How Chinese Retailer Suning Group is Deploying AI and Other New Tech

By Kaitlin Milliken |  September 9, 2021

During the pandemic, customers have become more informed — and perhaps pickier — about the products they bring into their homes.

“[Customers] really look at whether this product can make their lifestyle better,” says Melody Jia, General Manager of chinese retailer Suning International.

Melody Jia, General Manager of Suning International

Suning Group owns multiple online and offline channels, including, shopping malls, home appliance stores, supermarkets, and baby and maternity specialty stores. These retail outlets reach 700 million customers worldwide.

According to Jia, Suning’s warehouse area total 12 million square meters, and can deliver products within 24 hours in more than 95 percent of China. Suning also reaches over 90 percent of the country’s cities and 99 percent of townships.

Jia says Suning customers spend time researching brands — both made in the country and overseas — before making a purchase. “They basically need to…get educated by the new brands. They want to have real connections with the brands…before they make the final decision to purchase or not,” she says. 

During a conversation with InnoLead, Jia shared how her team uses new technology to match customers with merchants, and how her team increases access to European brands in Asia.

The Role of New Technology at Suning

The new retail is really being driven by the new technology. So we actually have an R&D center in Silicon Valley, across from the Stanford campus. … We have AI technology developers there to help to develop all those new cutting-edge technologies. For example, Suning’s AI enabled smart sales assistant Su Xiao Yu can predict customer questions based on frequently asked questions and give answers accordingly. Technologies are also applied in Suning’s logistics robots, Voice Assistant Xiao Biu and other AI products.

We added 500 electric vehicles, in 100 cities across China…which saves about four gallons of diesel fuel per day, and reduces the carbon dioxide emissions by 74 percent. … We [also] try to track the behavior of the consumers, and really analyze how we can provide better value and services to them.

We have the whole data system to really…understand the the way [customers] understand the stories or the content behind the brands or the products… We put a lot of effort into more effective and more accurate systems to help both the merchants… [have] better access to the consumers and at the same time to provide the services that the consumers…when they’re in store or when they purchase online.

Bringing European Brands to China

We just finished one program where we worked with an Italian trade agency…called Authentic Italian. So basically, what we were looking for our consumers in China was authentic, traceable [in terms of manufacturing and logistics]… [and a] green concept for food and beverage, and also the beauty category, from Italy to China.

The brand itself has to have heritage…[and popularity] already in their mother country. When we meet with those brands, we discuss localization and how those brands, and their advantages, can actually be released in China’s market… For the Authentic Italian project, we have brought in about 500 brands already into the China market [both online and offline at popup stores].

Inside the “kitchen” area at Suning’s Sup popup store. 

[One example is] Sup’s pop-up stores. For example, the first Sup’s pop-up store for “experiential retail” that opened on the last day of 2020 in Nanjing turned out to be a popular must-go destination for young customers. This store was co-designed by Suning and British artist Emily Forgot… At a corner of the “kitchen” [area], customers can sip a cup of Mocha made by a Mocha kettle from an Italian brand. They can also taste Italian red wine imported from vineyards in Italy. In the “bedroom”, they will find aromatherapy products, and by simply scanning the QR codes which jump to the Sup’s online store, they will be able to place an order with just a few taps and the products will be delivered to their addresses within the next few days.