Michael Kors currently has around a dozen stores in Greater China
As major luxury brands like Gucci put the brakes on their China expansion efforts in 2013, taking a more wait-and-see approach to new store openings,
-- a key player in China's burgeoning "affordable luxury" segment -- continues to plow ahead. Despite a slowdown in retail sales in the first two months of the year that threatens to dampen the brand's momentum, MK's relatively limited retail presence at the moment (around a dozen stores in Greater China, compared to Coach's 100+) and rising popularity among the country's middle class virtually ensures any negative effects should be manageable.
As a relative newcomer in China, MK's aggressive expansion and marketing efforts are aimed not only at gaining market share but also catching up to more well-established competitors like Coach and Burberry. To that end, the brand is focused intently on young, 20-30-year-old shoppers, particularly those outside of top-tier cities, and plans to open 100-125 stores in the region over the next few years. Indicating Michael Kors's strategic savvy in China, early targets in mainland China after entering the market in 2011 were Chengdu, Tianjin and Suzhou -- wealthier second-tier cities, to be sure, but not "marquee" destinations for most brands. In contrast, higher-end luxury brands like Chanel and Hermès have continually gone after the 30-50-year-old consumer, starting with flagships in first-tier cities and radiating inland from there.
Online, Michael Kors's efforts are further piquing the interest of younger Chinese consumers. According to last month's "World Luxury Index American Fashion” by the Digital Luxury Group, Michael Kors was the most sought-after American brand among Chinese Internet users, trailed by Tory Burch, Hervé Léger and Marc Jacobs. Currently, Michael Kors has 140,071 fans on Sina Weibo, fewer than Coach (595,461), but far more than fellow countrymen Tiffany & Co., Tory Burch, or Marc Jacobs.
At the same time, as Michael Zakkour, Principal, Tompkins Intl. China retail, fashion and consumer group, told Jing Daily, Kors seems to be taking "a cautious approach to e-commerce, as many luxury companies are." Despite topping the list of most searched-for brands in China, this hasn't directly translated to online sales. Currently, the brand does not offer online shopping on its site, and is only available on a handful of Chinese e-commerce sites, several of which operate in the gray market. As Zakkour adds on online retail in China, "While Chinese consumers make 27 percent of all global luxury purchases [and] China has more online shoppers than any country on Earth, the nexus of the two hasn’t really happened yet due to cultural, technological, logistical and investment factors."
Model Shu Pei Qin walks for Michael Kors, fall 2012
In recent months, Michael Kors has combined online and offline strategies for maximum impact in China. This January, the brand launched an official Chinese-language website, taking the time to pack the site with travel diaries, slideshows of celebrities decked out in MK wardrobes, lists of staff favorites, and Sina Weibo connectivity. Additionally, the brand invited influential Chinese fashion bloggers to sit ringside at fashion shows to build buzz in China.
Even Kors's choice of runway models has nodded to the audience in China, with the designer enlisting five of the country's top faces -- Liu Wen, Sun Feifei, Shu Pei Qin, Xi Mengyao, and Ho Sui -- for shows. Looking ahead, this fall Michael Kors is slated to hold his first major fashion show in Shanghai.
As Zakkour told us about Michael Kors's China expansion efforts and future prospects:
I think that not only this year, but the next few years will be huge for Michael Kors in China. They are the brand than many others want to emulate in the market. The brand has connected with Chinese consumers on almost every level; the styles, selection, price points, merchandising, brand story and marketing are firing on all cylinders.
They also benefit from offering such a wide array of footwear, accessory and apparel lines. This gives the Chinese consumer the chance to brand themselves though Michael Kors.
I would like to see them be a little more aggressive with their Global China consumer strategy, develop a more robust omni-channel/e-commerce approach and ensure they have the right strategies to deal with the rapid-retail expansion plan for the next 3-5 years.
Taken as whole, though, I am bullish on their continued growth and success in China for the forseeable future.