‘Brands will take Chinese Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to engage Chinese consumers’: David Lloyd of Alibaba

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Many brands will take Chinese Valentine’s Day as a marketing opportunity to create specific, customised or limited-edition product lines to mark the day and engage Chinese consumers,” is how David Lloyd of Alibaba describes brands’ mission in taking advantage of the Chinese romantic festival to woo shoppers.

Speaking to Tamebay, David Lloyd, managing director, UK, Ireland and Nordics, Alibaba Group says the upcoming Chinese Valentine’s Day on 7th August (Quxi) is one of three different celebrations of romance in China each year. Western Valentine’s Day is also celebrated – ahead of February 14th this year, Tmall added 500,000 new products from 20,000 brands, including Givenchy, Jo Malone, Longines, and Adidas. On Tmall Luxury Pavilion, Alibaba’s exclusive, high-end shopping platform, brands such as Versace, Marni, Giuseppe Zanotti, Coccinelle, Tod’s and Valentino introduced Valentine’s Day special merchandise.

For example, American fashion label Tory Burch announced a few months ago that it will be introducing a capsule collection for Chinese Valentine’s Day, consisting of four special handbags, a card case and the brand’s signature ballet flats in pink and red blocked colours and stripe prints.

Chinese Valentine’s Day is not widely celebrated outside of China, so brands must take a more bespoke and localised approach to planned activity around this day than might be required to tie in with a global retail hook.

Can we see the Chinese Valentine’s Day becoming a global phenomenon in a few years?

As international brands look for culturally relevant opportunities to tap into their Chinese consumer audience, Chinese Valentine’s Day will remain on the global retail calendar, particularly for luxury brands. Chinese consumers are expected to account for nearly half of the global luxury market by 2025, so we can expect to see brands in this space start designing for Chinese consumers first – investing in Chinese talent, hiring more Chinese designers, and finding creative routes and cultural hooks to cement their relevance and desirability in a very competitive space.

How would you describe the role of retailers and brands in Alibaba’s ecosystem? How can we see this role develop in a few years’ time?

Alibaba’s mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere. All of the platforms and services within our ecosystem are designed to enable other businesses to transform the way they market, sell and operate, using the power of technology to engage with their users and customers with greater efficiency and impact.

For example, our Tmall Global marketplace, which hosts 20,000 international brands across 77 countries and regions, has recently launched a new set of services to help international brands manage their entry into China in a more efficient and low-risk way, and deepen their engagement with Chinese consumers. The site now offers an overseas fulfilment solution and an import program to support a brands’ move into China.

Our Tmall Innovation Centre (TMIC), the market research division of B2C marketplace Tmall, is another good example of how Alibaba uses consumer insights gleaned from across our ecosystem of ecommerce and media sites to help brands develop, design and market new products specifically to Chinese consumers.

How are Alibaba’s brands using experiential retail to engage the audience?

There may be no market in the world where commerce and entertainment are more integrated than in China. Many of the brands on our platforms are using technology, retail, social and influencer marketing to blur the lines between online and in-store retail and to capture the best of both experiences. Tmall’s collaboration with Intersport is a strong example of Alibaba’s work with a brand to deliver an experiential retail experience. Augmented reality-powered interactive games and state-of-the-art technologies offer consumers in China a more engaging and informative shopping experience. For example, the Smart Shelf, which can instantly tell when a shoe has been picked up and displays product information on a screen to help shoppers make their purchase decision.

What strategies do brands adapt to engage Chinese consumers?

The most successful international brands are those that understand the importance of developing a specific strategy for China. China is a vast market, and without a clear and planned approach, it will take a great deal of time, money and resource to ‘test’ every approach.

A key part of this strategy should be to have a Chinese speaking local expert at the helm who understands market nuances and trends such as a Tmall Trade Partner (TP). TPs work with brands and retailers to manage operations for their Tmall flagship store, including customer service, on-site marketing, logistics, promotions, relationships with Alibaba, and – last but not least – analysis and reporting. For a brand or retailer, their Tmall partner becomes a Chinese extension of their brand’s ecommerce.

Alibaba’s marketing technology, Alimama, can also support brand development in China, using its deep understanding of user journey and buying behaviour to help brands selling through the ecosystem to tailor their product and marketing approach

Engaging Chinese consumers relies on investment in creating connection points to build brand trust and exposure. This could include catering to Chinese tourists in UK stores. For example, providing preferred mobile payment methods such as Alipay, the digital wallet operated by Ant Financial. This familiar payment method gives Chinese visitors added convenience while shopping in the UK and enables local retailers to deepen their engagement with Chinese travellers.

Alipay doubles as a marketing tool, allowing retailers to tap into a pool of hundreds of millions of highly engaged Alipay users to encourage them to check out in-store offers and promotions through the app. Retailers should also consider offering Chinese language customer service and deploying innovative customer experiences, in line with those that this consumer group has come to expect in China.

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) play a crucial role for brands looking to gain trust and relevance with a Chinese consumer base. These internet celebrities form part of a wider social selling ecosystem and heavily influence the purchasing decisions of their followers. Li Jiaqi, better known as “Lipstick Brother” is one example of a KOL who has taken China by storm in recent months.

This live stream host is the number one seller of lipstick online, tapping into the “Male Beauty Era” in China. L’Oréal has taken note of this trend and worked with Alibaba’s Tmall Innovation Centre to get a better understanding of the growing male consumer base. With TMIC’s help, L’Oreal was able to identify five groups of male consumers in China, each with its own distinctive consumption patterns and beauty rituals. This detailed understanding of the touchpoints that matter to these individual audiences is a powerful tool for the beauty giant to be able to specifically target male consumers.

With more smartphone users than any other country, brands are aware of the need to get smart with social and content to connect with consumers. Livestreaming is just one example of a growing trend amongst brands looking to expand their reach, build trust and generate sales.

How does Alibaba’s approach as a marketplace host differ to other marketplaces? What is the advantage of promoting your brands on Alibaba than on other platforms?

Alibaba is much more than a distribution channel into China. We work with all our brands as a partner, sharing our leading technology and unrivalled understanding of the Chinese consumer to enable brands to maximise their business opportunity in China.

Our ecosystem of commerce, digital media and local services is supported by enabling businesses of logistics, payments, digital marketing and cloud computing. This suite of services underpins our New Retail strategy, as we seek to digitise and transform every aspect of the retail value chain to allow seamless engagement between the online and offline worlds – and redefine commerce.


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