kong is my favorite place in the world so anything I say about it - including its retail - will be hopelessly biased and most likely not worth reading. While HK fuses East with West seamlessly, Macau also has a formidable knack for connecting things that you might think are unconnectable, like freewheeling Las Vegan glitz and Marxist-Leninist service culture. The mainland Chinese high-rollers have an insatiable appetite for luxury brands and only in the old city of Macau do the stores become more accessible (see slideshow below).
If you are going to be in Bangkok, I strongly recommend you see the following two centers:
Platinum Fashion Mall, which is similar in concept but superior in execution to Kenanga Wholesale City in Kuala Lumpur. This is a huge building with seven floors carved up into hundreds of tiny boutiques about 15 sq.m each, selling to both retailers and end-consumers. (See the slideshow.) I picked up about two dozen items for roughly 50% of the price you pay for similar merchandise in Forever 21, H&M or one of the other disposable fashion stores.
The brand new Central Embassy luxury project, which is open but still not finished on the inside. Central Embassy now just needs a few people to shop there because all of the rich tourists have been scared off by the coup. The external shop facades are great (see the slideshow). There were few soldiers around that I could see but every tourism-dependent business in Bangkok is suffering because the planes are coming in empty.
Trawling Asia's trophy malls underscored for me again how much technology will improve the shopping experience going forward and reverse or stabilise the shift to online shopping.
A case in point: I was shopping for trousers in one of Asia's best malls, which has an H&M, Pull & Bear, Zara, Mango H.E, Uniqlo and Marks & Spencer all clustered in the now familiar manner at multiple levels around a centre court. I went from one store to another and in every case experienced problems finding my size, which is a rather Asian 79-centimetre waist. With a shopping bag in one hand and a small backpack on my back I found myself repeatedly bent over stacks of jeans, rifling through them with my free hand and making a mess everywhere while also trying to keep my sunglasses from falling off my face.
This is where the 'Hointer' model just totally makes sense. You should all be aware by now of Hointer, a US-based chain that only displays a single pair of trousers in each style. Instead of having to destroy a pile of jeans in search of the size you want, you download an app onto your smartphone, enter your size and any other pertinent details and when you scan the QR code on the pants you want, robots set to work in the backroom picking them out in your size and preferred colour. By the time you reach the dressing room your jeans are already there to be tried on and have been added to a virtual shopping cart on your phone. Don't want a pair of pants after trying them on? No problem, toss them down a chute in the change-room and they will automatically come out of your shopping cart.
Brilliant fusion of real-world shopping and futuristic technology.
Of course, we've tried hard in the shopping centre business to use low-tech to improve the shopping experience. One way of doing this is through creative signage but it can be embarrassing if you screw it up, as in the slideshow photo snapped in a big Asian mall - check out the sign right above the woman in the striped shirt.
Have a great week!