Our winter sourcing trip to Asia brought us to leading edge robotics warehouses and fully automated clothing factories but we had time to scout the retail tech in local stores and also to chomp on first-hand food tastings in this vegan centre of the world.
Tokyo–bot San for Uniglo robotics
While Europeans are panicking about AI taking our jobs, Japanese retailer Uniqlo has cracked on with fully automated robotic system for their giant Tokyo warehouse.
The robots are working as a connected team allowing Uniqlo to cut the human workforce by 90%. It has also enabled the warehouse to operate 24/7 including the Cherry Blossom holidays when no sane Japanese human worker would ever show up to work. But for now, Uniqlo robots offer no gift wrapping as yet, as no robotic arm can work out the intricacies of magic that is a soft, lovely red gifting ribbon. Robo-San, you are still a junior.
Facebook Sling Raffles
Asia is also a growth zone for recently embattled Facebook. At Raffles Hotel in Singapore we bumped into FB network engineering crew, as Facebook is setting up a new mega data centre in town. Located in Tanjong Kling, it will be their biggest centre yet, with 1.8mln sq ft costing a cool 1bln dollars. https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/startups/facebook-to-build-s14b-data-centre-in-singapore-its-first-in-asia In this hot country, just the cooling bill for the aircon to cool the servers will dwarf any savings that FB will get from generous taxation breaks, offered by very keen Singapore government. However, FB will deploy new StatePoint Liquid Cooling system, a technology that somewhat minimises water and power consumption, and reduce by 20 per cent the amount of peak water used in climates like Singapore’s.
Ice cool innovation
Last year seen 18% growth in frozen desserts market which is driven by vegan ice-cream revolution. Our team was chuffed to find Kind Kones in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), with their delicious, first chemical–free vegan ice-cream. The tastes range from Lemon Grass Vanilla to Banana Walnut and Pistachio Kulfi, all made with unprocessed coconut, diary –free and gluten free. We also loved Smoocht in Singapore, yummy with their organic evaporated molasses and organic crystal brown rice base. If ice cream is not your bag, you can try faux-meat mushroom jerky or dehydrated eggplant snacks. Just don’t try Durian Ice-cream, it is a somewhat “acquired taste” and you will not be able to eat anything else for hours.
Beauty Tech at Sephora
Beauty retailers are leading the way in technology use, investing in personalized mobile-app Skin Adviser, Face Smart Wand (Olay) to define your beauty routine or (L’Oreal) My Skin Track UV that defines sun damage and advises how to protect your precious face. Sephora in Singapore brings much of the beauty-tech together in a number of glamourous retail locations where customers can book an express make up lesson, including beauty – tech demos and get advice in setting up their individual profiles on the mobile apps. Sephora has also updated their (already brilliant) loyalty system, and Singapore girls can’t get enough of their beauty points on Rouge or VIP schemes. It seems more complex than your byzantiane BA points but yet local customers are loving the point challenges and come up in crowds to any shop-based event that earns those much desired points. Snail Serum Face mask anyone?
Quiet please, we are working!
Bangkok and KL are going freelance, with new co-working spaces competing for the new nomadic tech freelance class. Our Asian colleagues however seems to value the peace and quiet more than their European counterparts. London’s collabs are noisy and full of chatter. Here in Asia freelancers seek quality environments, and the best collabs in BK and KL are equipped with Decibel 43, visual and acoustic privacy screens. With ethical creds, made from recycled material, non-woven PET bards, the panels provide protection from the noise of conversation and also allow visual privacy. Open plan? It is so passe.
Buns in Vietnam
Vietnam is leading the way in sourcing for fashion, footwear and homewares, as the country is investing if better provenance tracing, improved warehouses, modern logistics and IT. We noted a large increase of Nike’s presence in Vietnam as the country jostles for supplier leadership with Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Note on this visualization of Nike’s supply chain, how the company is re-focusing on improving their ethical and sustainability credentials. Way to go yet but the company responding to increase interest in ethics from their under 34 year old Millennial consumer base – improved ethics and innovation in fitness fabric are good bets for 2019. When there, don’t miss wonderful Vietnamese steamed buns (Banh Bao) with delicious veggie options.
Next week we will cover CES from US biggest consumer tech meet up, bringing you updates on retail tech for fashion and as always, a report on what is new on CES food and drink scene.