“Disrupting the Last Mile of the Shopping Journey” with April Koh | Episode 12

Updated: Mar 9

April Koh, Director of TPM Outdoor and Managing Director of The Perfect Media Group, joins Jun and Imran on this episode of The Future of Retail Asia. She brings a different perspective to the retail industry, as a vendor outside the immediate physical marketplace. She shares how retailers and mall management teams can intercept the customers at the final stages, or last mile of the shopping journey, and brings about the opportunity that everybody in the mall, both the merchants and the mall management, can find a way to retain the customers in the mall, although they have a specific purpose in mind going there. She also touches on viral campaigns surrounding malls and what sort of data would help marketers in the retail industry better target their audiences.


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“Disrupting the Last Mile of the Shopping Journey” with April Koh


-- Start Transcript --


IMRAN: Welcome back to the Future of Retail Asia, one of FeedSpot’s top 50 best retail podcasts. My name is Imran.


JUN: And I’m Jun. Joining us today is April Koh. Welcome to the show April


APRIL: Thank you Jun!


IMRAN: So April is the managing director of The Perfect Media Group. They are a creative digital advertising group that helps to elevate brand awareness through Out of Home Marketing and Outdoor Advertising. April leads the company and has served many different clients across multiple industries all over South East Asia. This includes prime advertising locations such as shopping malls and retail districts. And I think today, we have the benefit of her today, with a very interesting point of view into the retail industry. Welcome again, April!


APRIL: Thank you!


JUN: Very interesting to hear from you. We want to start off with a question that you have done with a shopping mall, or around the shopping mall. I remember last year I saw some of the digital billboards in South Korea, they played the 3D videos. When someone stands in front of the billboard, some of the video will come out at you. Do you have any experience or did you see anything in South East Asia or in Singapore (like this)?


APRIL: That is a very popular trend that has caught on. In the beginning of this year, it’s the charging year of the Ox. In the Malaysia Pavillion, they did something familiar, where they had a bull crashing out of their iconic L shaped screen. That was a very interesting execution. Even in Jakarta, there is also a 3D screen, Thailand as well as Vietnam. In Singapore, I think there is somebody working on it or something equally creative. That was just something people liked to talk about, and that is the trend in outdoor advertising. If you are going to spend money on creating beautiful billboards, you might as well make something people will go viral about. That is how you got to know about the Seoul one.


JUN: Yes, yes.


APRIL: It actually got viral and people started talking about it. Out of home advertising is just a very mass broadcast medium. Everyone has this similar, wow, awe inspiring feeling. Because you saw it off the internet, you didn't even see it in your face, and people are talking about it. Maybe during this Covid period, people are so open to innovation right now. China just launched a flying drone advertising. They can create this public QR code by just snapping into the sky. Even earlier this year, when Disney+ launched in Singapore, they created this whole visual spectrum. There is that extreme part of outdoor advertising, people that do it, do it big. Do that people will remember, with that bandwidth space, where even people talk about it a few countries over.


IMRAN: Having that spatial, latitude, and longitude ability, makes it very different and unique. It allows the retailers, the brands, the malls to be very creative with their ads, not with what they are trying to do, but to elevate the customer experience. How do you think shopping malls or retailers today should be looking at OOH advertising, outdoor advertising to improve the shopping experience?


APRIL: Definitely when people go to retail, it is also for entertainment. People can buy anywhere, when we are talking about going outdoors, especially now with this Covid mentality. When we go outdoors, we want to be very selective. Are we going to a certain mall just to eat only? To shop? To have that enjoyment and that entire entertainment. It is a very holistic experience, and people also say, is it safe? People also talk about, is it too busy? We want to avoid the peak periods, and things like that. The mall experience, and how outdoor advertising can play, is quite integrated. There is also a lot of talk about the customer journey. When they go to the mall, where did they come from? Are they coming from a workplace? Are they coming from their homes? Or how often do they come back, they journey time, they dwell time. All these things are a little bit of data that people keep talking about. In terms of actually what they do inside the mall. Do they go to every floor of the mall? Or do they just only focus on where the food court levels are, at B1 or Level 4? All these kinds of things are how we think about as an advertiser as well. Where to place that particular location.


JUN: Interesting point. Just now when we mentioned about the digital, dynamic, or fixed billboards. Now that there might be a new concept. Previously when some brands have the billboard, it’s just a fixed billboard. Maybe they can use the traffic to count, or the potential to view the billboard. But now people can think of creating a 3D billboard that might go viral online. I don’t need people to travel across that route to see that advertising. They can see the advertising online. That might be very interesting.


