18 July 2019
Watsons believes the partnership with Chinese AI-backed online platform Meitu will help bring in more customers from the millennial generation. Photo: Bloomberg
Watsons believes the partnership with Chinese AI-backed online platform Meitu will help bring in more customers from the millennial generation. Photo: Bloomberg

What the CK Hutchison-Meitu partnership means for shoppers

After helping tens of millions of young women in China show off themselves better online, image processing and social sharing site Meitu is now upping its game through a strategic partnership with a Hong Kong retail business.

According to an announcement Tuesday, the Chinese platform has joined hands with A.S. Watson Group, the retail arm of Li Ka-shing controlled conglomerate CK Hutchison, in a deal that will bring Meitu’s “Magic Mirror” to the ladies who shop in Watsons stores.

Under the tie-up, Meitu will also be involved in Hutchison’s telecoms subsidiary, 3 Hong Kong, to help the entity establish a business model that integrates social media and retail.

Riding on Meitu’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology and the Hutchison group’s expertise in retail and telecoms, the partnership will bring a “refreshing and interactive online and offline shopping experience” for millennial shoppers, the companies said in a press statement.

Following the deal, Watsons and 3 Hong Kong would be the first in Hong Kong to provide Meitu applications and services to customers at retail locations.

3 Hong Kong customers can use the Hong Kong version of Meitu app to print photos directly onto a wide range of accessories and merchandise like phone cases, clothes, umbrellas, cloth bags and mouse pads with personalized designs.

Watsons Hong Kong, meanwhile, will introduce Meitu’s “Magic Mirror”, which is based on the Chinese firm’s advanced facial recognition and AI analysis technology, enabling users to apply real time makeup virtually. The mirror offers around 600 makeup products from international makeup brands for virtual trial.

Magic Mirror would offer make-up advice from beauty advisors, helping customers choose their favorite makeup style for work or dating. Customers will be able to try different makeup looks and have the previews.

The facility will first be launched in Watsons’ Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui branches later this month, after which it will be introduced to around 30 additional Watsons stores in the first half of 2019.

With Meitu’s facial recognition and AI analysis technology, users will be able to apply real time makeup virtually. Through big data technology, Watsons can recommend the right products based on customers’ habits and behavior, with the help of the Meitu app. 

Meitu’s BeautyCam app has been upgraded with the feature that enables product recommendations via skin analysis, helping to match users with the right products that are available at Watsons. 

The partnership with Meitu “further enhances our customer connectivity, improving CK Hutchison’s online and offline interaction with customers,” Canning Fok, Co-Managing Director of CK Hutchison Group, said in the statement.

“Meitu users can try beauty products virtually on their mobile phones and get product recommendation through advanced artificial intelligence.” 

Bryan Cheng, COO of Meitu, added: “With a huge number of female online users from Meitu and strong female customer base from CK Hutchison, the partnership can further improve the value of Meitu’s user platforms while combining beauty with social media.”

While it may be difficult to estimate the financial benefits of the alliance for the two companies, it is certainly a step in the right direction as the future lies in online to offline integration.

Hutchison’s retail arm, as is the case with various competitors, will face growing challenges in the coming years from online shopping malls in different markets. For example, in China the business has to compete with e-commerce giants such as Alibaba and Amid this situation, the company needs to rethink its strategies to bring in more visitors to its stores.

The Magic Mirror at retail outlets will not only help refresh Watsons image as a savvy Internet-era brand, it can also boost cosmetics sales in a significant way.

The core of the partnership is customer data. Both Watsons and Meitu need massive amounts of customer data for their business development, such as market demand for specific products, customer profile, and brand loyalty.

This cooperation will bring together user experience, user system, technology research and development, precision marketing, and big data with business strategy, as the companies said.

CK Hutchison has been a front-runner in adopting big data analytics to enhance its business strategy. In February last year, the Watson Group announced a partnership with Toronto-based Rubikloud as part of investment in big data capabilities.

Under the initiative, Rubikloud retail data analytic systems were deployed at Watsons outlets around the world, helping the health and beauty retailer boost its sales through customized direct-to-customer campaigns.

Now, with the latest alliance with Meitu, Hutchison’s retail arm is building on such efforts, aiming to put big data and AI to enhance online and offline user interaction and offer customized product recommendations.

It remains to be seen how much the partnership will really make a difference to the retail business in terms of numbers, but there is no doubt the picture looks good and promising, at least for now.

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EJ Insight writer

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