The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the retail industry in Asia. In an attempt to mitigate the losses that many businesses within the industry have suffered during the pandemic, retail stores are trying to capitalise on the healthcare industry.
For example, in the United States, the retail supermarket giant Walmart has incorporated the healthcare industry into its business model. Having launched its first Walmart Health Center in Dallas, Georgia, a few months before the pandemic swept the world, Walmart accelerated its Walmart Health Centers and facilities plans during the pandemic, and this has received a positive response. The ubiquitous supermarket is also involved in America’s COVID-19 vaccination drive, as it has opened its doors for Americans to walk in and be vaccinated. Moving forward, Walmart has announced that it aims to capitalise on the healthcare industry by positioning itself as an affordable healthcare provider within America’s health industry.
Understanding the healthcare industry’s potential for retail businesses, Asia has followed suit by incorporating healthcare-oriented services into its own retail platforms. For example, Japan’s retail giant Aeon has reported that it is planning to focus more on healthcare products, especially those designed to boost immunity, after announcing its worst net loss since the 2009 global financial crisis, amounting to US$647 million. In February this year, Aeon announced that it has designated 290 of its shopping malls to be used as COVID-19 vaccination centres across Japan.
Aside from enhancing the healthcare services that retail brands offer, some retail services are going one step further by bringing the healthcare industry right to their customers’ doorsteps. In January 2021, AS Watson, a Hong Kong-based healthcare retailer, announced that it was expanding its services by partnering with a last-mile delivery provider, Grab, so customers can purchase its products via the delivery platform. This collaboration spans six different countries – Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand – making more than 2,000 stores across Southeast Asia available to its customer base with a few clicks on the app.
The importance and viability of healthcare brought about by COVID-19 have not gone unnoticed by other sectors of the retail industry. For example, within the cosmetics retail industry in Asia, businesses are looking for natural beauty products that feature a protective element against viruses and bacteria, as research and trend studies conducted within the sector show demand for such products, especially in Asia.
In 2020, beauty-related businesses and personal care brands, such as Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, and the like, focused on producing hygiene-related products, such as sanitisers and soaps, among others, which were designed to combat viruses. These were considered must-have items to keep the virus at bay and were in higher demand by consumers compared to beauty products such as make-up and perfumes, as many were working from home and lockdowns meant that there was no need to dress up to go out. As a result, these retail businesses saw their growth during this challenging period emerge from the healthcare industry.
Moving forward, it is pretty evident that the healthcare industry could become significantly important for retail businesses, as consumers have become more conscious about keeping themselves safe and healthy. The availability of healthcare services within retail spaces has also made them more accessible for consumers, who can access them at their convenience, rather than waiting for hours in hospitals and clinics for an appointment. In the near future, it remains to be seen how sizeably the healthcare industry will contribute to the retail industry, but for now, with the trajectory it is on, it appears that growth is inevitable.
By GMO Research