2005 Sep Issue
Cover Story
Select CITYWALK A new-age shopping centre for the New India
a new look at retailing
Epson pushing limits to be at forefront of digital imaging
The Body Shop makeover features new look, new store identity
WWFE05 raises international profile via US programme


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Epson pushing limits to be at forefront of digital imaging


Driven by a new consolidated global vision, Seiko Epson Corporation is
pushing frontiers to become a formidable force in the world of digital imaging,
reports Angeline Yeo.

In December 1969, Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ was introduced to the world, revolutionising the way people perceived watches. Then, in 1984, the world’s first hand-held computer was launched. These are but a few of the many milestones marking Seiko Epson Corporation’s history.

Indeed, few people are aware of Epson’s culture and uniqueness — the unwavering, pioneering spirit that drives it to be constantly among the first to come out with technologically advanced gadgets that complement the consumer’s evolving lifestyle.

Despite its obvious success thus far, the company is hardly complacent. It has been rethinking and reworking its various strategies for different countries. The result is a strong, unified approach that takes Epson beyond boundaries.

Pushing the limits of its ability is one of the most important aspects Epson upholds highly in its corporate culture, as succinctly reflected in its new global tag line, “Exceed Your Vision”.

Previously, Epson had specially tailored its approaches to target specific countries, which explains the different tag lines to suit various markets. Until recently, consumers in Singapore, for example, would associate Epson with the “Power to Create” while “Your PC Needs Epson” spoke to consumers in France.

Commenting on the company’s varied approaches in the past, Hiromi Taba, managing director of Epson Singapore, responsible for all markets in Asia (with the exception of Japan, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), says: “This was one of the reasons why Epson became successful in many markets worldwide.”

Why then is there a need for change now?

Recognising that “competition has become increasingly global” has led to the about-turn in strategy to keep Epson in tune with market needs and ahead of trends. “We cannot allow ourselves to take different approaches in our strategies,” says Taba. Hence the need for a global outlook and a new consolidated strategy to step up its game.

Defining a new strategy

As technology continues to advance, market transformation, according to Taba, has become an industry key phrase. Epson thus finds it imperative to devise a new long-term scheme that will allow it to take full advantage of global business opportunities created by evolving technology.

The company subjected its three core competencies to close scrutiny before skewing them to converge with the demands of the changing market.

“Combining our core competencies with evolving technology is where we see a very huge potential for growth,” says Taba.

These competencies are embraced in Epson’s “3i” strategy, where “i1” represents imaging on paper, “i2” on screen and “i3” on glass. Products developed in the three categories are, respectively, printers, projectors and display monitors, with image processing as the common factor.

Examples of the marriage between Epson’s competencies and market development have also manifested in technologically advanced products such as electronic paper, which Taba defines as “what we can see today on paper, we can do on LCD screens”.

The electronic paper is just one of several exciting Epson inventions to be launched.

“We have already invented the prototype electronic paper — the result of converging our “3i” image processing with digitalisation. The other products just need some fine-tuning,” Taba reveals.

A new global tag line

Epson’s new corporate tag line, Exceed Your Vision, underscores the story of a company reinvented and the underlying synergy of its long-term global strategy.

An amalgamation of Epson’s past tag lines, it projects the company’s streamlined direction for its future forays on the international scene.

The message also serves to challenge the company’s employees around the world. “We encourage our employees to go beyond common sense” to deliver new and innovative products that satisfy consumers’ needs, says Taba.

“The most important function of a brand is its promise to the end-user,” he stresses. “In our case, our new branding indicates our commitment to providing the end-user with powerful, quality images on various platforms — not just on paper, but on screen as well. We want to give our customers a nice surprise.”

The Singapore chief is also proud that Epson had considered the opinions of both employees and customers in its image revamp. “Some companies conduct image change in a top-down process with no contribution from their employees,” he observes. But not Epson.

“Before we launched the tag line, we held numerous internal discussions, particularly involving younger employees, encouraging them to think of what the corporate culture and innovation policy should be.”

The result is a corporate vision that also represents the beliefs and values of a good cross-section of Epson’s employees, and even those of its customers, who firmly support the company’s new vision.

“The most important thing is that all our employees buy into this thinking — from the creation of products to communication with customers. “

" Unless all employees believe in the corporate value, it will be a failure,” says Taba.

The importance of being earnest

One of the key aspects in retailing is efficiency during transaction. This means it is crucial for retailers to have reliable and efficient POS (point-ofsale) systems.

Epson, which fully understands this, offers retailers POS systems that are uncompromising in quality, performing at very low defect ratios.

“Mission-critical” is how Munenori Ando, general manager of Epson’s system- device sales division, sees POS systems in general. “Downtime must be less than two hours. That’s the critical time,” he stresses.

Based on industry feedback, Epson has held its end of the bargain, with its systems posting less than 1% downtime, according to Ando.

And, should one of its POS systems in a retail store fail, Epson responds quickly to replace it, preventing long queues from forming at the store’s other checkouts, he says.

Technical know-how of Epson’s staff is yet another strength that places the company a cut above above the rest. Besides being knowledgeable about Epson hardware, Epson’s technical staff are also well versed with supporting peripherals like PCs and their operating systems (OS) and software, and can zero in on the source of any system problem, Ando points out.

Says Taba: “We continually offer products that differentiate Epson remarkably. I think that is what we excel in — product quality and uniqueness.”

These attributes are the result of the Epson engineers’ innovative spirit, which consistently delivers products that are relevant to today’s needs.

In line with the corporate culture, which is also very much centred on providing high service standards, it is not uncommon for Epson’s engineers to visit customers at home or at the workplace to render assistance or obtain feedback. This allows them to survey market needs and gather useful information to help shape Epson’s future products to customers’ desire and demands, says Taba.

Standing on the strength of its new strategy and world-class service, Epson is poised to become a formidable global force to reckon with.

Epson in the Asian market

Currently, the company holds 55%-60% of the Asia-Pacific POS market. This figure is comparable with its share of the POS market in the US.

Its high market share notwithstanding, Epson observes that the pace of technology adoption continues to vary worldwide. In Europe, a large proportion of retailers use inkjet-based POS devices while 75% of the retail industry in Asia uses dot matrix POS systems, with the rest in the region served by thermal systems.

In Asia, retailers in countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia can more readily embrace advanced technology as their markets are more developed and they have the advantage of stable infrastructure and an established networking base, says Taba.

Retailers here can ill afford to be complacent but need to keep abreast of modern technologies to stay on top of competition, he says.

In contrast, the markets in Thailand, India and Indonesia, for example, tend to be slower to respond to technological advancements as “the concept of retail stores has just started to take off and is still growing” — albeit rapidly, says Taba.

However, he anticipates their demand for POS technology to rise as these markets pick up speed. As the retail market booms in these nations, retailers will see the need to invest in technology to gain competitive edge, making these countries potentially important markets for Epson, he says.

“The advantages of POS technology are very clear: You can very quickly identify what is selling and what is not. That way, you don’t end up with a lot of unmovable stock at the back of the store.”

The Asian retail market is “diverse, dynamic and fast-growing”, says Taba, who expects Epson to see a more than 30% growth in unit sales across Asia for the year.

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