How are Luxury Brands Communicating with their Chinese Consumers During the Virus Crisis?

    How should brands act during a crisis like the coronavirus? Obviously with compassion, but getting correct and timely brand messages across can be tricky.
    From what we observed, the big luxury groups weren’t as agile as the local players. Even basic consumer communication has been lacking. Photo:
    Ruonan ZhengAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    It’s been nearly a long half-month since the outbreak of coronavirus, and Monday, February 10th, marked the first day many Chinese citizens returned to the workplace. This could initiate another wave of infections if proper precautions aren’t taken, and medical experts from the University of Hong Kong estimated that the outbreak should stubbornly hang around until around June or July.

    During this stressful time, luxury brands have had to walk a tightrope between promoting their products or just offering helpful advice to consumers who might lack the motivation to shop for luxury items. A crisis like this poses a challenge to brands, particularly in the way a brand’s headquarters can work in tandem with their local Chinese teams to create swift but meaningful campaigns. Time is of the essence, as consumers have grown more anxious and isolated in their communities by the day. But these situations also help a company to relay its values to consumers, which shouldn’t come in the form of generic slogans blasted by the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) department or one-off donations; it should be a code of responsibility that extends from all departments.

    From what Jing Daily observed, the big luxury groups weren’t as agile as the local players. Even basic consumer communication has been lacking. For example, few luxury brands informed consumers about shortened store hours or delays in shipping services on practically all channels, and only a few of them posted a caring message shortly after the outbreak. This was quite a contrast to local brands, many of which published in-store safety guides right away or offered creatively-designed respirator masks.

    How did they inform customers about changes?#

    Since the outbreak went public, many luxury malls decided to shorten their operating hours and offer information about strict safety guidelines and slowed shipping deliveries, but a few luxury brands — namely Gucci, Chanel, and Cartier — didn’t update this information on their online channels. While most brands did the minimum by updating their websites, Dior and Prada stood out in their efforts to communicate changes with Chinese consumers. Dior dedicated a stand-alone page on the website that clearly states delivery times and available customer service times for both its fashion and beauty lines. Prada’s website had a reservation spot for clients to book in-store appointments, and the brand also sent out a notification on WeChat about postponed customer service and deliveries to the heavily-infected Hubei province.

    Aside from communicating with consumers about necessary changes, brands have also delivered up-to-date information on the impact the virus has had on their businesses. Burberry issued a timely update of the virus’s impact to its stakeholders on February 7th, saying that 24 of their 64 stores in mainland China are closed while the remaining stores are operating with reduced hours and have seen significant footfall declines. “In the meantime, we are taking mitigating actions and every precaution to help ensure the safety and well being of our employees,” wrote the CEO Marco Gibbetti.

    Gucci expressed a similar message when we asked for comment, with the brand’s spokesperson stating, “We are paying close attention to the development of the virus and prioritizing the health and safety of our employees and visitors. We will closely respond to the measures put forward by the Chinese government on virus control.”

    Tiffany&Co., too, wrote in a response to our request: "We are making every effort to help ensure our Chinese Mainland and AsiaPac management teams are getting updates on the spread of the coronavirus and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements, where established and being cognizant of local health and travel advisories. To date, we have complied with all such requirements and temporarily closed several store locations in the affected areas. We will continue to monitor the situation and make the necessary arrangements to ensure the health and safety of our employees and customers."

    How did they communicate in campaigns?#

    Times of crisis can be an opportunity for many brands — not just a challenge. Retailers are moving quickly to online channels by launching Mini Programs and livestreams to make online transactions easier, and beauty brands have offered more entry-level products. Perfect Diary released a mobile game ahead of their Valentine’s Day campaign as a way to ease the stress of citizens. In fact, some luxury brands expressed their care messages via their upcoming Valentines’ Day campaigns, but most kept to traditional “love” themes that showed little creativity or originality.

    Louis Vuitton WeChat post.
    Louis Vuitton WeChat post.

    The one brand that stood out was Louis Vuitton, which posted a heartfelt message on WeChat: “Every paused journey will eventually restart. Louis Vuitton hopes you and your beloved ones stay safe and healthy.” The message is consistent with the brand’s DNA, which is rooted in its origins as a fine luggage producer.

    Versace, the brand that was deep in the T-shirt controversy, has also reacted quickly. The spokesperson said in an interview with Jing Daily that they have taken many initiatives to control the situation."We have closed some stores in China as a safety measure to protect our employees, many China staff's trips plan to FW20 fashion show in Milan in February are canceled for safety reason as well," she wrote. " We have also postponed our campaign and media investments in China for now, but we are working with fashion media like Elle, and in collaboration with many other brands, to initiate a new campaign called 'I believe' which aims to spread messages of positivity."

    Overall, luxury brands should think hard about what they can provide to Chinese consumers, and how they can leverage this crisis as an opportunity to push forward brand values — whether that means creating a meaningful campaign or simply demonstrating a positive attitude.

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