Tech and Innovation Initiative

On May 24th, 2019, AmCham China and Technology and Innovation Initiative Digital Circle Partner PwC co-hosted an event discussing new retail and value chain digitization. This event explored China’s market trends in new retail and helped attendees to learn how to apply data in the retail industry. Alan Beebe, President of AmCham China, moderated the panel discussion with experts from PwC, MARS, Walmart, and LaVector Techologies.

Phil Lai, Consulting Director of PwC kicked off the event by delivering a PwC industry report China’s Next Retail Disruption: End-to-end Value Chain Digitization in 2018. The insightful report explains the evolution from digital retail to new retail in mainland China’s market. As retailing is marching into the big data era, many brands and retailers are exploring new retail business models along different parts of the value chain. Lai also mentioned two major challenges that exist in China’s new retail industry: acquiring useful consumers’ data and applying visual technologies into the retail value chain.

Yet, challenges can always be solved. One point of note, according to Jackie Luan, Founder and CEO of tech startup LaVector Technologies, is that much of consumer data is not delivered to the executive level or provided as foundation for better business decision making. Since China’s market is growing at an astonishing rate, many brands and companies have not yet developed the capability to adopt the utilization of such data. Less than 2% of consumer data is ever interpreted. A part of LaVector Technologies’ work is to transform the uninterpreted data into actionable information.

Freya Peng, Head of China Digital Innovation Center at MARS Asia Pacific, mentioned the MARS business model underwent a significant change in the new retail era: from focusing on how to allocate products into different channels, to integrating consumers experience into the business model. Peng also spoke about the importance of working with tech startups to better leverage potential solutions in new retail era. By working with startups, MARS can help startups with their logistics, packaging, products etc. to build a better consumer journey throughout the supply chain, and create an even broader consumer and data foundation for MARS and China’s retail industry.

Though data can help brands adapt their strategy and achieve better performance, privacy issues are an intrinsic side effect of new technologies. Andy Lei, Director of Strategy and Head of Omega 8 at Walmart China, said that Walmart has strict policies regarding both external and internal data sharing. Retailers should be careful in data utilization and consumers’ privacy, in order to build and retain a strong and trustworthy relationship with their consumers. Also, as head of Omega 8, an innovation platform that jointly develops with Chinese startups, Lei also underscored the importance of collaborating with startups and learning new technologies to address the pain points in retail.

Launched in 2018, AmCham China Technology and Innovation Initiative is an insight and collaboration platform designed to help our members and their organizations navigate and take advantage of the impact of disruptive technologies, such as AI, Blockchain, Internet of Things, AR/VR, etc. The Initiative aims to bring together a diverse, cross-sector community of companies applying technologies to innovate in order to share best practices, showcase American technology and innovation at work in China, and deepen relationships between technology providers and adopters. The Digital Circle partners play a leadership role in the AmCham China community to help define activity and policy priorities for the T&I Initiative.