Central promises 'seamless' experience via WhatsApp

Central Group yesterday announced the launch of what it calls "the world's first cross-border e-commerce luxury brand shopping experience", whereby consumers can interact with the group's luxury brand websites through WhatsApp.

Mr Tos says the group's vision is integrating online and offline shopping channels.

The move is part of Central's pivot towards an omnichannel strategy designed to appeal to customers' digital lifestyles, said Tos Chirathivat, chairman and chief executive of Central Group.

Mr Tos declined to comment on rumours of a Central joint venture with Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com.

"This move is calculated to serve the lifestyles of Central Group's new customers by providing seamless integration of online and offline shopping channels," he said. "That is the vision of the group moving forward."

For the first time, Central Group is mustering a network of global luxury department stores across eight cities, including locations in Italy, Spain, Denmark and Germany, as well as Bangkok's Central Chidlom and Central Embassy.

Information about the network is available at AuxVillesDuMonde.com as a digital magazine and e-newsletter. The website, which provides data about points of interest, fashion, food and culture in the above cities, supports eight languages and is also available as a mobile app for iOS and Android.

Users can add luxury department stores in WhatsApp to check for product availability through live chat and make purchases through various online payment options. Users can then pick up products at the store or have them shipped to the home.

Yuwadee Chirathivat, chief executive of Central Department Store Group, said the company spent €500,000 (19.8 million baht) on the AuxVillesDuMonde.com site.

"Cross-border shopping at nine stores in eight global cities is a new retail phenomenon," Mrs Yuwadee said. "Through the application's WhatsApp live chat option, Thai shoppers will be able to order products [without an added 18% tax] from Europe and have them shipped to Thailand in 2-5 days."

She said shoppers are required to pay import tax depending on the country from which products are bought.

"The chat channel is designed to reduce shopping time for customers that already have a preferred product in mind," she said.

Central Department Store Group expects revenue from overseas stores to climb by 40% this year, with revenue from abroad representing more than 20% of Central Department Store's 130 billion baht in revenue.

Mr Tos said Central Department Store Group plans to spend €200 million to renovate its existing stores in Europe over the next three years.

Central Department Store has no precise goal for its online channel, which at 5 billion baht still represents a small part of total income.

"Online is a future opportunity for retail in developed countries, where it represents 20-30% of revenue," Mr Tos said.

In August, the group introduced Central On Demand through Line in Thailand, letting Central customers inquire about product availability through Line live chat.

Users must add the Line ID account of each department store.

As with the WhatsApp partnership, customers can then make purchases with online payment services or at in-store counters, with products shipped to the home or a preferred store.

By year-end, Central On Demand will be available at all 22 Central branches nationwide and will serve an estimated 100,000 users.

Central Department Store has earmarked 3-4 billion baht to invest in technology to improve the online sale channel.

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