IMRAN: Once you mix that together with something like a QR code, it becomes engagement already. And if that goes viral, I don’t need to be there to be a customer that engages with it. I could be scanning the QR code at home. This is a very interesting thing that can be unlocked in terms of digital.


JUN: Just curious and some thoughts, within the malls or surrounding the mall. Do you have any experience that you can share with us about dynamic OOH Advertising? Just now Imran mentioned about the QR code, did someone do this or what is the result if they really roll this out, what would be the gap for them to execute this?


APRIL: I just want to share a very interesting story about one of my remittance clients. It was a bank that offered remittance. And everyone offers remittance service now. The banks are acting like telcos and the telcos are acting like banks. There are also physical remittance services that actually happen in the booths or kiosks in the malls. One of the particular malls that I represent is very famous for remittance. Multiple competitors offering different rates. People just want to go for that 0.0001% kind of differential, and you can see the queues outside for it. Especially during the China studio period. One of my bank clients is really smart about it. Just outside of the mall, they put up the QR code, and literally they represented the QR code on a handphone, telling them you can scan this and get $10 back if you use their service. I think that is a very interesting anecdote about how a bank, without the actual physical outlet there, can shortcut, and get these people entering the mall to try to do remittance at other banks, to try our service. You literally don’t need a salesperson to tell you, you can’t even have that flyer distributor interaction. I don’t even need to help you sell you the service, 1 to 1 kind of selling. I just put the $10 offering there, I don’t even need to use much words, there's a handphone visual, and there is $10 free if you try my service, and why not? It is a really nice way of really intercepting the client that is about to go in to do that particular operation to try out their online service.


IMRAN: And it goes back to that 0.001% difference right? It actually shows a smart understanding of the customer at that stage. Because if I am going there, and I am going there for a 0001 and suddenly I am getting a $10, it is almost a no brainer.


APRIL: Exactly. People really go to some malls for specific interests, specific uses. And what happens after that, is really up to the mall to capture that opportunity. So even now with the Covid situation, when I go down to the mall, I want to be very executional. I need to get something, I want to get something done there, be it food, watching a movie. And what I do else after that, that is where the opportunity comes in for everybody inside that mall. That is really quite fun. For example, one of my friends was recently doing a lot of click and collect.


IMRAN: Especially with Covid.


APRIL: So I thought why not you send the shoes you ordered to your house. Why do you want to go down to the physical location to collect it? I thought you want to avoid the malls, you want to be safe from Covid. But she gave me a very very practical word. She said I want to do the exchange on the spot if it didn’t fit me. She didn’t want to go all the way to that outlet and realise that that is not in stock. So it is really important to reserve the stock there, and she doesn’t want to go through the hassle of arranging for returns. It is also an opportunity for her to buy even more things when she is there. So at least the one she really wants, she wants to make sure it is there. And shoes being shoes, especially for ladies’ shoes, size 38 is quite flexible. I really get where she is coming from. All this kind of intentionality, the buying intention, the last mile journey, is where outdoor advertising is, I am very passionate about. The last mile is where they can make a difference. You can be a fan of a certain brand, you are really into that brand for a certain years, and then someone comes in with an offer, and you are walking out with the competitor’s brand. We always say, that is where the last mile of the black box of marketing happens. It is not like the home click, you click and it delivers. Those are standard items, items that you are very familiar with, or items that you just buy in low risk situations. When it comes to buying ladies shoes, or when it comes to buying a certain high class brand, the experience counts.


IMRAN: What you mentioned is very interesting, it is a lot about having customer insights. So back to your friend’s anecdote around the click and collect. I think what advertisers, retailers, brands need to understand is what the data is saying, in terms of telling the stories of the customer. Therefore, what actions to take. With this whole idea and this discussion so far around whether it is dynamic or not. I think where we intersect is, you are obviously a very passionate marketer, I actually am as well. I think there is a lot of intersection in terms of OOH, marketing, and consulting. And what I have experienced before, and a lot of the intersection, especially with the end brand, or end retailers, is where does it meet with the data and ROI. So what I do want to ask is, what is the ROI or the data that does matter in this case, because I think anecdotally, from my own experience, when I have put money into OOH, I didn’t know where the money goes to. This is just pure anecdote, my personal experience. I know for a fact the biggest brands in the world continue to put money into that. There must be a reason why. I am very curious to understand, from a practitioner POV, what data matters.


