Versace For H&M Sees Chinese Shoppers Packing Stores…To Make Returns

Versace’s “Affordable Luxury” A Hit, But Return Rates High

Customers line up in the rain for the release of the Versace for H&M collection in Beijing (Image: Metro UK)

Customers line up in the rain for the release of the Versace for H&M collection in Beijing (Image: Metro UK)

Following the release of the highly anticipated Versace for H&M collection in China on Thursday, November 17, Chinese media reports this week that the enthusiasm that initially met the collaboration has been replaced by high return and exchange rates at stores in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai. As in cities like New York, where Madison Avenue Spy clocked “more than a small bin of returns” today, it appears shoppers at the debut of the collection all had a “buy now, return later” strategy. But as Chinese news sites and blogs observe this week, there’s a bit more to it in China than simple buyer’s remorse.

Previous H&M designer collaborations have been uniformly successful, with throngs of shoppers more than eager to wait in line for hours (or overnight), and have generally created reliable storms of publicity for the Swedish mass-market retailer. In this sense, Versace for H&M certainly worked its magic, but it may be the first such collection to encounter such high rates of return and exchange, at least in China. So what could have gone wrong?

Part of it just comes down to the fact that each customer at H&M stores in China was limited to 15 minutes in the fitting rooms, so, since many designs only had one piece in each size, many shoppers simply skipped the fitting room and went with the “grab and pay” method. But many other Chinese shoppers complained about the design and fit of the collection itself. As one shopper in Shanghai told China Fashion Brand Online (中国时尚品牌网) this week, “The garments look chic on the models in the campaign, but on our typical Asian body frames, they’re fashion gone wrong. I had to return all of the clothes I bought, though I kept a few accessories as a dedicated fan of Versace.”


Chinese actress Fan Bingbing in Versace for H&M

Raving over Big Brands and “Affordable Luxury”

The majority of Chinese consumers remain fixated on “big” brand names. From the mad rush we saw for the Versace x H&M collection and more recent negative post-purchase feedback in China, it’s evident that most shoppers were attracted by the name Versace regardless of the design or quality of the products themselves. As Jing Daily has previously noted, brand fixation is fueling the rise of “affordable luxury” in China. As the vast majority of Chinese consumers can’t afford top-tier luxury brands, demand is booming for “made for China” sub-brands and lower-range lines. This partly explains why consumer interest for, and disappointment with, the Versace for H&M collection is so pronounced in China. For many middle- and lower-middle-class Chinese consumers, the likes of H&M, Zara or GAP are the only Western brands they’ll be able to afford in any real way, much less Versace.

Collaborations with Local Designers

Though the new Versace for H&M collection is by most standards a massive success in China, despite the negative response from many buyers, going forward it would probably be a smart move for H&M to look into partnering with local Chinese designers on a China-only capsule collection. In addition to raising the visibility of these designers and appearing committed to the China market, H&M would be able to remedy perhaps the biggest complaint about its recent collection — poor fit on Asian body frames.

Next, however, H&M will partner with the Italian label Marni on a limited-edition A/W 2012 collection. For the sake of both brands, let’s just hope the collection is limited only in quantity.

Article by Lisa Ying Dai