What can we learn from Taiwan’s coronavirus response?

Lessons in government-private sector collaboration as well as rapid digital agility.

Brands such as FamilyMart have demonstrated resilience
Brands such as FamilyMart have demonstrated resilience

Experts and journalists have rightly attributed Taiwan's gold-star handling of COVID-19 and its ability to cope, adapt and survive trying circumstances. Brands in Taiwan have demonstrated as a similar resilience as they battle reduced spending, falling consumer confidence and changing shopper behaviours.

Despite Taiwan's ability to avoid a lockdown and keep its 11 million-strong labour force and economy running, the country's retail landscape is facing disruption.

With more people staying at home, Taiwanese brands began exploring new opportunities in digital to adapt and respond—and the results are likely to help them weather the economic storm.

Indeed, while general retail sales for the first quarter dropped 0.6 per cent from last year to US$30.8 billion, e-commerce companies saw sales increase 19.1 per cent to US$2.7 billion during the same period. Here's what worked for brands.

Early mover advantage

Brands that began their digital transformation journeys and built online selling channels early are proving more resilient to the pandemic. But it goes beyond setting up online sales channels and communication alternatives—unifying customer data across channels is also proving crucial.

From the early days of the outbreak, businesses have been quick to turn their offline business online with the aim of creating new consumption occasions and patterns. For example, Taiwan's Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store, which had previously launched a shopping APP and digital payment, quickly ramped up its e-commerce platform, partnered with home delivery services and integrated their offline customer data to the online CRM system.

Collaboration is key

In today's disruptive environment, brands must seek support and look outward. Instead of going at it alone, many Taiwanese companies are partnering with each other to fast-track their digital transformation efforts. This is exactly what Taiwan's FamilyMart did when it partnered with Foodpanda to provide delivery services from its 1,000 outlets.

These types of partnerships aren't limited to the private sector alone. The government has teamed up with private businesses to help the broader industry to adapt to a new digital normal. In early April, the Ministry of Economic Affairs launched a government program, allocating aiming NT$100 million (US$3.32 million) from a special relief fund to help retailers expand their online sales channels.

Leverage machine learning

Covid-19 has changed people's routines, habits and consumption patterns. In response, businesses are reducing their media spends and strategies, with 89 per cent of advertisers saying they have taken action with their budgets; 45% have adjusted their media type usage or shifted budget among media types, a study by Advertiser Perceptions found.

As businesses seek to navigate this difficult time, gaining an accurate understanding of your customers can make a significant difference. One way to do this is to leverage AI and machine learning to make customer acquisition more efficient and effective. These tech offerings rapidly process massively complex data sets and adjust in real-time, enabling teams to gain a better understanding of their customers and match behavioural shifts.

One real estate company seeking a bigger audience via digital advertising on a publisher's site used our machine learning capabilities to gain a full view of prospective customers, which led to more relevant messages, campaigns and significantly higher CTR.

Brands in Taiwan have largely responded effectively to the crisis, with many pivoting quickly and demonstrating a good level of preparedness. As other countries move deeper into the pandemic, it is important to take and apply the lessons that worked—plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Sega Cheng is CEO and co-founder at iKala


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