This year’s Lunar New Year, which officially begins on February 10, comes amid a backdrop of economic uncertainty. Recent downbeat comments from industry giants, such as Starbucks, Pandora, and Carlsberg, underscore a growing sense of pessimism regarding Chinese consumer demand, casting shadows over the world’s second-largest economy. The country is facing a host of problems, ranging from customers tightening their belts amid uncertain employment prospects for younger people,
eople, to a plunging stock market and declining property values. In a prelude to the Lunar New Year holidays, China’s stock market has hit a five-year low as the economy continues to struggle and a lack of stimulus measures from the government has also sapped confidence. Alibaba’s weaker-than-expected quarterly revenue is just the latest sign of this. Interestingly, some market observers, such as Stephen Lee, a portfolio manager at Logan Capital, have detected an emerging preference among Chinese consumers for domestic brands over global brands, a trend that the Chinese government welcomes. Against this backdrop, an analyst from leading trend forecasting agency WGSN recently shared insights into the overarching themes shaping Lunar New Year celebrations in 2024 and the implications for businesses seeking to weather the storm in China and the broader Apac region. Localisation strategies According to Alison Ho, a strategist at WGSN Insight, interest in local heritage, regional entertainment and pop culture will grow to new highs in 2024. “Already we’re seeing the rise of Thai-pop, or T-pop, alongside K-pop, as well as a boom in demand for homegrown and regional brands and designers,” she told Inside Retail. Ho said that as regional exposure grows, Apac shoppers are becoming cultural gatekeepers, bringing expectations around the level of engagement and creativity for hyperlocal activations to new highs. “To resonate with diverse cultures and preferences, brands must meet the Apac consumers with tasteful and authentic stories that stay respectful to local heritage by adopting the traditional values behind cultural traditions, not just the aesthetics,” she added. In addition, Ho believes that cultural transformation will also emerge as the new baseline for culture-led retail, as consumers grow tired of straightforward hyperlocal collaborations. She said this year, activations and campaigns will need to engage with contemporary local culture uniquely or meaningfully to resonate with consumers. “For instance, Spanish luxury house Loewe is doing this by deep-diving into Chinese jade culture for its Lunar New Year 2024 campaign. Departing from the norm of red-heavy collections, the brand worked with Chinese master jade carvers Xiaojin Yin, Lei Cheng, and Qijing to spotlight the traditional values behind heritage jade pieces and colours,” she noted. Leveraging emerging technologies With technological advancements playing a crucial role in the retail sector, Ho also outlined how retailers can leverage emerging technologies to enhance the customer experience during the Lunar New Year festive period. “Omnichannel is transitioning into multi-channel, as shoppers jump between various online and offline channels. This ability to shop everywhere and anywhere is already overwhelming and decision paralysis is setting in for shoppers, which is made worse by the fact the pre- Lunar New Year preparation period is often chaotic and hectic as well,” she said. She said that retailers can stand out during the festive season, and beyond, by investing in emerging unified commerce solutions to supercharge convenience. Ho also pointed out that unified commerce is set to be a US$1 trillion opportunity for retailers in Apac. “It is also important for retailers to enhance customer experience through consolidated backend systems including payments, customer data and inventory across all channels and in real-time, regardless of whether purchases were made in-app, in-store or online into a centralised platform,” she opined. For the consumer, this will translate to a continuous experience as they browse, purchase and engage in post-sale services. Cutting through the clutter Ho believes that if retailers can reduce the mental load for shoppers, this could be a key facet for them to cut through the clutter, as consumers are being inundated with a never-ending series of promotional messages during the festive sales period. “Retailers will need to provide greater personalisation and more intuitive customer service that gives shoppers what they want on-demand, and as easily as possible. This year, it will be about utilising zero-party data and predictive analytics to anticipate customer needs and wants even before they realise it themselves,” she pointed out. Ho also said that hyper-personalisation, or individualisation, will extend across the entire customer journey to encompass smart search suggestions and unique cross selling or upselling at checkout. “For example, Taobao’s large language model (LLM)-powered search solution, Taobao Wenwen, is able to engage in multi-round conversations to help shoppers streamline their search and identify the best discounts for them as unique individuals,” she added. Cybersecurity is a must Ho also reiterated that cybersecurity investments will also need to grow alongside the use of first- and zero-party data to help retailers maximise their digital presence. Driving home the urgency of cybersecurity in the retail sector, last November, Group-IB’s Threat Intelligence unit detected a massive malicious campaign targeting employment agencies and retail companies in the Apac region, to steal and sell sensitive user data. The gang, dubbed ResumeLooters, has been active since early 2023 and was primarily focused on India, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, and sells its stolen data in Telegram channels. Group-IB also identified compromised companies in Brazil, the US, Turkey, Russia, Mexico, Italy, and some other non-Apac countries. According to Nikita Rostovcev, senior threat analyst at the advanced persistent threat research team at Group IB, ResumeLooters is yet another example of how much damage can be done with just a handful of publicly available tools. He said these attacks were fueled by poor security as well as inadequate database and website management practices. He went on to say that their attacks were easily avoidable. This newly discovered malicious campaign serves as a reminder of the need for organisations to prioritise cybersecurity and stay vigilant against evolving threats.