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Hong Kong Echo: The deal with data

There has never been a better time to be a data scientist. But in a city where consumers are just getting to grips with the power of clicks, Olivier Kuziner must turn this outlier into an opportunity. 

“When I first arrived in Asia five or six years ago and told people I worked in data science, they looked at me like I was some kind of strange animal,” says Olivier Kuziner. Fortunately, he confirms, a lot has changed. 

Today, he leads Paris-headquartered data science firm Ekimetrics’ 20-strong Asia Pacific team from a swish co-working space in the middle of Hong Kong’s traditional shopping heartland Causeway Bay. Ditching his regular corner office for our interview, the exceedingly tall Frenchman instead guides us over to a Japanese-inspired table-and-chair setting in the chic common area looks like it requires a yoga course just to use. 

“It might sound a little crude, but data science is a bit like the idea of sex when you’re a teenager – everyone talks about it but not many people are actually doing it,” he says with a laugh. To carry on his analogy, Hong Kong has had its share of growing up to do in in the past year. 


“Brands will often say they want to be ‘customer centric’ – but you have to be careful that all this personalisation isn’t done in a way that feels creepy for shoppers.” 


Big changes, big data 

The sheer disruptive nature of COVID-19 and its destruction of retail norms has caused a rethink for brands and their digital strategies, according to Olivier. With e-commerce booming, the importance of collecting and analysing data has only increased.  

French beauty leaders L’Oréal and luxury giants LVMH are among those Olivier’s team services in the region. “We tend to work with major multinationals, and they have no shortage of data. Our job is to come in and see how all of that information can be used to completely personalise the engagement they have with their consumers.”  

That can mean creating personalised views of a brand’s e-commerce website, adapting communication channels according to how you best engage with messages, or pushing offers to you when you’re most likely to shop.  

“Brands will often say they want to be ‘customer centric’ – but you have to be careful that all this personalisation isn’t done in a way that feels creepy for shoppers. If people feel like they're being stalked, then they will turn away from you pretty quickly.” 

While the footprint of many retailers in Hong Kong has shrunk, physical stores remain a key touchpoint for gathering customer data. Ekimetrics recently carried out an APAC-wide project for a major international retailer where Hong Kong was used as a pilot for its data-gathering technology. 

Equipping the store – and a cohort of willing customers – with cameras and other sensors, the team were able to gather valuable information about how shoppers engage with products, staff, and the space itself. “The beauty of data science is then to start predicting how customers might behave and to present products to them based on their last visit, for example.” 

This kind of approach is sorely missing in the local luxury market. “We’re entering a period in Hong Kong where the mass tourism we enjoyed before is likely a thing of the past. But you will still have a lot of very high net-worth individuals here and they will be looking for an enhanced shopping experience – one that takes into account their preferences and that feels personalised. For that, you need to understand your data.” 

Hong Kong’s sluggish start to the digital shopping revolution, however, means it’s well behind the likes of Europe, the US, and mainland China when it comes to embracing consumer data according to Olivier. He points to the city’s first batch of homegrown data scientists graduating from the University of Hong Kong in the past 24 months as a step in the right direction, even if its illustrative of the catching up required. 

“The signs are positive. For the first time, we’re actually seeing senior executives across Hong Kong’s retail sector push for a better integration of data into their decision making. Let’s face it, many brands have been completely shaken up by the past year. They’re being forced to change.”