APRIL: So I come from the supply side, of providing the advertisements. So when it comes to the actual feedback loop of what really happens, in terms of how much the product is being sold, I don’t have much visibility. I just want to be very upfront and honest with you here. But when it comes to why clients are still choosing our location, or choosing outdoor. It’s all back to, people still need to be reminded of. How often do you buy an aircon? I think 99% of the time it is usually by the developer, or some good brands give you a three year, five year warranty. But when you want to make sure that you are in time to buy an aircon, that is the brand you are going to buy. Not walk into some retailer and be randomly influenced.


IMRAN: Confronted with 10 choices.


APRIL: Yes, yes. So that kind of brand space of reminder is very very important. Why do you walk to the coffee shop and the refrigerators are red, why are they not blue or green? There is a certain brand that is red, that has sponsored all these refrigerators. So even the colours make all these differences. So when I come from my advertiser point of view, for example in Indonesia, the e-commerce platforms are so competitive. We did one campaign for them in the airport, where we were in 30 airport lounges. These are the lounges just before boarding, so the last mile, just before you go up the airplane, no more duty free shopping, you have done your last purchases and everything. And we created for them a resting space, where it’s green. The chairs are green, the cushions are green. And since it’s an ecommerce platform, where we created this advertisement for them, it is not just the digital screens that we put up that puts up all these bags, shoes, cooking pots and so on. Even the furniture we bought, we had to prove to them that it was bought from this platform. So we put the barcode there for them to scan to show where it was gotten from. So this kind of brand investment in terms of ROI, I really cannot answer in detail, it wouldn’t be fair. Because I am a particular person in terms of data, but I can see that by memory really enforces that, even that tiny memory space, in terms of colours. They want to make sure that I stand for green, in terms of this ecommerce space. That kind of investment even into the colours. When I say red in telco, you know which one I am talking about. Blue in telco in Singapore, you also know which one I am talking about. This is all about the memory space, we are all made of memories.


IMRAN: One thing that also sticks out for me in that sharing is the fact that it is also very clear that the large ecommerce and internet giants are also utilising this as a very important channel for growth as well as that brand memorability as they seek to entrench the precedence or the dinosaurs in the space, so to speak. Jun, any question?


JUN: Bringing up a very interesting point, the offline space, when we talk about the billboard and everything. We bring it up to one very interesting point, which is the offline experience. Billboard is just a billboard. Actually like you mentioned, the entire airport, colours and all that things, it is actually about the experience. So when we look at the green, I will relate it to some ecommerce players. So it’s more like the experience. So what kind of data points, just curious, that you think shopping malls or agencies as a marketer can help? Just now you give a very good example, if a mall, or if an advertising company knows that in this mall, a lot of people will come to do the money exchange. So my billboard is, I will find a bank, and I can charge more, because it is very targeted. So what kind of data point do you think is important for advertisers can look at?


APRIL: It really goes back to, let’s say these people are here for remittance, they are usually of a certain profile. Let’s not talk about age, let’s not talk about gender, let's not talk about the job they do. I get a lot of briefs that come like that. Oh I want to target this age group, this gender. To me, it’s so arbitrary. But people who come for remittance services, especially those that do it regularly, do it at certain bonus months, and certain payday months. You know they will like other services as well. Certain telco services that are a good compliment. Certain airline services will be a very good compliment. It is almost very natural to have this kind of targeting for them as well. What else do they do during their spare time? Why do they take their only rest day of the week to come all the way here to do this? So it’s a very nice targeting in that way, to give them the whole suite of services that they were here for as well. The same thing when you go to some more generic malls. There are some neighbourhood malls that I won’t be surprised if they have a higher transactional volume than some of the Orchard malls. So why am I paying more for Orchard mall? It's a perceived value, that Orchard Road may be more expensive, it is more prestigious. But does it matter, when I am interested as an FMCG brand, or if I am interested as an Air Con brand. Would I need to pay for that kind of money or that kind of locations? I have to ask myself that. So this is where I can see some kinds of mass luxury brands, they have also moved to some more, so called, neighbourhood malls, like how Westgate brought in some mass affluence brands when they first set up. So you can see that the buying power is not just in Orchard Road per se. I think this kind of information about what happens inside the mall is very, very interesting. It can create a whole new story just for a certain category, like what we talked about remittance. And what airlines can do to target that, what insurance can do to target that. It is not more granular. For me, it is always much more interesting than age group, what is the gender, or what is the perceived income. How would we know? How would I know what a millionaire dress like? Or where do they hang out? I won’t be surprised.


IMRAN: So April, I think you touched on a lot of very interesting points here right. The question I would like to ask, especially with Aimazing as data practitioners. If you were able to marry the practice of granular transactional data, so real sales data. Where can we move in the advertising space, especially the OOH space too. From your point of view, is there any ideal scenario, ideal world that you would like to move this practice towards, for yourself, or for your business, or for the advertisers.


