Dato’ Joyce Yap : Luxury Retail is Back in Business

Luxury retail is back in business with a new style of shopping.

As luxury retail returns to full swing, The Peak interviews Dato’ Joyce Yap, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur Chief Executive Officer (Retail). She shares how shopping trends have shifted, with a higher demand for premium, limited-edition and limited-supply merchandise since the lifting of restrictions throughout Asia Pacific.

1. It’s such an exciting year for Pavilion with the opening of Pavilion Bukit Jalil. What are some new and exciting features available at the new Mall?

 We have received a very encouraging response to Pavilion Bukit Jalil since doors opened on 3rd December 2021. Despite the challenging economic environment, we have come out stronger thanks to the support of our retailers and shoppers.We are uniquely positioned as a regional mall, with several first-in-Malaysia regional retailers choosing Pavilion Bukit Jalil as the location of their first or flagship Malaysian store. One of the greatest success factors of any new mall is having new brands and retail concepts that sets us apart from our competition. In Pavilion Bukit Jalil, with 250 stores now open and with almost 20% of our tenant mix consisting of new brands and retail concepts, providing shoppers with a unique retail experience that they can’t find anywhere else.

The most recent addition is renowned Japanese bookstore chain Tsutaya Books, dubbed “one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores”. Its first store in Southeast Asia, Bukit Jalil Tsutaya Books spans 31,000sqft and not only houses books, but a variety of curated lifestyle merchandise, a cafe, and a kid-friendly space to inculcate the love of reading. Since its grand opening on 7 July, it has received overwhelming response from shoppers.

More about Tsutaya Books at Pavilion Bukit Jalil

Earlier this year, Thailand’s award-winning and leading retail giant Siam Piwat opened its doors to three exclusively curated ‘Made In Thailand’ brands at Pavilion Bukit Jalil with the opening of Ecotopia, Absolute Siam and ICONCRAFT. Not only did the launch of the three-in-one retail concept store mark Siam Piwat’s first international expansion, it also gives Malaysian shoppers access to one-of-a-kind products handcrafted by Thai artisans and entrepreneurs. Other first-in-Malaysia stores include China’s tea retailer Tianyue Teajoy and Taiwan’s ceramic art store Lohas.

Apart from new brands and concepts that are critical success factors, Pavilion Bukit Jalil is also unique due to its size, with a total nett lettable area (NLA) of approximately 1.8 million square feet, making it a super-regional mall. Other exciting features that add to its appeal include a 28,000 square feet Piazza for outdoor events and concerts, a 47,000 square feet exhibition centre, family-friendly ice-skating rink, a unique 3D LED projection mapping ‘Dome of Wonders’ at Centre Court, and coming-soon a themed precinct Tokyo Town. We aim to continue to delight our shoppers with more exciting retail experiences and concepts that will evolve with relevancy of shopping malls and consumer trends.

2.Are there any changes in the way we shop? Pre-pandemic vs endemic?

 Malls continue to be centres that serve the needs and wants of the community. The pandemic and multiple movement restrictions have created a mindset shift, especially among the younger generation, for quality products and services. We have seen a higher demand for premium, limited-edition and limited-supply merchandise since the lifting of restrictions throughout Asia Pacific, with luxury retail posting an impressive sales growth of 29.7% in 2021, to reach $122bn. Shoppers are also seeking out physical retail experiences for their wants rather than necessities and malls need to be adaptable by creating immersive retail experiences for shoppers through interactive engagements, such as pop-ups stores and in-mall events.

“The pandemic has fast-tracked our digital economy and brands have adopted an omnichannel approach by marrying both online and brick and mortar stores to give our shoppers greater convenience and improve our efficiency in distributing information.” -Dato’ Joyce Yap, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur Chief Executive Officer (Retail).

3. The term revenge buying has been heard a lot lately, is it true that people are shopping even more lately?

 Certainly – after being cooped up at home during the pandemic, shoppers are looking to treat themselves to release stress, tension and anxiety. We’ve seen this trend play out in Malaysia as well, with sales spiking, especially around festive celebrations. Luxury retailers are observing a sustained hike in sales with shoppers splurging on pricey, but valuable items and experiences after experiencing challenges during the pandemic lockdowns. These purchases may be an exercise to ‘treat’ themselves for those who value quality and may also be a hedge against inflation.

