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Store and mall closures, if you listened to the grim news from the US and the UK.The so-called “retail apocalypse” was a constant refrain, blamed on online shopping or millennials’ desire to enjoy experiences rather than things.“The joint venture with Hongkong Land is the most important project and will take about five years to complete,” she says.“It’s going to be a lifestyle concept and we want to do something unique.” While it’s too early to make predictions about what the new mall will be like, expect to see lots of innovative concepts such as Central Embassy’s Open House, a co-working space/gallery/bookstore, and Siwilai City Club, a space with an eatery and bar, which have quickly become popular spots among the hip crowd in Bangkok.We try to create a lifestyle element in the malls and stores; we don’t want to just sell merchandise any more.” Take a walk through one of Bangkok’s retail complexes on any day of the week and you’ll realise that shopping is a way of life in the city, a fun pastime that is far from a mere transaction.You may attribute it to the weather, as the relentless heat pushes people inside air-conditioned spaces to find respite, but it’s more than that.
That bond is coming full circle: Central Group has recently entered a joint partnership with Hongkong Land to build a new mall just beside Central Embassy in Bangkok, on a prime piece of land acquired from the British embassy.“We decorate Central Chidlom and Central Embassy with fresh flowers and it’s very beautiful.” Experience is a buzzword when it comes to retailing these days and it’s definitely something that malls in Thailand, and Asia in general excel at, which perhaps explains why the threat to digital sales feels less menacing in the region.“The online business for us is very small, about 1 per cent of our total sales in the group, but we believe in online,” says Yuwadee.From live performances and classes to showcases of Thai designers, malls such as Central World and Zen always have something going on, luring shoppers who end up wandering for hours around these sprawling temples of consumerism.“Every October, for instance, we have a flower show and it’s the talk of the town,” says Yuwadee.
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Overseeing the brand’s retail portfolio is chief executive officer Yuwadee Chirathivat, who is also in charge of prestigious department stores such as La Rinascente in Italy, Illum in Denmark and Ka De We in Germany, which were all acquired by Central Group.