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Launching your fashion brand in China: Advice from Tmall Luxury

By Julia Garel

30 Mar 2021

“China is a challenge in itself”. This verdict is that of Nicolas Santi-Weil, CEO of the independent brand Ami Paris, keen observer of the Chinese market since 2007 and participant of a webinar organized by Tmall Luxury. Titled "China and luxury: major trends and sharing of experience", this workshop in French was a first for Alibaba's e-commerce platform. The Chinese e-commerce giant, which boasts 10.1 billion euros in profits in the third quarter of 2020, hosted the webinar on March 23 to decipher and understand the luxury market in China. At the table, in addition to Nicolas Santi-Weil, the company had notably invited Bruno Alazard, Chief Client & Digital Officer at Kenzo and Pablo Mauron, CEO Digital Luxury Group China.

Created in 2017, the Tmall Luxury Pavilion platform provides international brands a gateway to the luxury e-commerce market in China. Its new retail orientation - a combination of online and offline by integrating data and logistics into a single value chain - gives experiential luxury a prominent place. In other words, the site does not follow a product-oriented customer journey, but is centered on an immersive and experiential personalized journey made up of augmented or virtual realities, 3D views, digitalization of physical points of sale, customization options, etc..

To measure the importance of China as a market, the Tmall Luxury teams recall a few figures. Chinese consumers accounted for 33 percent of global luxury purchases in 2019, according to international consulting firm Baine, and are estimated to represent 46 to 48 percent in 2025. There is also a phenomenon: repatriation, which occurs in particular because of the pandemic, from this follows the estimate that between 55 and 60 percent of the consumption of luxury goods in the future is expected to take place in mainland China.

But launching a fashion brand in China presents some issues. The country is a “jumble of applications, tools and festivals”, underlines Nicolas Santi-Weil of Ami Paris. To identify some avenues for reflection, FashionUnited lists five strong points from the Tmall Luxury workshop.

Pay attention to customer feedback and word of mouth

According to Pablo Mauron, in China, niche influencers are replaced by the concept of "key opinion customer". Also known as KOC, the term refers to everyday consumers whose primary value lies in their reliability and trustworthiness (definition by online media Medium). KOCs are consumers who decide for themselves which products they want to try and evaluate, the size of their community is not important but their opinion is listened to because it is considered credible.

Pablo insists on opinions and the importance of word of mouth. According to him, this is particularly linked to sophisticated content with high added value that will generate interest among users. He also advises to motivate and reward Internet users when they share their positive experience of the brand.

Offer qualitative content

"The content has to be able to support the buying attention," says Pablo. He reminds us that the online experience has become very immersive and is no longer just informative. Moreover, the Tmall team emphasizes in the introduction that the goal of the platform is "to entertain, engage with consumers and increase loyalty." These goals are accomplished by activating brands in a variety of ways, including offering content that resonates with the landscape and cultural context. In particular, Pablo says that working with local celebrities has a much greater impact than working with international celebrities. He emphasizes two points in particular: activation campaigns linked to events of the year such as Single's Day or Women's Day, and the fact that the content of the platform should not be limited to the visual produced.

Anticipate the calendar of activities

To successfully create qualitative content on your e-commerce platform, one of the key axes is that of the calendar. In China, this is not limited to the global agenda of the year or that of the brand, it includes a large number of local key dates which have an "ultra significant impact on purchase intentions", Pablo notes. Each event requires an intelligent choice of the right medium outside of Tmall, or its e-commerce platform.

For his part, Bruno Alazard, from Kenzo, confides: “the commercial calendar is indeed very dense with extraordinary leverage effects. The key word is anticipation”. He adds: "The Single Day we had anticipated as sales but in the end, we were extremely surprised by the acceleration in sales". He specifies that for the Single Day in mid-November, he and his teams should start talking about it next month, in April.

Same experience with Ami Paris. “We were surprised at the potential,” says Nicolas Santi-Weil. He also takes into account a point that seems important to him and of which he is convinced: the fact that "these shopping festivals, this very dense calendar, can also bring growth which is not only driven by discount". According to him, if the brand has a strong traction, it is also possible to enjoy these events through exclusivity, collaboration and communication.

Credit: Digital Luxury Group China. Webinar "China and luxury: major trends and sharing of experience".

Last year, the “Singles' Day” on November 11 enabled Alibaba to record a volume of 583,000 transactions per second on its platforms, an AFP dispatch reported on February 2 .

Take the time to get to know consumers and get support

"80 percent of luxury consumers are under 35," says Nicolas Cano, Business Development Manager of Tmall Luxury Division. With regard to consumers, Pablo adds that millennials should not lose sight of the fact that even generation Z is a very strategic segment in terms of sales and that their expectations have evolved. As for Nicolas Santi-Weil, he underlines the high level of expertise and knowledge, often underestimated, of these segments of the Chinese population, which is, according to him, the main difference with Europe. This "appetite for brand knowledge" is therefore multiplied in China. This requires a lot of investment in time, "you have to go and look for them, understand them, go to their playground" he insists. According to him, "the potential is equal to the demands of these customers".

In order to be at the level of these consumers, and in general to better understand the requirements of the Chinese market, it is therefore recommended that brands be accompanied. This was the case for Ami Paris, which worked with Tmall teams. And it takes time: "in the end we spent months, we even made a call for tenders," says Nicolas.

Mastering Chinese social platforms and networks at your fingertips Pablo retains four strategic platforms for luxury brands: Weibo, Red, Douyin and WeChat. Not all of them play the same role with consumers: some are upstream, on the development of notoriety, while others are downstream, on the development of loyalty. To schematize the customer journey on these different applications, the CEO of Digital Luxury Group China explains: a user will discover a new brand via a celebrity on Weibo, in case of interest he will go to Tmall to read the detailed product listing and will then go to Red to confirm purchase intent via user reviews.

  • Weibo: more than a social feed, Weibo plays a news feed role. Users go on Weibo to be aware of local or international news. It is a platform that favors word of mouth and that brands choose to make their announcements.
  • We Chat: for the brand, it's about proposing a more corporate communication, with sophisticated messages in terms of volume of content or information delivered where each message "usually sent weekly, represents a small story in its own right," says Pablo. It's a platform that compliments brand communication by speaking directly to people who have a high level of interest in the brand. The audience here is very large, with a very high penetration rate in China with 1 billion users.
  • Red: a platform that has exploded in the last two years. The activity is initiated by the contents posted by the Internet users. This is where users post their feedback on certain articles. The audience is now almost 80 percent female.
  • Douyin: the parent of Tiktok. Douyin is a particularly entertainment-oriented platform with very dynamic video content. This is local content with local celebrities that is aimed at a very young audience.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR, translated and edited to English by Kelly Press.

Image: Unsplash, Javier Quiroga