China’s top web celebrity Zhang Dayi is finally coming into her own. Zhang, who first opened a store, “The Wardrobe I like”, on Taobao in the summer of 2014, was the first seller on the Chinese e-commerce platform to break the 100-million-yuan record (roughly $15 million). That happened during last year’s Singles’ Day, Alibaba’s signature shopping event.
Now, Zhang, who is among the legions of China’s wanghong (as web celebrities are referred to in Chinese slang) and who started off selling girly dresses inspired by young Japanese models, is being looked to for her acumen at running one of the most successful online shops in China. On July 19, she gave a highly informative and revealing personal interview to Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), the details of which are worth a closer look.
A highlight of the interview is the tale of Zhang’s business success, which was compared, interestingly enough, with that of Hollywood’s A-list celebrity Kim Kardashian. In 2016, Zhang’s store reportedly pulled in $46 million, slightly surpassing Kardashian’s annual earnings ($45.5 million), which was based on estimates by Forbes.
The profit-making ability of this 29-year-old fashion entrepreneur is uncontested, but her achievements have gone far beyond that. In late May, Zhang was invited to speak at Alibaba’s Investor Day about her online business model and the trends of China’s booming wanghong economy. The event draws hundreds and thousands of business and financial investors from around the world. This month, she also showed up as a special guest at the Taobao Maker Festival.
Zhang’s WWD interview revealed some secrets behind her ultra-successful business, which the global retail industry can learn from.
When asked what kind of social media posts attract the most engagement, Zhang acknowledged the importance of the “interactive” element in her posts and explained the right way of asking questions in order to motivate responses from her followers. Here’s what she said:
For example, if I say, “This is such a pretty outfit!” If people think it looks ugly, then they won’t reply, but if you ask “What do you think of this dress?” it’s different. Another example, a sentence like, “I think this lipstick is beautiful,” versus, “Which color of lipstick do you like?” One is a statement, one is a question. The latter is more interactive. That way, they know you are looking, and you can even reply to them. Fans like that.
Being an expert at generating online engagement not only helps Zhang grow and maintain her fan base but also serves as a significant way for Zhang to gauge the preferences of her followers (who are also, ultimately, her customers) to the products that she sells. By collecting enough customer feedback in the comments sections, she further helps her team estimate the number of products that they should produce, effectively reducing the burden on their inventory management.
Inventory overstocking has long been a conundrum for many retailers. In Zhang’s case, her team utilizes big data analytics to measure consumer sentiment towards newly released products. In addition, from time to time, Zhang holds flash sales and takes pre-orders.
Helping Zhang master these tasks behind the scenes is a local company called Ruhan E-commerce, according to a report by China Tech Insights.
Zhang is Ruhan’s cash cow. According to the report, the company owns a 51-percent stake in Zhang’s e-commerce firm. Ruhan mostly helps Zhang on the business side, including supply chain management, fabric purchases, design and pattern-making, manufacturing and production. Zhang, on the other hand, devotes most of her efforts to follower acquisition and retention, and promoting her products.
On her ability to attract so many online followers, Zhang told WWD that she believes her fans love her not only for her fashion style, but also for her “outlook, values and way of communications.” Her answer speaks to the importance of the personality of an online celebrity in China.
Currently, Zhang is on the lookout for expanding her business to other Asian nations such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea, which she believes have a similar fashion sense and sweet dressing style. However, one obstacle she identified is that the e-commerce infrastructure and online buying habits of the populace is different in these countries from the way they are in China.
“They are not used to buying things on Taobao,” she said, “so it takes time. But now we’re focusing on growing followers on social media and will work on getting to the transaction later.”