The high-street retailer’s sales increased by over 20% from a year earlier, making it one of the most-popular brands in the children’s clothing category on Tmall Global, Alibaba Group’s cross-border e-commerce platform. Its flagship store followers doubled from last year, while consumers also spent an average of 60% more per order.
Boden cited its use of livestreaming as key to this year’s success. Celebrity-turned-livestreamer Li Xiang, for example, helped promote its products in front of more than seven million viewers on Nov. 3, which led to a sales spike for the brand. Its store also streamed daily sessions through Taobao Live, Alibaba’s dedicated livestreaming platform, in the run-up to the shopping festival.
“Livestreamers in China know how to present the product, and they go deep into details of the quality – even explaining things such as what is in the lining – which consumers there want to hear. They play to our strengths,” said Elena Cardellini, international marketplace and wholesale manager at Boden. She said they leverage the tool to not just sell products, but shed light on everything from Boden’s story and heritage to the design inspirations behind the products.
“We always see a peak in engagement and in the number of followers on 11.11,” Cardellini said, but their customer interactions don’t stop there. “Once the customer becomes a fan, we can really engage with them and get in touch again when we have future events. So 11.11 doesn’t just help us during those six weeks but also in the following six months leading up to the next major sales festival – 6.18 – when we’d engage with our fans again.
In nearly 30 years, London-based Boden has gone from a mail-order menswear studio to a full-fledged, global e-commerce business offering clothing collections for women, men, teens and children. Boden’s main markets include the U.K., U.S. and Germany, which make up the lion’s share of the business, but it has also been expanding to new international markets to accelerate growth, including making its first foray into China via Tmall Global in 2018.
Unlike its core markets, where 70% of sales come from womenswear, Boden said its children’s collections have shown the greatest potential in Asian markets, like China, Japan and Korea.
Even before officially entering China, the brand had seen strong organic demand for its kids’ products, such as the number of searches and purchases made on its website by Chinese shoppers. What reaffirmed its determination to enter the market was the growth of resellers offering its products on Taobao, another e-marketplace run by Alibaba. Boden also already unknowingly gained some brand awareness and social media buzz, thanks to the Beckham family and British royal children appearing on Chinese social media donning the brand’s clothes.
While China currently accounts for a small part of the business – just a one-digit percentage – Boden sees enormous potential for growth in the market, where some 15 million babies are born every year. Even as China has done away with its one-child policy, Cardellini said many families still opt to have one baby, and the parents and grandparents are keen to treat that child with special, higher-quality items.
British goods represent a paragon of quality in the eyes of Chinese consumers. This is especially true in the mom-and-baby sector, now the leading and fastest-growing category on Tmall Global. And despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Chinese demand for British products has remained resilient with sales of products from the U.K. more than doubling on the cross-border e-commerce site in the first half of the year, compared to last year.
Boden sees Tmall Global, where shoppers tend to be young, affluent and digitally savvy, as an effective platform to reach new consumers with new product releases, such as its new Harry Potter-themed collection launched in April. It was such a hit that the store’s unique visitors doubled year over year in May. The collection’s popularity also helped drive a successful campaign for the 6.18 sales festival, during which the brand surpassed its full-day sales from last year’s event by 70% within the first hour.
Boden also makes use of Alibaba’s analytics tools, such as Databank, to more deeply understand who its customers are and what they are buying. For example, its Chinese customers turned out to be much younger than in its other markets and are often career moms who live in China’s tier-one and tier-two cities, said Cardellini. These consumers are after a good story and quality products rather than just discounts.
Tmall Global also played an important role when Covid-19 first hit China. The platform allowed the brand to keep reaching and engaging consumers throughout the lockdowns, including through new and trending formats, like short-form videos. Boden also quickly adjusted its offerings on the site to feature items that consumers would more likely wear at home, such as prioritizing T-shirts and comfortable dresses over swimwear or outerwear.
Boden saw a marked uplift in consumption when life started to return to normal in China, and its March sales even increased 150% year over year. In China, and later around the globe, the brand’s childrenswear business went soaring as kids spent more time at home rather than in their school uniforms.
Agility, however, may be the most essential secret sauce to Boden’s success story in China. Cardellini said her team works in parallel with the rest of the company and acts more like a startup. This allows them to be hyperlocal in their approach: They quickly apply and rework assets, taking from the main business what will work for China and leaving out what won’t.
“We’ve established a critical path that other departments may struggle to do. Having this out-of-the-box thinking in our U.K. team has made a huge difference to our ability to change and succeed.”
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