Audi Conversations: ahead of the curve
According to corporate honcho Chris Chong, taking on the challenges of the retail industry requires true passion, adaptability and a desire to innovate
Nov 29, 2018
The three words of Audi’s iconic motto — Vorsprung durch technik, or advancement through technology — make it abundantly clear that innovation is at the heart of the German brand.
From pioneering the use of lightweight aluminium in car bodies, to producing the first vehicle capable of Level 3 autonomous driving, Audi has always been on the bleeding edge of technological improvement. Every initiative that Audi undertakes — be it in pushing the boundaries in the fields of digitalisation, sustainability, or urbanisation — is done with the customer in mind.
In the same vein, the envelope-pushers of the retail industry are always thinking about how to make the shopping experience a more memorable one for the consumer.
While most people take the opportunity to switch off on holidays, CapitaLand Retail’s deputy managing director Chris Chong can’t help observing people and brands around him.
“Of course I tend to spend more time thinking about how I should enjoy my next meal,” says Chong with a chuckle. “But I also believe that we should never stop learning and being curious.
“When I’m overseas, I will look and think about how people shop, the kind of products they look at, and why certain brands do so well.”
This passion for learning and pushing boundaries has always been Chong’s defining trait: while his contemporaries headed for the traditional choices of Oxford and Cambridge, he studied engineering in France, later embarking on a non-engineering career marked by forays in fashion, real estate and retail.
But it’s not just the excitement of plunging into the unconventional that Chong relishes — it’s his constant hunger to reinvent the retail experience that keeps him constantly searching for opportunities to innovate.
The success of his various initiatives is testament to his passion. In November this year, Chong launched Singapore’s first “phygital” (a portmanteau of physical and digital) multi-brand concept NomadX at Plaza Singapura, where traditional shopping experiences are enhanced with smart technology. NomadX also plays host to the physical shops of digital players like online shopping platform Taobao and clothing rental service Style Theory.
“Besides appealing to millennials, NomadX also welcomes online players to go offline, and traditional brick and mortar stores to take a step further to integrate smart technologies in their businesses,” says Chong.
Even with the inevitability of digitisation, however, it should never replace the intimate connection that happens offline, Chong emphasises.
Instead, digitisation’s role should be to enable a brand to showcase its different facets, and reach out to people who may not be able to get a firsthand look at the products.
“It cannot be an end in itself; like online dating, it has to get real at some point!” he laughs.
One thing is for sure, though: Chong’s passion for creating enjoyable purchasing experiences is real. “An injection of freshness and energy into the business is vital, especially in retail. Because at the end of the day, retail has to be fun so that people are in the mood to spend.
“If you do something the same way all the time, shopping becomes perfunctory, something you just do as part and parcel of your routine. Retail cannot be about that,” he continues. “We need to keep bringing new products and better versions of what you are already using, and ensure that they continue to delight and surprise.”
And it is not about how much is spent to impress your customers either, he adds, but about knowing what precisely touches their hearts and actually doing it.
“These days, people are more loyal to values than they are to brands. If I find that a brand has certain values that resonate with me, I would strongly support them. It’s the same whether it is a fashion or car brand; when there is something fundamentally good about the fit or drive, I will keep coming back to it.
“Luxury is never about the price,” he finishes. “Rather, it’s about being consistent in the core values and heritage that you want to serve to your customers.”
Similarly, with the A8, Audi doubles down on its commitment to its core values of advancement through technology. With its intuitive driver- and passenger-focused experience, the A8 sets a new standard for luxury limousines, with its technological advances making the interaction between driver and vehicle more seamless than ever.
For instance, the A8’s MIB 2+ modular infotainment platform can recognise voice commands in seven different languages. But this goes beyond simple instructions like “Radio on” or “Wipers on”. The voice control in the A8 operates on a completely natural-language basis, meaning it can respond almost like a human would. Drivers only need say that they are hot, to have the A8 respond with “What temperature would you like it to be?” and adjust it accordingly.
Drivers can also use the MMI touch response interface to physically write an address or phone number into the GPS. The A8’s handwriting recognition technology is Audi’s most advanced to date, streamlining driver-vehicle interactions through an interface that is simultaneously simple, intuitive, and yet endlessly capable.
But with the A8, Audi also gives its drivers the luxury of peace of mind. Thanks to an extensive array of sensors, the A8’s adaptive driving assistant is able to automatically start and stop the vehicle in heavy traffic — a welcome reprieve during peak-hour CBD congestion. Fragrance ionisers also emit a calming scent of the driver’s choice, transforming a potentially stressful drive into an opportunity to unwind instead.
Whether it’s acting as a capable co-pilot, or enhancing the joy of the drive, or even giving drivers unprecedented freedom of choice, the A8 truly embodies Audi’s commitment to innovation.