Thoughts on New Retail: A Talk with Yan Xuekun, Intime CTO

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Thoughts on New Retail: A Talk with Yan Xuekun, Intime CTO

“New Retail,” a concept pioneered by Alibaba, is the seamless integration of online and offline shopping. Tapping Alibaba technology, Intime was the first Chinese department store chain to digitize physical operations. A key component of its digitization push was the introduction of a shopping app, called Miaojie. The app has over 20 million paid members in China and transformed Intime into an essential destination for high-end shoppers during the pandemic. To understand Intime’s New Retail breakthroughs and its learnings, we sat down with its CTO and head of Miaojie, Yan Xuekun.

The following interview was translated and edited for clarity.

What is Miaojie? 

Think of it as powerful, digital software working together with Intime’s offline retail hardware. Miajioe was built with physical retail in mind. Through digitization, the entire retail value chain became connected and integrated.  Our goal was never to replace traditional department stores. Unlike other e-commerce platforms, Miaojie was born to elevate the importance of physical stores. The app is much more than an added sales or marketing tool for department stores. It functions as a digital operating system for Intime’s 65 locations. 

What are some of Miaojie’s key milestones?

Five years ago, we began digitizing our memberships. In 2018, the app brought all of our brands’ products and inventory online. Along came the digitization of payments. Finally, in 2019, Intime moved its entire operations onto the cloud. This shift drastically increased our operational efficiency and brought along a series of structural changes, automated various offline processes and created new opportunities and services, such as citywide delivery and livestreams.

How can retailers remain competitive in today’s digital world? 

Let me start with an example: If the rise of e-commerce platforms is comparable to the invention of automobiles and airplanes, then department stores are like railway trains. As society advances, we don’t render these classic transportations obsolete. We reinvent and upgrade them instead – into high-speed trains.

Department stores have several core advantages. Intime stores, for example, occupy prime real-estate and are centers for lifestyle and convenience. The combination of excellent locations, services and brand selection make physical stores extremely relevant to people’s daily lives. I believe these hybrid shopping destinations can focus on serving a 10-kilometer radius and bring quality goods, world-class services and positive lifestyles to local communities. 

What was your biggest takeaway from the pandemic? 

Many Intime locations were shut down because of the pandemic. However, we were able to carry on with online transactions, 24/7, thanks to years of digital innovation and transformation. Personally, I felt the pandemic encouraged everyone to appreciate the importance of digitization and the benefits of online-offline integration or “New Retail.” 

How replicable is Intime’s New Retail model?  

This model is high replicable. In fact, digitization is redefining almost every industry. Internet and data themselves are sources of opportunities and productivity. However, because the retail industry has been relatively successful and well thought out in the past, it is important for us to go back to basics by building new connectivity between our people, products, unique shopping scenarios and services. 

What can consumers look forward to in 2021 on Miaojie? 

First and foremost, we will improve the overall customer satisfaction and experience. Second, we will ramp up content-centric innovations in areas such as digital interaction and livestreaming. Last, but not least, we will further tap into digitization to improve operational efficiency. Now that we’ve brought most of Intime’s retail value chain online, we need to be able to analyze and distill useful insights for our sales counters. By providing real-time solutions to our merchants, Intime can help restructure brands’ unique services and offerings for consumers. 

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