On the heels of its 6.18 Mid-Year Shopping Festival, Alibaba Group hosted a livestreamed webinar with global analysis and advisory firm Coresight Research to discuss the results of and learnings gleaned from the biggest shopping event in China since the outbreak of Covid-19.
U.S. brands Allbirds and Supergoop! joined the conversation and shared the latest updates on their businesses in China, their experiences participating in 6.18 and tips for businesses looking to enter the China market. Also in attendance were Alibaba’s Head of Tmall Global and Kaola for the Americas Tony Shan and Coresight Research CEO Deborah Weinswig, who moderated the discussion.
Below are some highlights from the discussion.
This year’s 6.18 shopping festival, which kicked off on June 1 and wrapped up last week, showed robust signs of recovery from Chinese consumers. There was a particular strong appetite for international brands; according to Shan, Alibaba’s dedicated cross-border e-commerce platform Tmall Global saw 43% year-over-year growth in Gross Merchandise Volume – defined as the total value of orders settled through Alipay on Tmall Global – with 4,000 participating brands doubling GMV year-over-year during the event.
U.S. brands continued to win the hearts of Chinese consumers. Having just launched on Tmall in mid-February, Texas-based SPF-skincare brand Supergoop! delivered a strong performance for its first 6.18 festival. “Our 6.18 sales were way beyond our wildest imaginations,” said the brand’s president, Amanda Baldwin. San Francisco-based sustainable footwear label Allbirds enjoyed similar success, logging the biggest single-day sales ever since joining Tmall in 2019.
In China, shopping festivals are not only about running promotions and discounts but are also important occasions for brands to engage with both new and existing consumers.
As a premium brand that doesn’t rely on discounts, Allbirds took 6.18 as an opportunity to build momentum for its brand presence in China. To create buzz going into the festival, it launched its first line of running shoes as well as a carbon-scoring program. Throughout the event, it also kept consumers interested with limited-edition products and branded gifts, such as reusable water bottles and shoe bags.
“Introducing new things to consumers on a daily basis was one of the biggest learnings we had,” said Erick Haskell, the president of international at Allbirds. The brand-building effort introduced Allbirds to a whole new set of Chinese consumers: 65% of 6.18 shoppers were new to the brand, Haskell added.
Given that 6.18 was the first important shopping festival for Supergoop! since entering the China market, the brand invested significantly in marketing efforts to not only capture the prime season for the SPF category but also to raise visibility for the brand.
“It was a sort of testing ground for us of seeing what happens in an environment like [6.18] and how do we understand how to build a business that is successful in a large promotion but is also built for long-term success,” Baldwin explained.
Both Baldwin and Haskell stressed the importance of playing the long-term game in China and investing in learning how to best serve its consumers.
For Supergoop!, the brand made its China debut on Tmall Global just as Covid-19 was hitting its peak in the country. The company felt compelled to push ahead with its plan of expanding into the China market – a move it saw as a long-term opportunity. To its surprise, it found that a lot of Chinese consumers were watching livestreams and prioritizing skincare while confined at home. As a result, Supergoop! had “unbelievable success out of the gate,” said Baldwin. Serving the most sophisticated consumers in the world also provided the brand with significant learning opportunities. Baldwin said the company was amazed at how detailed Chinese customers were when asking about products. “You have to have your ‘A game’ on,” she said.
“Sometimes it is tempting to see how much someone will order tomorrow, especially in an economic climate where brands are challenged. But this is too important of a market to think of the short term. Play the long game now and always,” Baldwin added.
Haskell also attributed Allbirds’ success to its commitment to building up a local base and team early on. “We built a local team with expertise in social media, digital marketing and PR, and who worked directly with the Tmall team,” said Haskell. “This allows us to be more relevant for Chinese consumers, compared to other brands who simply put products on the market.”
Haskell added that Tmall’s sophisticated algorithms and insights also helped it perfect its marketing strategy so that it could better cater to its customers.
Covid-19 has accelerated the need for digitization for both consumers and businesses. To become digital requires more than just running an online store front – it also requires businesses to digitize the backbones of their operations.
For Allbirds, the biggest learning was the importance of having integrated online and offline operational capabilities. Thanks to an omnichannel infrastructure it had built up since day one, the brand was able to quickly shift to leverage offline stores to fulfill online orders during the pandemic. Allbirds continued to experiment with livestreaming and also connected online consumers store with store staff via Tmall’s video-chat technologies.
Baldwin reiterated the importance of being a digitally savvy brand, adding that Supergoop’s online capabilities helped minimize disruptions caused by Covid-19. “If you are a brand that was not digital first, you need to think to up your digital capabilities,” she said.
Click here to watch a playback of the discussion.