Reckitt Benckiser's Cynthia Chen on Preparing for an Omnichannel World



BRAVE COMMERCE - EP 003 - Cynthia Chen2-1

In the third episode of BRAVE COMMERCE podcast, hosts Rachel Tipograph (Founder & CEO of MikMak) and Sarah Hofstetter (President of Profitero) are joined by RB's President of North America Health, Cynthia Chen, for a conversation on her omnichannel vision, the importance of speed when meeting consumer demand, and how she tackles work-life balance. 

The omnichannel vision for eCommerce

Last year, China's eCommerce revenue accounted for about 25% of total retail sales, which roughly translates to $1.5 trillion. Comparatively, the US hit about $600 billion with the mass eCommerce acceleration that began at the onset of COVID-19. Cynthia recognized the potential for significantly more US eCommerce growth. This is a mindset that she maintains as she carves out RB’s omnichannel sales approach. 

To achieve RB’s goals, Cynthia is taking a holistic look at the entire scope of the commerce ecosystem. “When you talk about eCommerce,” Cynthia says, “it's not only about eCommerce itself. It's about the eCommerce ecosystem -- which I call that a commerce ecosystem.” This includes the typical pay-to-play, brick-and-mortar, and click-and-collect, but also social commerce. To Cynthia, it’s important to think of each piece and how they integrate together, and she wants to use this omnichannel approach and create a seamless, shopping journey. 

This larger perspective on the future of eCommerce came from Cynthia’s intercontinental moves. Her focus is to say “right now, only less than 10% is coming from eCommerce, but we can have a bigger dream.” 

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The importance of speed for consumer demand

COVID has been one of the biggest catalysts for digital transformation. It has accelerated eCommerce and technological adoption rates, including with older generations. Cynthia shared an anecdote about her 78-year-old dad in China who, prior to COVID, struggled to use WeChat to text. “Now he’s sending me emojis all the time and TikTok. So I think that is the biggest change we see in our industry.” 

Moving quickly is one of the most important things Cynthia has learned from watching the market change and evolve. Brands need to prioritize speed when adapting to the shifts in consumer behavior. “RB’s culture is obviously very entrepreneurial. We do everything with urgency,” Cynthia noted. She’s aware of market opportunities on the horizon, and knows that efficiency will be key to capitalizing on them. For example, in the over-the-counter (OTC) pharma industry, it is projected that in the next couple of years, 30% of all sales will be online. That means that OTC pharma brands must start preparing their eCommerce strategies now. 

Balancing personal life and work

The moments in Cynthia’s career that stood out to her as brave were around the pursuit of balance between her work and personal life. Earlier in her career, Cynthia made the decision to move back to China to take care of her mother, leaving behind her role at GSK. After a few years, Cynthia again chose to make a change in her professional life, leaving behind her job in China to move back to the US and be with her son. As she explained, spending time with her son was “so much more fulfilling than anything in the world.” Her career path was shaped by her personal life, and brought her to RB and as the President of North America Health. 

Since working from home, Cynthia has found that the lines between her work and personal life have blurred. Finding a balance between the two can be challenging. Cynthia maintained that balance by integrating both, such as by accommodating employees’ at home needs or limiting meeting times. As we continue to navigate a remote world, being considerate of employee work-life balance and ensuring team health within organizations will be key to the relationship between businesses and their employees.

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