When top global fast fashion retailers such as Zara, Uniqlo, or H&M first opened in mainland China, a large flagship store in an area with high foot traffic in Beijing or Shanghai was considered an absolute must for entering the market. Turning this idea on its head is British competitor Topshop, which recently made waves in the industry when it announced that it its foray into the mainland would not be in brick-and-mortar form, but rather in the digital world through a partnership with luxury e-commerce site ShangPin.
From taking a look at ShangPin’s high-tech, high-fashion business model, it’s clear that one main factor played a major role in the decision: mobile technology.
This was apparent at a recent two-day event to promote the partnership at The Place, one of Beijing’s largest malls. Appropriately named “The Mobile Adventure,” the pop-up station featured giant human-sized iPhones with several of the 300 different Topshop looks styled by ShangPin for the launch. The event’s roughly 5,000 attendees gained access through a special QR code on their phone, and when inside had the opportunity to scan the looks to purchase immediately. In addition, clothes on display also all came with QR code tags, allowing attendees to scan and order online.
Viral social media promotion was also heavily mobile-focused for the September 26 and 27 event: participants had the opportunity to download a mobile game where they could be a “fashion editor” by creating their own look, taking a photo at the event, and posting it to WeChat. The event also invited over 100 key opinion leaders (KOLs) and celebrities to the event such as Harper’s Bazaar China Editor Su Mang, actress Wang Luo Dan, and fashion designer Chi Zhang to help spread online buzz.
Topshop’s launch is the first time a fast fashion brand has decided to go online first on the mainland. The decision “is a great way to introduce a brand into China,” says ShangPin Vice President of International Business Development M. Claire Chung. “That is the way to really reach out and educate the customers on the brand.”
Chung notes that part of ShangPin’s appeal to Topshop is the fact that there’s been a “big shift” in the profile of the typical luxury and fashion consumer in China, who is now more likely to be young, fashion-forward, and individualistic. According to her, more than 50 percent of the shoppers on ShangPin’s Lanvin store are below the age of 40, and their tastes generally differ from those of the older generation.
“What they’re looking for is very different from the first generation, which is buying logos. Instead, the new generation of luxury consumer is interested in style and expressing their individuality through style,” she says. “That’s a big, big difference. That’s why we’re so excited to have Topshop because it’s a brand that is very fashion-forward.” In order to appeal to this demographic, ShangPin focuses heavily on editorializing and curating its offerings, as well as working with with top fashion bloggers and magazines.
This shift goes hand-in-hand with higher rates of mobile usage, according to ShangPin CEO David Zhao. “For China’s young consumers, who were born in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and spend up to 30 percent of their day online or on mobile, it was only fitting that we do it through a bold experience that seamlessly merged the physical and virtual worlds. This is how we live in China today.” Chung notes that young consumers are “digitally engaged,” but “they’re not price comparison shopping like the traditional online shopper. They’re looking for lifestyle. They want the look.”
According to Zhao, the consumer shift to mobile technology “has been a very significant change over the past couple of years.” As a result, ShangPin has “put a lot of effort on the R&D centered on mobile. Currently, more than 40 percent of sales are on mobile.”
ShangPin’s mobile sales come from three main sources: e-commerce enabled on WeChat, direct ordering through the company’s mobile-enabled website, and orders made through its new mobile app that was launched last year and currently boasts 1.6 million followers. The app, which features 1,000 styled looks per month, has been a major driving force in mobile sales. According to Zhao, more than 50 percent of ShangPin’s mobile sales come through the app, while WeChat’s sales come in second with about 20 percent of the total.
Another major appeal of mobile sales for Topshop is the ability to reach Chinese consumers in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, which currently make up the majority of ShangPin’s sales. For many residents in China’s more than 300 large cities, their only way to reach niche fashion brands is through purchasing online. Zhao projects that more than 80 percent of ShangPin’s sales will hail from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in the future.
As China’s young, trendy, and digital consumer base expands, the company only sees mobile becoming more important as the market grows: Zhao projects that the percentage of the company’s mobile sales will reach 70 to 80 percent of all purchases on ShangPin. According to the e-tailer’s current sales statistics and projections, it looks like members of China’s new shopper generation are not only rapidly bringing fashion shopping online, but they’re doing it on their smartphones.