Retailers the world over were hit hard this year as physical locations were ordered to close during COVID lockdowns. But it propelled e-commerce to new heights, growing a full 28% globally in June, according to one report. 

In Asia, Watsons China, which boasts 15,700 stores around the world, first rolled out an online-to-offline strategy in 2018, with a plan to be a “media platform” focused on “customer connectivity” and a conduit for brands to sell directly to consumers. When lockdowns hit, Watsons got the opportunity to test the strength of its digital channel. The company turned up the interactive components of its digital strategy, mobilizing its beauty advisors to reach out directly to consumers at home. 

“It was really just more about having a conversation,” said Kulvinder Birring, CEO of Watsons China, speaking at Signal 2020. “Those conversations grew to millions of conversations. And then that’s when we really saw actually the full power and potential of this” as those conversations converted into sales. At one point this year, digital sales accounted for 30% of the company’s total revenue.

Watch Birring’s presentation and his conversation with John Battelle: