Hong Kong-based retailer AS Watson Group is moving the timetable for the launch of its touch-less payment system given the continued proliferation of the coronavirus in the city. The company, which is the world's largest health and beauty products retailer, announced that it will also be scaling down the opening of new stores this year given the current situation.

AS Watson, controlled by Chinese tycoon Li Ka-Shing's CK Hutchison Holdings, has reportedly invested more than HK$1 billion or roughly $129 million since 2012 to develop the digital payment technology. The integration of its proposed touch-less payment system is part of its wider digital transformation plan.

The company originally planned to implement the system at the end of the year, but the pandemic has forced it to move the installations ahead of schedule. AS Watson's chief operating officer, Malina Ngai Man-lin, mentioned in an interview that the pandemic has forced the company to accelerate its digital transformation.

AS Watson's new system, called Watsons GO, will negate the need for cashiers and queuing at select locations. Customers visiting the company's stores will soon be able to scan bar codes of any products using the Watson mobile app and then pay for them directly through Apliay HK. AS Watson had partnered with Ant Financial, which is owned by Alibaba Group Holding, to integrate its digital payments system.

Ngai revealed that they had already implemented the system in one of its stores in the Olympian City shopping center in Kowloon last week. The company is planning to roll out the technology in its other Watsons stores later this month, starting with its outlets in Cityplaza in Taikoo and in Kowloon Tong. Watsons GO will also be implemented in the company's stores in Singapore before the end of this month.

In regards to its expansion plans, Ngai stated that the company will be scaling down the opening of new stores, at least until the pandemic eventually subsides. AS Watson currently has more than 7,800 Watsons outlets across Europe and Asia. The company originally planned to open an additional 1,300 outlets across its 12 brands this year but that plan has since been scaled down. Ngai added that they will still be opening some new stores but it may be less than half of what they had originally planned to open.

In Hong Kong, AS Watson plans to adjust the locations of its outlets given the recent downturn in the city's retail industry. Ngai mentioned that the company is planning to move some of its outlets near local residential locations. The company is also negotiating with landlords for its outlets located in tourist locations, which typically command very high rents. Ngai stated that its stores in major tourist locations have lost more than 90 percent in sales, which means that the company will have to find some way to recoup some of its losses.