Luxury World’s Digital Laggard Céline Launches on WeChat

    Céline recently changed its digital approach by officially establishing a presence on China's most important social media platform: WeChat.
    Photo: Ovidiu Hrubaru / Shutterstock
    Yiling PanAuthor
      Published   in Profile

    Céline’s Chinese fans can now follow the updates of their beloved brand on the country’s daily messaging app WeChat. Known to be a major digital laggard in the luxury industry, the LVMH-owned Céline had refused to embrace a digital transformation for many years despite its peers like Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Kenzo making great strides. With the arrival of new CEO Séverine Merle and a possible exit of creative director Phoebe Philo by year-end, the 72-year-old luxury powerhouse seems to have developed a new attitude toward digital channels.

    On November 13, Céline officially launched on China’s most influential social media app WeChat and posted its first article to introduce the brand. The move signifies the brand’s efforts to ramp up its digital and social media presence in China to reach out to a wider customer base, in particular, the digitally-savvy millennial generation.

    The significance of WeChat to any retailer in China is illustrated simply by its massive user base. By September 2017, the app had 902 million daily users, up 17 percent from the year before. According to the latest WeChat user report, the monthly active users of official accounts have also increased 19 percent from the same period in 2016 to reach 797 million.

    But WeChat is definitely more than a dominant social media platform and messaging tool. Brands can create one-to-one personalized interactions with their target audience and manage customer relationships on the app. They can also directly sell products to consumers with the ample commercial features that WeChat has added over the past few years. Additionally, with the rapid development of WeChat Pay and mini program apps, it has slowly established an online ecosystem that gives substantial tools to the Chinese retail sector.

    However, it remains to be seen how aggressive and efficient Céline’s WeChat strategy can be, as launching on the platform by no means guarantees a successful path forward. Many luxury brands have demonstrated a lack of digital capabilities to fully utilize this multi-functional platform and serve their followers properly.

    Céline’s WeChat launch, nonetheless, illustrates the brand’s intent to expand further in the Chinese market. It has kept a low-profile in the region for a long time with a limited retail network and distribution, but the digital late-comer has an extremely good reputation among the Chinese population, especially upper-middle-class consumers.

    Globally, 2017 marks a year for Céline making significant digital progress. The brand launched its Instagram account in February and announced the opening of an e-commerce platform by the end of the year.

    It was not too long ago that Phoebe Philo famously commented on how she viewed a luxury brand’s digital presence -- ‘I’d rather walk down the street naked’ than join Facebook. However, the heightened competition in the market has made Céline submit itself to the power of internet, as it is where the next-generation of luxury shoppers go and where business growth will occur.

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