During China’s annual mid-year 618 e-commerce extravaganza, homegrown brand Ubras topped underwear sales rankings with a gross merchandise value of almost $60 million (400 million RMB). Given the fierce competition in the sector, which houses over 3,000 registered homegrown brands as of 2019, the achievement is remarkable for the six-year-old company.
Ubras is not alone in disrupting the underwear market. 2012 saw the launch of Neiwai, which became a Gen Z favorite (and Ubras competitor) for its wireless bras. Three years ago, the latter’s total sales volume was six to eight times smaller than Neiwai, as per digital agency Totem’s report. Yet, Ubras’ digital focus differentiated it from its rival which, despite being a digital-first player, predominantly targeted shoppers through brick-and-mortar stores. By 2020, Ubras had a four-fold lead on Neiwai with livestream sales, making clear the importance of online sales for the digitally native brand.
Janis Xu, a teacher living in Hangzhou, is one of the shoppers contributing to Ubras’ impressive sales record. Xu bought piles of Ubras’ signature one-size bras during the brand’s 618 livestream broadcast. She admits that a few years ago it would have been impossible for her to think about buying underwear online. But seeing many positive reviews on Xiaohongshu prompted her to try the label out.
“I only needed to pick a color and not worry about my measurements,” said Xu, who described the purchase as seamless. The one-size-fits-all loungewear company resolved the pain point of traditional underwear — the need for a physical try-on.
Yet, what turned Xu into a loyal customer was not only the comfortable design but a shrewd post-sales mechanism: a private traffic strategy that encourages existing consumers to return. In 2020, 46 percent of transactions on Ubras’ Tmall flagship store came from organic traffic, which accounted for more than 50 percent of its total visitors — meaning the brand managed to reduce its customer acquisition cost and maximize spending from existing shoppers. Here, Jing Daily analyzes how Ubras leveraged private traffic to build its lingerie empire.
Capitalizing on private traffic
The after-sales journey is crucial for brands looking to convert first-time customers into loyal, repeat shoppers. Xu told Jing Daily that when she purchased from Ubras, she was encouraged to add its sales staff on WeChat, where a virtual sales assistant regularly shares the brand’s events, promotions, and livestream previews. “When I saw the posts on WeChat, it made me curious. I joined the live broadcast out of curiosity and ended up buying.”
Finding and using the right touchpoint for client management is key; WeChat is ideal thanks to its intimate circles of interaction and private traffic infrastructure. Unlike public traffic that is owned by third-party platforms — such as Weibo, Xiaohongshu, and Douyin — private traffic exists exclusively between users and merchants. “Compared to ads, being able to access customers’ personal networks one-on-one is an alternative and cost-effective channel for promotions,” said Franklin Chu, US Managing Director at e-commerce enabler Azoya.
Olivia Plotnick, founder of Wai Social, agreed. “It solidifies the brand image as an online acquaintance.”
Additionally, Plotnick shared that once consumers follow Ubras’ official WeChat, the app immediately recommends personal contacts for them to connect with, which creates direct pre and post-sales channels. “They provide a private conversation to each consumer, including product suggestions and Q&A response in 30 minutes,” adds Plotnick.
Leveraging organic traffic
Once you have them, existing consumers are your best word-of-mouth ambassadors. This is particularly true for Ubras: the underwear upstart has over 10,000 user-generated content posts on lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu. These are only partially from KOLs or KOCs, meaning the rest are posted by unpaid, unseeded Ubras customers, further boosting the credibility (and persuasiveness) of the recommendations. “Consumers prefer peer reviews and word of mouth for brand and product information,” said Azoya’s Chu.
But user-generated content is a double-edged sword in a market where shoppers rely heavily on product reviews. Brands should diligently track negative feedback online and promptly resolve problems to regain shoppers’ trust and turn reviews into positive ones. “If those issues cannot be solved, they will inevitably develop into barriers that impact the brand,” said Plotnick.
Closing the loop: private domain and public platforms
Make your consumers your ambassadors. After a shopper’s first purchase, Ubras staff invite the client to share their review on WeChat, alongside hashtags and other text requirements, to redeem a free set of intimates. Apparently, many satisfied customers have adhered to the initiative in their thousands of posts, helping the company bridge the gap between private traffic interactions and public platforms.
In fact, the private domain has one setback: a brand’s reach is highly targeted but very limited. Encouraging shoppers to publicize their brand experiences overcomes this obstacle, and in order to continue to grow, public forums are essential. For brands, making the two kinds of traffic work together is the way to go.
Room for improvement
WeChat groups are another efficient way to capitalize on private traffic. Not only do they offer a great space for product promotion and brand education, but also build “sticky” user communities. When joining brands’ group chats, consumers expect to be welcomed and receive timely information about new launches, benefits, and events. However, Azoya’s Chu observed that the Ubras WeChat group is silent. “If group admins don’t do anything to ‘activate’ and engage customers in the group chats, people will gradually leave, and the previous efforts to lead consumers into the groups will be in vain,” he said.
Ubras’ strategy isn’t perfect, but it sets a valuable example for global brands looking to tap into China’s $26 billion (177 billion RMB) lingerie market. In a future where sky-high KOL and celebrity budgets look increasingly uncertain, maximizing customer value and retention is the way forward.