Intime uses digital technology to recover from Covid-19

  • May 26, 2020
  • imc

Chinese department-store chain Intime has used its digital infrastructure and omnichannel capabilities to recover swiftly from Covid-19 disruptions. Through live streaming, online shopping, punchy campaigns and sales initiatives, it has been able to resume operations and fight back losses.

Like many other retailers across the world, Intime was adversely impacted by the coronavirus. The chain operates 65 locations in China. At the height of the outbreak, it had to suspend operations at brick-and-mortar stores in many hard-hit cities.

The chain was acquired by Alibaba Group in 2017 as part of the ecommerce company’s New Retail push and has since been increasingly fuelled by innovations that bring together the worlds of online and offline shopping.

The investment has paid off during hard times. Through live streaming, online shopping and a series of punchy campaigns and sales initiatives, Intime has been able to not only resume operations but also fight back its losses.

When traffic to physical stores dropped off during peak months of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Intime responded quickly by ramping up its efforts on Taobao Live, Alibaba’s live-streaming platform. While the store had always made use of the online video tool, since the pandemic, it has increased its number of live-streaming sessions to an average of 200 a day, rolling nonstop from morning to midnight.

Meanwhile, more than 5000 sales associates from Intime’s physical stores have registered as live-streaming hosts, while floor managers have been tasked with scheduling duties.

“The backend of each live-stream session on Taobao is linked to Intime’s online store, making it easy for users to place direct orders,” said Eric Cao, associate store manager for Intime West Lake. “When viewers see products they like during a stream, they can simply tap on its link to purchase. If the item is eligible for discounts or coupons, these will be automatically applied at checkout.”

According to Intime, live streaming has become the single most effective way to reach new consumers during the coronavirus. Over 90% of orders placed through live streaming come from new users, said the retailer.

“When I live stream, my viewers are very different from those we receive at the store, who are often tourists visiting West Lake,” said 26-year-old Chenjie Shao, Lancôme’s sales associate at Intime.

Shao started live streaming only three months ago and said that her online followers are younger and often look for high levels of engagement.

“They tend to type a lot faster and leave loads of comments,” she said.

Sales associates such as Shao make particularly effective live-stream hosts since they boast a keen expertise about their brands and products and are able to offer deals through online discounts and coupons and even freebies that align with Intime’s own campaigns.

On International Women’s Day on March 8, for example, Shao and Intime CEO Xiaodong Chen hosted a live-streaming session that was watched by more than 220,000 viewers.

“More and more consumers are shopping as they watch live streaming,” said Shao. “It’s the same experience as buying offline. I now refer my regular customers to our live-stream sessions because that’s where they can get the best deals and each order counts towards our monthly sales target just the same.”

During coronavirus-related lockdowns across the country, Intime made sure to change its strategy to cater for consumers who increasingly relied on online shopping and home-delivery services for daily essential and other purchases. As the stay-at-home economy soared, so did traffic to Intime’s offline-to-online shopping app, Miaojie, which lists more than 90% of Intime’s stores across the country.

While Intime’s physical stores operate between 10am and 10pm, with Miaojie, the retailer is able to take orders 24 hours a day. To encourage shopping online, it also rolled out free countrywide shipping for all in-app purchases and partnered with Cainiao, Alibaba’s logistics network, to help cover deliveries within a 10km radius of any store location.

As a result, Intime saw a surge in online orders even as early as February. This helped offset losses caused by drops in traffic to its physical stores, and in-store staff who were not busy live streaming were able to help process online orders and preparing them for delivery.

While Intime’s online activities have grown during the pandemic, it’s also seen a steady recovery in its offline businesses as China emerges from weeks of lockdowns.

To boost local consumption and consumer confidence, Intime has distributed RMB1bn in vouchers and discounts since April and ramped up sales efforts for the extended Labour Day holiday. At the same time, it installed eye-catching pop-up displays of indoor cherry blossoms at its stores so shoppers could snap and post photos on their social media accounts.

This combination of online marketing and offline attractions boosted Intime’s in-store visits, said Cao. From May 1 to 3, its average foot traffic grew by 50% compared with the same time in April.

“We are seeing month-over-month growth since reopening,” said Cao. “Sales here have been growing from Women’s Day to Tomb Sweeping Day and now the May holiday. These are important signs of recovery and boosts of confidence for retailers like us in China.”