APRIL: I think it is pretty much like my sharing with Jun just now about the remittance company. It would actually create a lot more complimentary customers or clients that can also target the same audience there. Because your transactional data gives them more perspective, rather than by demographics or rather by income. You can start to think about their habits and what else they would need or they would come here for. For example, we did have a client that marketed budget airlines in the past. The message was, wouldn’t you rather fly home for your home cooked food or for your home style food rather than to eat it at this place. Because the cost of a meal in Singapore is not cheap. So if you want good Sichuan food or Myanmar food, why don't you just fly back home over the weekend to have the real one. That is what they are trying to compare. So it is very on the spot, on that kind of exactly what was happening there. They were there to have that particular meal, and they were saying, why don’t you just fly home for it? I think this kind of conversation can happen, instead of purely from a demographic point of view. You know that the people went there to eat something, why not fly home for one. I think it is a very nice actuality happening on the ground.


IMRAN: I think with that, we have come to the closing segment of the podcast, the easy questions now, which is, what is your advice to first audience, mall managers, second audience, your retail brands? They are all thinking about where are we evolving to, what should I be spending my time, where should I be centering my campaigns on, how do we move forward with reopening, with revival, with uncertainties. These are the realities they are facing today, so those are the questions on their minds. So what would be your advice to each of them?


APRIL: First and foremost, we really have to acknowledge marketers nowadays. Their jobs are really tough. I am not sure even having more data would be helping them. Right now it is not so clear cut anymore, where should they be parking their attention or their money. Or even the so called digital advertising vs actual physical offline advertising. Or just now we had a little talk about the metaverse. Should they be parking their money there now to be the first people there? I really want to give my hats off to all the advertisers out there, who have to make sense of this. For advertisers, go on the ground to understand. Numbers are numbers. They will support you, they will help you. But it doesn’t beat getting out there and really seeing where your audience eats, sleeps and works. For me, even if I go to Thailand, even if I go to Jakarta, or any part of the world where I put a billboard, I always want to spend some time there, and really depend on the gut feel. Is this the audience that I can really get in touch with? From my marketers point of view, I really admire my clients. They really know what they are going for and they really trust their gut feeling. Really try to retain that group of eyeballs and mindspace that they have with their customers. In terms of my landlords, I got all kinds of landlords, including the corporate malls, including private landlords. I want to just have them be more open, about the kind of working arrangements that are possible, or the pricing arrangement. At the end of the day, it’s an ecosystem. Whatever happens, whatever clients that we bring in, it is supposed to help their businesses as well, and also other tenants as well, and vice versa. The key thing is to keep the busyness, I think humans thrive on social busyness. Have more flexibility, be more open and just have fun. Advertising is not serious. It is supposed to be a form of entertainment anyway.


IMRANI think those are very earnest and very particle words.


JUN: And the last question, do you think physical retail will still be the king?


APRIL: Oh yes, oh yes. I think nothing beats that image of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman coming down after the shopping experience with bags and bags of retail experience, where she is treated like a princess or Cinderella. So, I think for this kind of thing, it doesn’t run away from the physical. Retail just comes in as a whole experience, of being in a mall, of being out there. You know we are all hunter gatherers, we want to go back with something for the family or for ourselves.


IMRAN: Very true, very true.


APRIL: It’s fun, it’s fun just to be. Keep innovating on that. Humans just need that kind of interaction.


JUN: Very interesting that I just want to add on. Just last Friday, I was in NEX, the shopping mall. I can’t even get into the shopping mall, because the Black Friday, and it’s the first week the Government opened up to five people dining in on one table. Can’t even get into the shopping mall, you need to queue outside the mall. I think you need to spend about half an hour, one hour to just enter the mall. That is like, people really need.


APRIL: A lot of talks about revenge dining, revenge shopping, getting out there. And people are now more open to getting out to different places. Even just now you talked about the standard retail that you would have to go to a certain mall to do something. A lot of these brands are even moving to like shophouses, or more flexible..


IMRAN: Pop up stores.


APRIL: Pop up stores. Even just next to the mall. There is also that environment outside the mall. Things that you thought were just a park, you also have an experiential shopping, experience. Even the landscape nursery is also becoming a dog place, is also becoming a food place, a shopping place. It is just really open nowadays, where people can go, where people can buy. Things are changing.


IMRAN: It seems to be that there’s two constants here. The retail environment will continue to innovate, yet somehow that human instinct