Day one at NRF Asia: the way Asian consumers are buying food is changing

Food, convenience and technology were recurring themes on day one of the inaugural Asian edition of the NRF’s Retail’s Big Show which kicked off in Singapore on Tuesday. 

The three-day event has attracted more than 7000 delegates from around the world and a who’s who of retail technology brands demonstrating their latest tools to improve retailers’ efficiencies and elevate customer experiences. 

Technology – especially artificial intelligence (AI) – has been a recurring theme, especially in the interpretation of customer data and improving the accuracy of forecasting product demand, with a resulting decline in wasted product. 

Takahiro Tambara, Global CIO at Fast Retailing, shared how the company is using AI to help its team understand some 30 million pieces of feedback the company receives each from customers at its 3600 physical stores worldwide and its own-brand websites. Such feedback has led to modifications of the Oxford shirt he was wearing on stage, for example. 

“As you can see, it has a very classy and simple design, so many people will assume the design doesn’t ever change. But by using the customer insights, we are always trying to improve this product and make that simplicity perfect. Recently, we improved this shirt by changing the fabric to make it more durable and changed the length and the width.”

But equally importantly, AI is being used at the Uniqlo’s supplier factories to improve demand forecasting which minimises waste and optimises inventory at warehouse and store level. 

Consumer food trends

Danni Peirce, CEO at DF Retail Group’s 7-Eleven business, which includes store networks in Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and parts of southern China, shared how the food buying habits of consumers has driven the convenience store retailer to expand its range of ready-to-eat meals. 

“We’re going through a big journey at 7-Eleven,” she explained, which has seen it evolve from a traditional convenience store model selling everyday needs. “Now we are now very much pivoting into food on the go – in the smallest possible space to offer maximum convenience for customers.”

Countering that approach is Singapore supermarket chain FairPrice which has been developing an upmarket version of its grocery store model called FairPrice Finest. At Clarke Quay, customers can chill at a bar, order fresh oysters, or select a piece of meat and have staff cook it while they enjoy a wine, relaxing at a counter as if in a bar or a restaurant. 

“This is really the evolution of what we think the future of retail is going to be,” explained FairPrice Group CEO Vipul Chawla, who joined the event on a live feed from Chicago.  

“A customer can walk in, do their shopping, sit down, have a drink, we will serve some food for you, or you can try some styles of wines. You can spend a good amount of time there and feel refreshed.” 

As Pierce noted: “the way that customers are consuming is different and I think that unlocks different opportunities for all of us”.  

  • NRF Asia 2024 continues at the Marina Bay Sands until Thursday.

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