Why Singapore is deemed as the “failure” market for Decathlon

French sporting house Decathlon is a relatively young player in the local retail scene, opening up its store earlier this year. The brand entered the retail scene at a point many established players were pulling out.

The launch came after it had already established an e-commerce practice for nearly two and a half years to “painstakingly” understand and collect consumer data from the market. It is safe to say when Decathlon started up in Southeast Asia, the public did not really know it was a sports retailer.

This, admits Clarence Chew (pictured) , head of marketing and communications at Decathlon, was one of the biggest problems.

“E-commerce is not easy and was a struggle when you are selling products that people don’t actually need. People didn’t care about us. If they saw online that the product was too cheap, they would think it isn’t of quality; too expensive, and they wouldn’t want to spend. So our problem was how do we tell customers we are here?” he said, at a recent event hosted by OgilvyOne called “Delivering consumer value in an era of Disruption”.

The brand decided to be part of the discovery process using a multi-channel approach. It was wherever consumers were looking and ensured it was part of the consumer journey.

What also helped Chew in this process was the senior management was able to see e-commerce as part of the customer journey and not as a separate entity from the retail function. As such the goal was more synergistic.

He added, "It wasn’t a push but rather a pull factor for us that drew customers."

Another big sigh of relief for Chew was when he was able to successfully convince the senior management to make Singapore a "failure market" for the brand and  use it as a test bed for all things new and shiny in the digital landscape. After all, failure is vital to any great discovery and innovation. He said:

In Singapore, I can do whatever I want with any budget I want. And I will not be blamed if it fails.

Chew explained the country was chosen for its dense and diverse population. The city-state structure worked to the brands' benefit and there was a healthy mix of old and young and locals and expatriates. This helped the brand see the contrast between old school marketing tactics and new shiny toys and figure out what really works.

“Singapore  is a nice drawing board. Chances are if it works here, all the other countries like Malaysia and Indonesia will all eventually embrace it,” he added. But for every other country, clarified Chew, he would still need to meet the regular KPIs and carry out customised marketing.

Bringing change internally

Another challenge Chew faces, is getting people on board to try new ideas. He said:

“Even if you have a CEO willing to adopt stuff, you have many other people in the organisation who don’t know and don’t care or won’t agree.”

Agreeing with him was panelist Tony Menezes, VP of Cognitive Solutions at IBM, who also added that the country’s safe nature helped companies come up with creative solutions and ideas without as high a fear of intellectual theft. Ultimately even if technology is available, companies need to be willing to embrace it.

“Companies need to recognise the disruptive idea will come from day to day interaction with customers and employees. Figure out how to tap into that source,” Menez said.

For IBM, even today, the company is holding a new contest cognitive bill where employees came up with ideas to make the company a cognitive company across industries. IBM has 50 ideas from it which will come down to 10 to potentially explore.

Ultimately if the culture of innovation has to be embraced across all levels from top to front-line in a company. When asked by the audience if building relationship is tough in a disruptive world, he said:

“Brands that have an affiliation with consumers and communicate clearly how they plan to protect personal data, will earn the trust of consumers.”

He explained that the commonalities amongst the many brand hacks and online breaches in recent years show that leading companies address the problems head on and share a direct strategy  with consumers rather than sit idle.

“If consumers know that when they opt in they will get something in return from the brand and the brand is clear about it, they will get more trust.”

And sometimes the best way to do this is to ask. As Todd Kurie, VP of marketing at RedMart, who was also on the panel said:

Even relatively old-school tactics like surveys can go a long way to show you are listening

He added the brand is a huge believer in simply asking consumers what they want.

More from the event below: