Meet the centennials

All eyes are on Southeast Asia as the world’s next consumer powerhouse, with its young population and increasing purchasing power. Almost 280 million centennials – those born since 1995, also known as Generation Z, currently call this region home.

While the size of this new generation alone makes them attractive prospects for retailers, their distinct behaviours set them apart as the ones to watch to crack Asia’s hyper-competitive retail landscape during the next few decades.

Born into the digital age and mobile natives, centennials will soon be one of the world’s most demanding consumer groups with high standards and expectations of the online-shopping experience.

Here’s what we know about the centennials….

Webrooming vs showrooming

Almost all centennials in Southeast Asia use the internet as part of their buying journeys, but their route is much more converged than other generations. Latest research commissioned by Dentsu Aegis Network, Here Comes the Centennial reveals that centennials like to use both online and offline channels – 97 per cent browse for products online before purchasing online (‘webrooming’) and 90 per cent look for products in store before buying online (‘showrooming’). Detailed research is a key part of their buying decisions – whether online or offline – to ensure they get the best price, as well as the best quality by going into stores to experience the product. Some 70 per cent browse online to find the best price, while 67 per cent use the internet for checking out product details and specifications and 65 per cent are checking out reviews.

Smartphones have also created an environment where centennials can browse products wherever they are, whatever they are doing – multi-tasking to the extreme. For example, 52 per cent look at products online while eating, watching TV or hanging out with friends or family, while 38 per cent do so while commuting, and 34 per cent browse products while at school or college.

Centennials use social-media platforms differently to previous generations, as an important and intimate touchpoint in their purchase and decision-making journey.  Social media applications (47 per cent) such as Facebook and Instagram are the second most popular place for them to shop in, while 49 per cent turn to such platforms for research on their future purchases, rather than asking friends (45 per cent) or family (27 per cent). Even a good reputation with friends and family does not feature highly as a motivator to purchase – just 15 per cent choose this as an option.

Digital natives

As digital natives, centennials expect technology to be an integral part of the experience, and are highly optimistic about the use of technology.

Eighty-two per cent of centennials are excited about futuristic shopping technology such as virtual reality. They demand fast-and-easy experiences that allow them to research and buy products with minimal frustration.

To this audience, commerce has moved beyond “buying something on a website” to a series of interactions, from enticing them to view a product to providing a personalised purchase experience, to where and when the product should be delivered. In this context, online retailers need to focus on understanding the centennial customer journey, specific to the category being sold. This can be done by incorporating relevant technologies which seamlessly enhance engagement along the path to purchase. For example, the research showed that “Good customer service/reliability” ranks third among qualities of an online store with this audience, with delivering a superior and excellent customer service option using chatbots rather than call centres a more significant differentiator than low prices and free/fast delivery that every other marketplace claims to offer.

Portrait Of Beautiful Young Asian Girl Texting On Cell Phone Outdoor Over Blurred Night Street Backg

Brand irrelevance

Brand name and image are no longer a priority of centennials. Only 11 per cent of centennials cite having a prestigious or famous brand as one of their top three attributes when choosing where to shop online. Instead, personalisation and convenience are key, as 76 per cent of respondents are happy to share data with websites, if it makes more relevant recommendations.

E-commerce payments provide a unique example of this; despite being digital natives, the concept of a cashless society has yet to fully take off for centennials in the six countries surveyed, with 56 per cent of respondents still preferring to pay cash on delivery for their purchases. Whilst preferring digital shopping experiences, the next generation of online shoppers enjoy having a variety of payment methods to choose from, and 43 per cent of centennials will readily abandon their purchases because their preferred payment option is not available.

This is also accompanied by a shift towards values-based purchasing, with 82 per cent agreeing that they “prefer to buy products from ethical or sustainable brands,” while 70 per cent express a preference for local brands.

With centennials less responsive to traditional campaign and brand-based purchasing, and increasingly influenced by disparate sources of dynamic information and opinions, retailers can no longer just rely on well-designed stores or brand campaigns to drive sales. Instead, driving a unified brand experience across multiple touchpoints will be key to unlocking the centennial consumer opportunity.

This year

So what does this all mean for retail this year and beyond?

Southeast Asia’s internet economy is expected to exceed US$240 billion by 2025, according to research from Google and Temasek. One in two of centennials surveyed are already spending more than $30 per month online. Nine per cent indicated that they spend more than $100 a month – and as the centennial generation comes of age and joins the workforce, their disposable incomes will increase further.

This combination of large populations, high connectivity and smartphone penetration rates, and increasing online spending power means the centennial opportunity in Asia is large and growing. We will increasingly see e-commerce technology accelerating this year to help create innovative and memorable brand experiences of the consumer.

Centennials represent tomorrow’s consumer. They are looking for integrated solutions and a seamless experience that will allow them to purchase anywhere, anytime, and on their own terms. As this new group of consumers become increasingly elusive and multi-channel savvy, retailers need to harness creativity and technology in new ways. Combining new media and technology to deliver innovative and memorable brand experiences is the key to success – and brands are learning quickly in order to tap the huge centennial opportunity here in Asia.

For example, in Thailand, Cotton USA worked with Vizeum and Isobar to launch the Cotton USA online store through an experiential shopping campaign “Shop the Runway”, partnering e-commerce marketplace 11Street.

Targeted at the Centennial audience, Shop the Runway was the first real-time online shopping fashion show in Thailand which streamed the live programme on 11Street, while clothes from the catwalk were displayed in real time – within the same page – so viewers could purchase their favourite looks direct from the runway.

At the heart of the campaign was a unique offline-to-online (O2O) feature within the 11Street mobile application which allowed fashion-show attendees to simultaneously view and shop the runway outfits.

Arvind Sethumadhavan is chief strategy & innovation officer at Dentsu Aegis Network.

Arvind Sethumadhavan is chief strategy & innovation officer at Dentsu Aegis Network.

Shopping coupons were also given to all customers who downloaded and registered their details on the app to further encourage conversions. The campaign drew close to 500,000 campaign visitors, a 13 per cent increase in 11Street app downloads following the campaign, and ultimately boosted Cotton USA sales and brand awareness amongst the target centennial audience.

Shop the Runway is one example demonstrating how brands can leverage technology and O2O features in innovative ways to reach consumers in today’s competitive e-commerce environment. Combined with a seamless shopping experience, and varied account and purchase options to suit different consumers, moments like these will attract tomorrow’s consumers on their terms, arrest their attention in a hyper-competitive commerce landscape, and allow brands to win in Asia’s digital-led retail landscape.

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