How Luxury Brands Are Reaching Chinese Travelers Before They Leave Home

    A report by digital intelligence firm L2 explores brands' omnichannel online strategies in China for driving sales to duty-free retailers.
    Around half of Chinese travelers research where they want to shop abroad before they leave on their trip. (Shutterstock)
    Jessica RappAuthor
      Published   in Finance

    The growing purchasing power of affluent Chinese travelers is making it more important than ever for luxury brands to adopt marketing strategies to target them. With Chinese third-party mobile payment systems like Alipay and WeChat Pay beginning to set up shop in popular global tourist destinations, catering to this traveling consumer is becoming easier to do, but it's not a brand's only option. Digital intelligence firm L2's recent report “Cross-Border and Travel Retail: Connecting Digitally with China's Shoppers” discusses ways brands can be targeting consumers online both during their journey overseas and before they set off.

    “[Luxury brands] are under-serving the traveling Chinese consumer, whether it's through their own brand site and its functionality and capability, their WeChat account, or from leveraging things like WeChat Pay and Alipay,” said Danielle Bailey, head of Asia Pacific Research at L2. “It's a huge missed opportunity for them to not engage on these platforms that Chinese consumers are using all the time. Their phone is their number one travel accessory.”

    Brands that do engage consumers digitally abroad with an omnichannel approach are using platforms like Alipay's “Overseas Travel Channel (支付宝境外游)” to give travelers exclusive gifts, better exchange rates, or let them find deals near where they're going, all within the app on their mobile device. WeChat's website within an app feature gives consumers the opportunity to reserve a product online to pick up in a store and access store locators in their own language that they can hand to a taxi driver en route.

    But about half of Chinese travelers are doing research on what they want to buy abroad before they leave, and luxury brands have been adopting strategies to target these consumers, according to L2.

    A good starting point is to provide an international store locator on their official online store in China, a strategy about 72 percent of brands employ. However, brands can also take it a step further by adding a Chinese-language travel retail site that let shoppers research the products, compare prices, read reviews, view maps that direct them to duty free shops, and even let them purchase the product online in advance so that they can simply pick it up at the airport if they're in a hurry.

    To help consumers find these pages, brands are paying for search term generated Baidu ads. L2 lists the efforts of beauty brands as an example—many brands pay for cosmetics-related key words, while others, like Lancôme, are taking a more travel-centric approach, targeting consumers researching phrases like “South Korean vacation.”

    Brands have also been targeting Chinese consumers through popular cross-border e-commerce sites like Tmall Global and apps like Little Red Book or Xiao Hong Shu. About 13 percent of beauty brands surveyed by L2 maintain a presence on Tmall Global, while some, like Korean brand Too Cool for School, prioritize it over their domestic Tmall site. This way, they give consumers a sampling of products that either aren't currently available to buy in China but are available in duty free stores, or products that they're testing in the market. Too Cool for School even goes so far as to direct online shoppers on Tmall to its Tmall Global page. On the social platform Little Red Book, Korean cosmetics brand Innisfree has recently set up a cross-border e-commerce shop. This leverages Innisfree's position as one of the most frequently mentioned beauty brands on the app by Chinese travelers giving advice and sharing experiences on making purchases abroad.

    While maintaining an engaging physical presence in airports and shopping malls is always important for marketing to the Chinese shopper abroad, brands that understand how to make the most of China's digital sphere are likely going to more efficiently connect with Chinese travelers who are in the process of creating their luxury goods shopping list for their next overseas vacation.

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