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Thailand, Southeast Asia told to focus on their retail and digital strength

Southeast Asia, and Thailand in particular, should focus on retail and digital industries that they excel globally, says a veteran expert with three decades of experience behind him.

Axel Winter, Chief Executive Officer of Xponential Co Ltd, said that Southeast Asia, Thailand included, have made impressive progress in those areas.

“I believe Thai people should understand what they do well. And retail is definitely one of them,” he said in a recent interview with The Story Thailand.

“Digital also, Southeast Asia in general, Thailand included, is doing a lot of consumer apps very well. We tend to have super apps. The West does not have this multi-domain apps that much in America and Europe.”

Winter suggested that Thai and Southeast Asian retailers should “look in ourselves to keep innovating”.

For him, “the mall is like a super app in a sense” – serving as a lifestyle space for people to spend time. “They have massage and then they go for lunch. They go for movies, they buy something,” he said.

“What happens here is very clear. It’s more digitalization, more consumer features, more auto integration and more lifestyle segments in malls.”

‘One of the world’s best’

Winter says he firmly believes that Southeast Asia – and specifically Thailand – is really the best practice of retail. “I don’t think you will find a better experience elsewhere,” he said.

For him, Bangkok’s luxury mall Icon Siam is “probably one of the best in the world”. He pointed to the mall’s “best practice in the industry” and “one of the best experiences” it offers to shoppers.

“I talked to property owners and retailers across Europe, across Asia, even some in the US, and everybody knew Icon Siam,” he said.

One Siam super app

Xponential is a joint venture between Siam Piwat Group – Thailand’s leading real estate and retail developer behind iconic landmarks such as Siam Paragon shopping mall – and the Singapore-based digital tech consulting firm Pivot Digital Pte to develop new industry software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.

This new venture is primed to propel digital innovation beyond conventional limits and enhance the One Siam super app to better serve the needs of Siam Piwat’s customers, business partners, and allies.

Winter, also the CEO of Pivot Digital, explained that Xponential exemplifies Siam Piwat’s commitment to expanding its digital capacities and adapting to an ever-evolving digital world. He said Xponential represents a unique fusion of Siam Piwat’s luxury mall operations and Pivot Digital’s expertise in retail tech and fin tech.

Winter, who calls himself a “tech guy”, is a key figure behind the development of Siam Piwat’s One Siam super app. He is also Chief Digital Officer of Siam Piwat.

Winter previously served as Chief Technology Officer of Central Group, Global Chief Architect and Head of Technology Strategy at Standard Chartered Bank, Chief Technology Officer at Cisco Systems Asia, and Global Chief Architect of GE Money.

Three phases of strategy

Winter described Xponential as a “professional services plus SaaS platform”, with Siam Piwat being a main customer. “We are a tech solution provider,” he said.

Besides Siam Piwat, Xponential will serve other retail and property companies in the future, according to the CEO.

According to Winter, Xponential has three phases of strategy. “In the first phase, we want to bring the One Siam super app to the next S curve. Then we want to co-create solutions with Siam Piwat and its business partners around Thailand and the world. And then we open up to the property and retail industries,” he said.

The super app’s key features include customer loyalty, e-commerce, and fintech-like, according to the CEO. We combine these features into one ecosystem to drive convenience.”

A firm believer in KPI and customer centricity

Winter believes in KPI (short for “key performance indicator”) to decide which project is working well KPI refers to a type of performance measurement that helps you understand how your organization and in this case, digital business is performing.

“I’m a firm believer that all apps should have strong KPI management because otherwise, you don’t know whether what you’re doing is actually good or not,” he said.

“You need to link it back to a strong KPI and measure it [regularly] to make sure this makes sense.”

For him, KPIs are critically important as they can tell whether a project or an app is “just a toy and nobody uses it, although it may look nice in the media for a while”.

For the CEO, good KPIs translate into revenue and profit for the business. In the case of a mobile app, good KPIs are not just soft targets like the number of downloads.

“You can get billion downloads, but no one uses it. And then what’s the point?” he said.

“It’s really about the money. If it makes money, then it’s OK. If it doesn’t, then it has to change or it has to die.”

For Winter, the KPI principle should also be applied to the One Siam super app.

“Overall KPI is important because otherwise we lose sight and focus. We also need to look at what the customers actually do, what they like, what they accept, and what they reject. And do more of what they like, and less of what they reject,” he said.

‘Arguing can be good’

Winter also mentioned a corporate dark side, which he “saw everywhere in the world”. Companies often have a “pet project” of an executive sponsor or board member that might not be working well but nobody is going to openly discuss it, as long as that executive is still in charge.

“It’s just going to slowly losing steam until the executive sponsor leaves or retires, and then successors will make the tough decisions.” he said.

That is a good example of bad KPIs Setting and management.

He reckons that a good business project should come from the exchange of ideas by the people involved on all levels (eg, Product Mangers, Tech leads, data scientists, business users, etc.)

“You don’t want to have this type of top-down decisions that you have one person deciding what customers should like. It should be a process where you argue a little bit. Arguing can be good because you come up with new ideas, with new concepts, and everybody learns in the process,” he said.

“This is about innovation and being customer centric. This is not about following the existing blueprint.”

Customer loyalty is the key

Winter says retail and e-commerce businesses needd a smart customer loyalty strategy to drive values for consumers and KPI.

“I believe in leveraging loyalty programs to foster lasting customer connections. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance. Retail demands a blend of immediate cash discounts at the point of purchase and long-term loyalty incentives. Customers seek affordable prices today, not just after accumulating a substantial number of points. Loyalty programs have the power to bring customers back to apps and malls, enticing them with points that translate into benefits.” he said.

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