“To create customer engagement and loyalty, all you need to do is understand what drives consumer behaviour,” says Moon-Suck Song. “And it has never been any different, it is only the interface that changes.”

Song is the CEO and co-founder of e-commerce consultant Panagora. His company helps companies that want to build and grow their brands using digital platforms. Since their inception in 2001, Panagora have worked with some of Sweden’s leading fashion brands and today, the company has hubs in China, South Korea, Japan and Dubai.

But despite his ultra-modern and digitally dominant focus, Song is solid in his conviction that the world of commerce has not really changed since the dawn of trading. The only difference is that today we put an “e” in front of commerce.

“Humans are still humans, and the products and services that we are buying are still the same products and services that they have always been,” he says. “The only thing that is different is the environment - the interface. But it doesn’t matter whether that interface is a store, a tv shop, or an e-commerce platform. Customers engage and are loyal to stores because they look nice, smell nice, the staff give you great service, the boxing is nice, even the receipt is well packed in your box. When you leave, the staff say goodbye. Everything feels great! You want the same feeling in every channel, there is no difference.”

But with consumer behaviour having clearly shifted to a preference for online shopping, Song says that the question we need to ask is: How do you convert that great human experience in the retail store into a digital channel, or offer something equivalent? “You have to ask why are consumers going online?” he says. “And then build engagement and loyalty through determining what the key drivers are.

“And this is all connected to understanding humans,” he continues. “What drives changes in their behaviour and what is relevant right now. So today, sustainability is a key driver for human behaviour and can create customer engagement. Transparency can create customer engagement, giving to charity can create customer engagement, anything can create customer engagement depending on the context. In the end it is all about understanding what drives us.” 

Other drivers, Song says, are speed and energy: “Humans are lazy. Why do a 100 million Canadian and Americans paying Amazon 10 dollars a month to get free, quick deliveries to their doors? Because they are lazy. And today, you also win the customer with speed. The faster you are, the better the experience. Speed is everything.”

Song also highlights that humans today are very purpose driven. And so another way to reach a customer is through creating a brand that has a purpose, such as an environmentally friendly product. “For purpose driven humans there is usually a crowd,” he says. “And that crowd is usually found on Instagram. There is a strategic model here. If you don’t have the crowd, you need some kind of unique content. If you have neither, you don’t have energy. But you can start from zero with something unique. One of the most successful Kickstarter start-ups was the white t-shirt. What was unique with a white t-shirt? They had 17 sizes. You can find exactly your size. And it was super environmentally friendly. There is always a way engage the customer.”

In South Korea, which Song has much experience in, using digital channels to find or even create crowds has almost become part of the social DNA. And that explains in part, he says, along with a very risktaking culture, why the country is forecast to become the world’s 4th largest e-commerce market in the next two years.

The result of this crowd driven success means, Song believes, that a lot of brands are looking at South Korea as the entry gate to Asia. “If you can become trendy in South Korea you can become big in Asia,” he explains. “If you become trendy in China, no one in South Korea or Japan cares. No one follows China or Japan anymore. South Korea is the trend setter. And this is especially true for the South Korean cosmetics’ industry, which is huge. So the largest global beauty companies are now buying the most successful Korean beauty brands.”

The place that the crowds in South Korea can mostly be found on incidentally is a social media platform called KakaoTalk. “Almost 100% of the South Korean population uses KakaoTalk,” Song says. “Whether they are aged zero or ninety-nine. And the biggest search engine or internet portal in the country is Naver, with a market share three times bigger than Google. So sometimes Internet is ‘local’.”

But whatever the platform, or the buzz word, Song reiterates that the channel by which you sell a product or a service is not nearly as important as finding out what drives the customer to buy it in the first place. “You don’t wake up tomorrow and say today I am going to be an e-commerce customer and the next day I am going to be an offline customer. When you think about that, it doesn’t make any sense. Consumer behaviour has been the same forever and it always will be.”