While international luxury brands might have been wary of setting up shop on Chinese e-commerce platforms such as Tmall and JD.com in the past, the last one and a half years have demonstrated their adaptability and willingness to evolve with the times. Spurred on by the impact of the pandemic on their offline retail channels, brands flocked to online platforms in droves. Today, Tmall is home to over 200 international luxury brands.
Debuting on a marketplace, however, is only the first step. For brands looking to grow their e-commerce performance, adapting to the local marketing and shopping calendar is a must. This includes everything from online shopping festivals like 618 or Singles Day to traditional celebrations like Chinese Valentine’s Day (Qixi) and 520 – the former of which is known to drive the bulk of all e-commerce transactions made over the course of a year. While such events often have the reputation of being heavy on discounts and promotional activities, they do generate significant traffic and transactions, making them important for brands to consider.
Brands that that are concerned about diluting brand equity with discounts can think about leveraging alternative marketing tactics to increase awareness and drive purchase intentions during these festivals. Initially conceived as a mid-year sales event, 618 has since evolved into an important outlet for brands to launch new collections and limited editions tailored to the local market on top of offering discounts. Some luxury watch brands have begun exploring this, riding on the festival’s momentum to raise brand awareness and drive conversions – Swiss watchmaker Breitling being one of them.
Known as one of the more digitally-savvy luxury watchmakers, Breitling has been taking very proactive steps in China digitally, having launched several e-commerce channels and being active on Chinese social media platforms. This year, on the occasion of 618, the brand chose to take things a step further and globally debuted its white dial Avenger GMT 43 timepiece in China and exclusively on online marketplaces during the festival. Breitling also collaborated with local actor Zhang Yunlong and influencers from different fields on content creation to better engage with the Chinese market.
Given the bold, robust and high-performance image of the Avenger collection, the watch’s activation campaign Tough to the End drew on its DNA and emphasised on the idea of fearlessness and strength to increase resonance with target consumers. This concept was populated across all the brand’s Chinese social media channels with the help of rich media assets such as livestreams and videos. Given the interconnectedness of the Chinese digital landscape, social content on channels like Weibo or Xiaohongshu (RED) can also serve to drive traffic to and conversions on e-commerce channels like Tmall, impacting overall sales performance.
“Get close to your Chinese customers, understand the Chinese communication codes and how they translate in the digital ecosystem. This means localisation of content, calls-to-action, as well as tools and systems to better engage with Chinese customers anywhere and anytime, from any digital or physical touchpoint,” says Antonio Carriero, Chief Digital and Technology Officer of Breitling. This is what the brand has been doing, and its efforts have paid off: the campaign featuring Zhang Yunlong and all related social content during 618 generated purchases in over 140 cities and channelled nearly one million users to Tmall, allowing Breitling to acquire over 150,000 new followers on its Tmall flagship store. To date, the e-commerce sales achieved during this period is the brand's highest in China yet.
More than just a transactional platform, online marketplaces in China also serve as a channel for brand and product discovery for consumers. This is especially important for brands that do not necessarily have a vast network of offline touchpoints in China, as it allows them to reach a wider base of consumers they would otherwise be unable to engage with. During the recent 618 shopping festival, over 70 per cent of luxury watch sales with average transaction values (ATV) of above 50,000 RMB came from second-tier cities and below. This further demonstrates the importance of e-commerce marketplaces for luxury watch brands, as most of them do not have physical stores in non-first-tier cities in China.
One of the ways for brands to communicate and better engage with these consumers is through livestreaming. While the more commonly known type of livestream involves working with top influencers (KOLs) on Tmall to drive huge amounts of traffic and attention, brands can also conduct smaller-scale livestream sessions that are produced and hosted in-house. The latter not only gives brands better control of the content and tone used, its lengthier duration (compared to the fleeting exposures on KOL livestreams) allows viewers to have a deeper understanding of the brand and its products.
Breitling opted for an in-house livestreaming format as part of its 618 campaign and broadcast it both on WeChat and Weibo. Hosted by brand associates, the livestream also featured Chang Yisheng (@常YI生), an adventurous, thrill-seeking influencer that is known for his interest in extreme sports. While consumers could purchase timepieces directly on its WeChat Mini Program store during its WeChat livestream, its Weibo livestream drove shoppers to Tmall instead, through in-session links. By leveraging a range of social media platforms for this livestream, the brand was able to reach users along different points of the consumer journey.
In addition to recruiting new customers, brands also need to reach out to and reactivate existing customers during these periods. “WeChat and WeCom are the cornerstones of engagement with customers online but also in boutiques; before, after, and also during the interaction with sales staff. Each luxury brand must have a clear e-commerce strategy for China – but also a clear WeChat strategy in place,” says Carriero. As such, the brand tapped into WeChat to activate its existing customers for 618.
In tandem with the launch of its new timepiece, the brand created dedicated menu tabs and a special welcome message on WeChat to guide followers to explore the novelty or visit its Mini Program store. Ahead of the livestream sessions, consumers were also prompted to reserve a spot either through the chat message window or via a link in the WeChat article announcing the livestream. By doing so, they would receive a livestreaming link directly in their inbox when the livestream begins.
“WeChat is a medium for content and storytelling, with live e-commerce capabilities. It is also a place for consumers to ‘meet’ the brand and its real ambassadors – and it is the people behind the ‘desk’ that make the brand and take care of any customer enquiries and requests,” says Carriero. All this is made possible within the WeChat ecosystem with the help of Mini Programs and WeCom clienteling integration, he adds.
While the buzz surrounding shopping festivals like 618 can help to increase interest and awareness, the onus is on brands to turn that into conversions by crafting targeted strategies that address the needs and preferences of local consumers. If there is anything Breitling has displayed, it is that there is no single tactic that can make this happen, but a sum of initiatives – from releasing special merchandise or global debuts to leveraging CRM and clienteling – that make up a brand’s success in the market.
Disclaimer: DLG (Digital Luxury Group) worked with Breitling on its 618 campaign. Luxury Society is the business intelligence division of DLG.