After going through several lockdowns, shoppers are also craving social experiences to bond and reconnect with family and friends. As a result, we have seen a growth in demand for F&B experiences as is evident in the recent increase of new lifestyle restaurants and cafés opening in our malls. At Pavilion KL, we have recently welcomed new F&B brands and concepts such as Baan Phadthai, OCEANTWE12VE, The Coffee Academics and %Arabica; with Arthur’s Storehouse (The Guinness Experience) and RasaNya Steamboat both coming soon. New brands such as OJA, Fullbud and NUTTEA & Caffike will soon be opening in both Pavilion KL and Pavilion Bukit Jalil.

4. What are some of the challenges and triumphs you faced in the retail industry?

 The challenges we are facing today are global problems, rather than regional ones, namely inflation, supply chain disruption, labour shortages, cash flow issues, as well as uncertainty caused by the pandemic and political situations. Both landlords (shopping malls) and tenants are more selective and cautious about who they partner with when opening new stores. We work together with our tenants to craft short-term strategies to solve immediate problems, followed by mid and long-term strategies to ensure we sustain sales and growth. We aim to create lasting partnerships to build sustainable businesses, where both parties thrive together through the uncertainties of our current economical and political climate.

In terms of triumphs we position Pavilion KL as a premier shopping destination and a defining authority in fashion, food and urban leisure – and I think we have achieved this. We are always working to maintain an attractive retail mix through flagship stores, first or only-in-Malaysia brands, and concept stores. In Pavilion KL, flagships include Dior, Coach, Armani/KL, Tiffany & Co., and Richard Mille, to name a few.  Almost a quarter of our tenants are new brands to Malaysia. Recent examples of this include famous American hamburger chain Five Guys, Japanese coffeehouse %Arabica, award-winning Thai restaurant Baan Phadthai, Hong Kong’s best speciality coffee shop The Coffee Academics, and China cinema chain Dadi Cinema.

On top of an attractive retail mix, we also pride ourselves in hosting award-winning festive celebrations offering shoppers a fully experiential time with fantastic partnership collaborations, stunning festive decorations and plenty of shopping and reward opportunities.

“Gen Zs and Millennials are key demographics. Mall studies on consumer behaviour and trends have found that Gen Zs are becoming big retail spenders and are spending more time in brick and mortar stores. Malls provide a social experience that younger people crave, beyond retail shopping.”-  Dato’ Joyce Yap, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur Chief Executive Officer (Retail).

5. From your experience, What is your advice for those who are interested to venture into the retail business?

 I have been in the retail industry for over 40 years and I’ve learned the importance of knowledge, passion and financial sustainability. On top of that, it is key to be on top of the ever-changing retail trends – knowledge of industry trends, operations, tenants, current affairs, business acumen, technology, and data. For instance, before we build a shopping mall, we must study the surrounding area and demographic so we can determine who our target demographic will be, what kind of tenant mix we should implement, and what is the overall look and feel we want to adopt.

But of course, research and knowledge can only get you so far. Sometimes it is about being brave and taking a leap of faith. If it doesn’t work out, learn from it and move on. Being flexible is key. Think about how we can utilise the space, how we can implement offline and online strategies, and how we can remix or rebrand something to reinvigorate the retail space. I have a motto that I live by at work: Plan right for today and be flexible for tomorrow.

6. What’s the biggest life lesson you have learnt?

The journey in life is important. Love and take care of yourself so you can work well and take care of others. Family and relationships are the most important things in my life. My guiding principle is to always appreciate what you have and don’t compare what you have to others.

7. What are some of the sustainable projects/ initiatives under Pavilion malls?

 We are also fully supportive of our tenants who pursue a sustainable cause. For example, several Pavilion Bukit Jalil tenants, such as Ecotopia, ICONCRAFT, and duluKINI have shifted to a sustainable and fair-trade model to cater to the growing demand for eco-conscious products and goods that empower communities. Tenants are also launching store features and products to encourage shoppers to live more sustainably, such as L’Occitane Pavilion Bukit Jalil’s first Green Store featuring innovative and first-ever refill fountains, and Kiehl’s with their range of eco-friendly refills, sustainably sourced ingredients and eco-friendly packaging.

Premium grocer The Food Merchant encourages shoppers to shop with its sustainable and reusable bags. To meet its zero-waste target, the grocer consciously sources fresh products in sustainable packaging. Meanwhile, over in Intermark Mall, The Hive offers products to help shoppers lead a zero-waste lifestyle.

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