How Australian Retailers Can Win in the Asian Marketplace | Our Exclusive Interview with David Thomas

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One of the highlights of February will most definitely be David Thomas’ keynote at  New Retail ’19. As a highly acclaimed China Expert, BRIC Specialist, and President of the Australia China SME Association, his keynotes are becoming famous for their incredible insights. 

We’ve got an exclusive interview with David Thomas, who with over 25 years of experience in this field and books under his belt, gave us a teaser of what’s to come in his keynote. Read on for his top tips on how to make businesses succeed in the fast-moving Asian marketplace.  

RLC: What are your insights regarding the state of Australia-China trade relations at the current retail landscape? 

David: There is no doubt that there is some pressure on the Australia-China relationship. In a recent business survey conducted by Austcham in China, it was disappointing to note that “Tensions in Sino-Australian relations emerged as the largest risk going forward, with 75% believing media reporting had an adverse effect on relations and over 50% indicating their business had been negatively affected”. Having said that, I don’t see any sign of Australian retail products being affected at the moment. China’s 300 million middle class consumers are still interested in buying Australian products, especially those who can articulate their clean, green and healthy credentials. And I don’t see any reason why this will change unless the political situation gets much worse (which I think is unlikely). 

RLC: How can Australian retailers take advantage of Asian marketplace opportunities? 

David: I think the biggest opportunity for Australian retailers is “inbound”. The large numbers of Asian locals, migrants, tourists, investors, students and entrepreneurs who come here every year and like buying Australian (and other) products in our local shopping malls and retail outlets. I covered this extensively in a recent blog post. These numbers are growing rapidly which enables retailers to take advantage of cashed up Asian buyers without leaving home. They just need to do things differently. 

To penetrate the Asian marketplace, Australian retailers need to build a brand which stands for quality, trust and reliability. This all takes time and costs money. The reason Blackmore’s are so successful in Asia (particularly in China) is because they are a well-known, established and trusted brand in Australia, and have been for many years. I wrote a book on this topic “8 Critical Steps“.  

RLC: What usually is your best advice to retailers in making their business global? 

David: I usually focus on three things when talking to retailers about targeting Asian buyers: 

  1. Build relationships not transactions 

  1. Understand and appreciate hierarchy

  1. Put up a Welcome Sign in Chinese

Although not specific to retailers, I made a video for real estate agents on exactly this topic and provided some detailed insights and advice on how they should approach each topic. You can watch it here.  

RLC: How do you see the retail industry moving forward in the next 2 – 5 years? 

David: We’re going to see so much new innovation and technology coming out of China, particularly from the likes of Alibaba and Tencent, that we’ll be quickly be swept away by the changing demands, expectations and aspirations of Chinese buyers when they come to Australia. It will be hard for us to keep up. We’ve only just seen the beginning of this, particularly with smart phones, payments and customer segmentation. Most of the new innovations we’ll be faced within 5 years haven’t even been invented yet!  

RLC: What kind of knowledge and inspiration can attendees at the upcoming New Retail ’19 event expect from you? 

David: I’m going to give everyone some insights on what’s happening in China in retail, what’s likely to come in the future and how the retail sector is being disrupted by innovation, technology and the deep pockets of some of these major players. I’m going to give some basic principles for Australian retailers to think about so they can keep up. I’m also going to talk about culture and cultural differences and why we have to change if we want success in Asia. 

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