While it’s not uncommon for Chinese jetsetters to fit plenty of shopping into their overseas travel schedule, cross-border retailers are making it easier for aspiring and middle-class consumers in China to stay put and still buy the hard-to-find brands they love. Mihaibao takes that phenomenon and flips it on its side with features that transform shopping into an Instagram-meets-Taobao-meets-Tinder experience, using an algorithm to connect shoppers with one-of-a-kind Western brands.
The website launched via London-based co-founder Jacqueline Lam in 2014, starting out as a one-stop-shop for handbag labels from Europe and the United States. However, since then, Mihaibao has grown to include hundreds of luxury fashion brands both through a Chinese website and a new iPhone app that underwent its most recent upgrade in late July. For those using the app, the experience is much like its Chinese name suggests: finding and purchasing products is less straightforward and more like searching for “a secret treasure.”
It all starts with the app asking how the user feels that day, and the user choosing between a set of five emoticons ranging from angry to ecstatic. From there, it takes them straight into an Instagram-like newsfeed with photos of other users and the items they bought. In past interviews, Lam has called Mihaibao a tech company, which uses data to track fashion trends and what people are buying, thus navigating the app in this mode means a more algorithm-led shopping experience. Alternatively, users can choose to shop individual brands using a Tinder-like “swipe right” feature which shows products one at a time. Then, the user can choose to give it an “X” or a heart. Based on this information, the app brings up other products it thinks the user will love.
Mihaibao also features a catalog where users can shop by category or by brand, choosing from a pool of more than 100. Each brand has a short explanation in Chinese. Alternatively, shoppers can head to the website for even more choice and navigation options.
Brands can sign up to join Mihaibao on its website, which promises to be worth $161 billion in sales by 2018 and has backing by the same investors backing Alibaba and Yoox-Net-a-Porter. Mihaibao helps brands adapt their products for the Chinese consumer by creating a Chinese sizing chart, translating the brand name and product info into Chinese, and helping to create a brand story that would be appealing to the Chinese consumer. It also deals with the cross-border tax system, customs, and the other steps related to shipping to China. With this system, Mihaibao also promises shoppers access to the local price and real-time exchange rates so that they don’t have to worry that they’re not getting a good deal. In this way, shoppers aren’t dealing with individual sellers, like on Taobao, but a streamlined, curated site for sourcing their favorite brands.
Big-name luxury labels like Stella McCartney, Proenza Schouler, and Givenchy and edgy young brands like ASOS, Rag & Bone, and Acne Studios are available on Mihaibao. While its services might be a bit more accessible for big-name luxury brands, this service gives a special opportunity for Chinese shoppers to connect and express their individuality with independent labels.
This range of services from an e-commerce site isn’t particularly new—there are tons of cross-border e-commerce platforms that are helping small and big brands sell in China. In fact, cross-border e-commerce has become so popular that it’s expected that about one-fourth of all Chinese consumers will be shopping this way by 2020. That’s 291.8 million shoppers, a huge market for those hoping to meet a growing demand for international labels. But it also means companies need to innovate and adapt to stand out among their long list of competitors, which include both local players like JD.com and Western ones, like Net-a-Porter. Its latest rendition arguably further accentuates this characteristic, and it’s certainly an app to keep an eye on as its user list evolves.