Beyond Sales, China’s Luxury E-Tailers Seek Image Consultants

Zhenpin.com Offers Image Consultation Services In Beijing & Shanghai

Zhenpin features profiles of its image consultants for customers to peruse

First popularized in Europe and the US, image consultation services have started to catch on among China’s burgeoning high-end e-tailers. Facing intense competition from home-grown and global players alike, relative newcomer Zhenpin.com apparently took early notice of the opportunity, becoming the first to introduce this service into the mainland China e-commerce market. As Zhenpin CEO Yundong Cao told 163 this week, image consultation services are steadily gaining popularity in China as “the rich, especially in the first-tier cities, are becoming increasingly aware of what, when and how they dress at business events or other social activities.”

Encompassing make-up, hair styling and in-depth professional counseling on matching color, shape and style to suit a customer’s lifestyle, age, occupation and activities, Cao believes the time is right for image consultation services to fully catch on in China — particularly online. Much of the draw in the digital sphere for customers as well as retailers, Cao believes, comes from its more personalized, human touch relative to most e-commerce offerings. Says Cao, “The lack of customer interaction is the main drawback of being an online retailer, and it’s vital in luxury industry.”

“The service that image consultants provide can be seen as a bridge between online sales and offline service,” Cao added. “It strengthens the bond with our customers.”

Zhenpin's image consultants drive specially designed Smart cars to visit clients

To further enhance the experience, Zhenpin — which also offers free delivery within six hours to several metropolitan areas, seven-day returns and product authenticity guarantees — provides its consultants with logo-plastered black-and-gold Smart cars to make house calls.

In addition to e-commerce sites like Zhenpin, brick-and mortar retailers like Changsha’s Caradom (克拉海洋) — which bills itself as China’s first luxury jewelry shopping mall — are also starting to provide on-site image consulting services. “For us, image consultants increase our sales, help us retain customers, and create buzz,” said Li Shen, Vice President of Caradom. Recently, the mall launched a recruitment competition for image consultants, during which over 2,000 candidates competed to earn a chance to secure a job in this promising field.

However, in a maturing market like China, many potential high-end consumers are still learning the basics of luxury and fashion. With the majority of Chinese luxury shoppers still preferring “big-name brands” like Louis Vuitton or Chanel, China’s image consultants now face the difficulty of educating their clients on mixing and matching visible and low-key labels, as well as broadening brand awareness and personal style.

Caradom recently held a competition to recruit image consultants in Changsha

“Only a few customers, generally those who’ve studied abroad or lived overseas, genuinely understand and accept the suggestions that our image consultants offer,” said Zhenpin’s Cao. “Most customers still stick to the ‘labels’ or ‘names,’ even though the products don’t flatter them.” As one image consultant, Yin Hou, told 163, Chinese clients tend to care less about a product’s design than consumers overseas, a fact that makes it more difficult for Yin to convince clients to experiment with new items or less visible designer brands.

For its part, e-tail upstart Zhenpin has made some headway, and currently offers image consultation services in Beijing and Shanghai. Though he hopes to steadily expand into additional areas, Cao admits that “China is too big to offer it in every city.” While the challenge remains daunting, as the growing minority of conscientious and savvy Chinese luxury shopper looks further afield for looks that she can call her own, we’re sure to see more e-tailers, malls or multi-brand boutiques offering image consultation services in 2013.

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