Global Retail Investments – Venture Capital Perspectives

As we look ahead to 2019, startups, distributors, and suppliers seek insight from those who can best inform us of future market trends–namely, from the movers and shakers making critical investment decisions that will drive financial and technology trends for decades to come. We found two such experts in Chibo Tang, the managing director of Gobi Partners in Hong Kong, and Louisa Zhang, Vice President of Growth at Vectr Ventures. Tang and Zhang joined us at the October 2018 Future of Retail conference for a discussion on global investment trends, offering insights into which sectors and geographic locations they are investing, as well as the rise of omnichannel retail.


Gobi Partners invests in all sectors of fintech, IT, and consumer media throughout China and Hong Kong with 9 different funds, and manages the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund that provides investment and guidance opportunities to nascent investors. Though Gobi Partners already has a portfolio stuffed with partners in China and Hong Kong, they are increasingly investing in startups throughout Southeast Asia; they now have offices in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Jakarta.


Vectr Ventures, based in Hong Kong, focuses on investments in general technology, fintech, AI, media, and mobile and cloud technologies. In addition to working with startups to fuel innovation, they also help design and build products. Their portfolio differs from Gobi Partners in their tendency to invest more globally, with over half of their portfolios based in the United States.


The discussion with these two inevitably turned to focus on what business model they think companies should be adopting. Zhang mentioned that single channel retail businesses should think about developing an omnichannel business approach. This should be no surprise, as this idea of increasing the customer experience over multiple platforms of delivery is ever-growing in popularity. However, she made it clear that integrating your business’ online and offline strategy is easier said than done. Anyone can make a website for their business, or decide to create physical stores to supplement their online business; a trickier goal is to figure out how to cleverly make one’s brick and mortar locations work in conjunction with their online presence.


Zhang offered Sephora’s innovative Color IQ program as an excellent example of a smooth online-offline business model. The Color IQ program allows shoppers to have their skin scanned in-store to find makeup that neatly matches their exact skin tone. Once customers have identified their color IQ, they can easily shop for compatible products on the Sephora website, the Sephora app, and/or physical locations, as their color IQ identification becomes automatically linked with their loyalty account. This kind of convenience and tailored service is what keeps customers loyal to their brand.


The Alibaba Group has already started marrying offline and online retail in a huge way through its Hema supermarkets. At the Hema stores, shoppers utilize an app to scan items to be purchased, eliminating the need to wait in long lines to check out, or to spend time searching in aisles for a customer service associate to answer a question about a product.


Tang offered up another welcoming space for startups to market themselves: social media platforms. It is becoming increasingly common to find products of interest directly from your news feed (allowing for impulse purchases), or to hear about products from social media influencers. This is just one other way for businesses to open up for a larger pool of customers.


All business decisions should be data-driven, so startups need to take a look at past sales, performance, and customer demand to see what particular components of their customer service can be streamlined and modernized. With the number of retailers growing every day, how can you keep customers engaged with your particular brand throughout the future?


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