At HSMAI’s Curate, the Future of Commerce

When HSMAI’s new Curate event — an exclusive benefit of Organizational Membership — debuts this month, it will offer an executive-level, cross-disciplinary mix of insights into emerging trends and crucial issues facing hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue optimization. The program will be powered by influencers and thought leaders from within the hospitality industry — and stimulated by a keynote presentation from an outside expert on the evolution of consumer experiences. 

Raphael Lanfant, director of strategic partnerships for Alibaba Group, will discuss “The Future of Commerce,” using the Chinese ecommerce giant’s concept of “New Retail” as the jumping-off point for an exploration of how global connectivity is driving consumer behavior. What can industries such as hospitality and travel learn from China’s exploding ecommerce landscape? We asked Lanfant for a preview.

What is the New Retail?

The essence of New Retail for us is a marriage of online and offline retail, and trying to deliver a shopping experience shaped by data and technology. When you think about online and offline, they’re usually used as two different worlds, two different types of experiences. At Alibaba, we are trying to give offline consumers a more seamless shopping experience, whether they are booking on a desktop, on a mobile device, or in a brick-and-mortar store.

So that doesn’t mean online only, or turning its back on offline experiences? 

No. There are many terms for it. It’s called New Retail, it’s called O2O [online to offline], it’s called omnichannel. It’s actually bridging the gap between experiences, and we have made strategic investments into offline retail to develop new technological solutions. So you could, for example, go into Intime [a Chinese department-store and shopping-mall operator that Alibaba acquired last year], and try on lipstick in a beauty store. As an alternative, you could photograph or scan your face, and then virtually play with different lip shades and colors. Once you find the perfect shade, you can directly order that exact lipstick and have it delivered to your home. 

I went to visit another Intime store in China a couple of months ago — a very interesting store for Casio watches. The person at the store told us, “You know, it’s a corner store. We couldn’t showcase the thousands and thousands of watches that Casio can offer.” The store selection is very much fed by data, so it would support what is selling the most in the area. So in a relatively small store, you could have [access to] the entire online store if you wish, with offline sales based on what sells the most in your geographic area.

Is something like that going to be the future of commerce?

I think there are many experimentations done, and that’s one of them. We are continuously working on new initiatives on the conversion around online to offline. With Hema [an Alibaba-owned supermarket chain in China], we developed a New Retail concept that shows what the future of commerce could be. It’s a mix of a supermarket with overseas goods and imported goods. With your phone you can have a very interactive experience in the store, where you can scan barcodes and have tips and a description about the items you’re looking to buy there. Fruits — where they’re coming from, their history, and so on. You can also shop from home using the mobile app, and have your groceries delivered to you within 30 minutes.

It’s based on data. It’s based on bridging the boundaries between online and offline. It means that not only can you have [items] delivered, but you can also decide to shop online and actually pick up your items offline. Or you could choose to have an upgraded and digitized experience in-store. Your options as a consumer are limitless.

Are there things that any industry — including hospitality and travel — can learn from the explosive growth of ecommerce in China?

It’s about making it easy for consumers, so when they navigate between online and offline, they actually have a great experience. When you look at the hospitality industry, the process of checking into a hotel can be both challenging and time-consuming. I was in Vegas recently for a conference, and I checked in very late — around midnight — and still had to wait 30 minutes and there was a queue of 50 people in front of me. And I’m a typical business traveler — I just want to check in and out.

But I could have had an easy way to check in without even putting down a deposit on my [credit] card. You could imagine that the hotel chain that you are staying at accepts you as a reliable traveler. With Ant Financial, which is one of our affiliates, we do have a credit-score system — and that based on your credit score as a reputable consumer, you could actually check in to the hotel just with facial recognition, for example, without talking to anyone. And you could also check out doing the same.

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