Keeping the (masked) ball rolling in Hong Kong

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

The Moodie Davitt Interim Tung Chung Bureau in Hong Kong is in full operational mode and, encouragingly, is starting to pump out a lot more positive stories about our industry’s attempts to trade through this devastatingly tough period.

Courtesy of John Woodhouse, Managing Partner at Schäfer Airport Retail in Germany, I’m now able to listen to all my Zoom interviews, YouTube choices, Spotify and even Classic FM radio from the UK through my snazzy new Moodie Davitt-branded JBL speaker.

To replace dear ‘Wilson’ back in London, I’m now accompanied each day at my keyboard by Orry the Oryx, part of Qatar Duty Free’s excellent destination range at Hamad International Airport.

With Wilson back in Boris-land, Orry is my new companion

Many of my English friends, worried about the latest COVID-19 spike here, warned me to be careful when travelling to Hong Kong a month or so ago. In fact, the place feels a whole lot safer than London. As I’ve noted in earlier Blogs, not wearing a mask is simply not an option here. Everyone does as a matter of course not as a matter of edict (though in confined spaces such as shops it’s compulsory).

I took a stroll through T Galleria by DFS, Tsimshatsui East on Saturday and was glad to see a decent amount of business being done, at least in the beauty hall. Of course it’s nothing like 2019 levels but I get the irresistible feeling that much better times are coming to parts of Asia and I am not just talking about the hotspot of Hainan.

Any business that hopes to survive let alone flourish amid a crisis of this duration and ferocity must be able to adapt fast and innovate constantly. That’s precisely what we’re seeing from the likes of DFS, which successfully launched its inaugural livestreaming programme this month with spectacular success.

The event, held on 18 August, was conducted as an hour-long Flash Sale streamed over WeChat and featured some of the most sought-after beauty and cosmetics products.

Hosted in T Galleria by DFS, Tsimshatsui East, it generated more than 50,000 views, over 30,000 likes, nearly 6,000 comments, 12,000 product click-throughs and 2,500 shares. In just one hour, the livestream smashed the beauty category’s previous one-day (usually 12 hours of trading) sales high in any of the retailer’s Hong Kong stores.

It’s not a question of ‘Who needs travellers?’ but it goes to show what can be done without them in situ. The ‘pivot’ (one of the buzzwords of 2020) towards ecommerce and digital marketing is proving a critical weapon in the armoury of some of the travel retailers to have shone amid the darkness of this crisis, including China Duty Free Group and KrisShop.

Changi Airport yesterday launched a major online shopping promotion, featuring an array of weekly discounts and promotions across multiple categories including consumer technology, beauty products, wines and spirits.

Notably, the iShopChangi campaign also involves livestream sessions featuring local social media stars and celebrities.

It’s not just the way travel retail sells and promotes products that is changing but the products it offers. Predictably enough, of course, all kinds of PPE items have been rolled out by many retailers and it’s going to be interesting to see how that proposition evolves.

No exceptions, even Oryxes have to wear masks

UK media title The Guardian last week reported that Burberry has become the first major luxury house to launch a high-end mask collection. Until now, noted reporter, Hannah Marriott, fashion houses were wary of launching for-profit masks due to any perception of profiting from crisis. Given how long this pandemic has run and will run, however, and the likely need for masks long into the future, it’s likely that the utilitarian and largely homogenised nature of masks will give way to greater customisation, personalisation and general fashionability. Move over face masks, welcome facewear (rather a nice word I think).

We shouldn’t be surprised if they evolve fast in the COVID-19 era. After all, as I learned from a website called History of Masks today, masks have been around since approximately 7000 BC, used variously for protection, disguise, entertainment or ritual practices ever since.

The Burberry face mask costs £90 (US$120), is produced using excess fabric, and is enhanced with an antimicrobial technology. It is available in the brand’s signature beige check, and in pale blue. Importantly, The Guardian noted, the masks are sustainably produced, with 20% of retail revenues going to the Burberry Foundation Covid-19 Community Fund.

It won’t just be about luxury, of course. Fashion-orientated face masks are the lead item on US-based global ecommerce site (pictured below) which dedicates an extraordinary 250 pages of product listings to the fledgling category.

Already, high-end facewear is finding its way into travel retail. At T Galleria by DFS, Tsimshatsui East in Hong Kong, the retailer is selling several skus of Freka facewear, ranging in price from HK$560 (US$72) to over HK$1,000 (US$130). A set of four filters costs an additional HK$260 (US$34).

Will we see Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Gucci and Chanel masks entering mainstream production, constantly bolstered by seasonal collections (spring and summer lighter in material and colour, autumn and winter sturdier, bolder?). Who will be the first travel retailer to launch an own label? Qatar Duty Free perhaps? Dubai Duty Free through its in-house Akaru label? How about destination-specific masks, surely a winner in the travel sector?

I just might beat them all to it. I have my Moodie Davitt Interim Lockdown Bureau cap from my ‘shielding’ days in London; my Moodie Davitt sound system courtesy of John Woodhouse and JBL; and while I don’t (quite) date back to 700 BC, the Moodie Davitt mask will complete my 2020 Interim Bureau experience and look perfectly.

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