Alibaba Group officially kicked off its 2021 6.18 Mid-Year Shopping Festival last week with 250,000 brands participating, more than double the number compared to last year.
The festival, which started its presales period on May 24 and will run through June 20, brings customers nearly four weeks of exciting deals and products.
Last year’s 6.18 was one of the biggest shopping festivals in China following a 76-day national lockdown and became a key recovery and growth driver for brands. This year, Alibaba’s leading B2C online marketplace, Tmall, has served up RMB10 billion (US$1.57 billion) in consumer coupons and subsidies to help further stimulate post-Covid consumption.
How Brands are Tapping into This Year’s 6.18
After a year of unprecedented challenges, Chinese consumers have proven to be resilient in the face of Covid-related disruptions, and their demand for high-quality goods and new products has spurred top international companies to expand their footprint in China through e-commerce. Since last year’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, a series of brands including Hermès, Gucci, La Prairie and Dior have launched online flagship stores on Tmall.
6.18 is also considered a bellwether for 11.11, where brands can learn how best to engage Chinese shoppers during sales festivals, as well as an important opportunity to cultivate new customers. In fact, 8,200 new brands are using this year’s 6.18 to make their Tmall debuts.
Brands also see 6.18 as a prime moment to launch new products and collections, since consumers are more willing to try new things when shopping for the best deals. According to Tmall, this year’s 6.18 is expected to bring 1.4 million newly launched products to consumers in China. For example, Rothy’s, a sustainable lifestyle brand that transforms recycled materials into modern shoes, handbags and accessories, is introducing its new men’s line on Tmall to coincide with its U.S. launch.
“We can see huge traffic coming to the Tmall platform during the campaign period. It’s a great opportunity for Rothy’s to celebrate the festival with our customers, and we hope to attract more sustainable-fashion lovers, both men and women, during 6.18 to convert them into buyers and customers,” said Michelle Tang, general manager of Rothy’s China.
British hairstyling and appliance brand GHD started preparing for 6.18 months ago by taking advantage of Alibaba’s various gamification features and technologies, including livestreaming and virtual reality, to launch their brand-new hair styler prior to the event.
“From our perspective, 6.18 is the biggest activity after 11.11 in the China market,” said Ross Leibbrandt, the global commercial director of GHD. “We’ve got a full lineup of influencer activities and a detailed plan encompassing our latest technology products. We launched new products a couple of months earlier in preparation to generate interest behind them and to peak the conversation during the shopping festival,” he added.
Opportunities for Global Brands to Find Long-Term Growth
Emma Lee, the head of fashion for cross-border online marketplace Tmall Global, also pointed to how 6.18 has become an important precursor to 11.11 for brands. She said that the campaign is an opportunity for brands to get a glimpse into and prepare for the biggest sales festival of the year, so they can “walk before they run,” including by experimenting with engagement tools on Alibaba’s platforms, understanding who their customers are and pinning down the right pricing strategies and product assortments.
British health and wellness retailer Holland & Barrett, for example, launched its flagship on Tmall Global ahead of the festival and has prepared for its first-ever 6.18 through a series of collaborations with KOLs to engage with their shoppers.
“As international travel continues to be restricted, we are using 6.18 as a way to bring the essence of New York to Chinese consumers,” Lee said. “New York is a fashion capital of the world. For Chinese consumers, especially Gen Z, these New York brands represent a feeling of being fearless and unapologetic. For these brands, 6.18 is great timing to really understand what the China market can mean for them in the long term.”
Innovations and Interactions for Consumers
This year, for the first time, the 6.18 shopping festival’s presales period kicked off at 8 p.m. instead of at midnight. The earlier start gave shoppers more time to browse and choose products. Shoppers were also able to use the extra hours to watch their favorite KOLs and livestreamers showcase their favorite 6.18 offerings and win vouchers during the broadcasts.
As livestreaming becomes a critical way for brands to engage with consumers, the iconic U.S. designer Diane von Furstenberg conducted a special 6.18 broadcast from her flagship store in NYC to the brand’s more than 320,000 fans on Tmall to showcase its latest spring and summer collections.
“Livestreaming is now an essential tool for DVF to tell our brand story and build our brand loyalty. We plan to conduct more livestreams from our NYC flagship in the future and bring the latest fashion and styles to our customers in China,” said Gabby Hirata, the president of DVF.
This latest edition of 6.18 offers additional perks for subscribers of their favorite brands on Tmall, with the platform initiating a campaign to encourage brands to go the extra mile to reward their fans. 2,000 brands have pushed out member-exclusive discounts. Newly joined members of Alibaba’s 88VIP customer-loyalty program are also eligible for additional 5% discounts on top of some existing 6.18 offers and can redeem up to RMB520 in shopping vouchers.
Aside from coupons and discounts, Tmall has rolled out new features and upgraded logistics services to improve the experience of consumers during the festival, Tmall Vice President Yang Guang said.
New features include Tmall Lists, which are curated shopping guides for consumers looking for shopping inspiration. The product rankings are calculated based on a range of criteria, which may include popularity among consumers, value for money and expert reviews.
Alibaba’s delivery and logistics arm, Cainiao, also upgraded its express-delivery service across China’s major cities, high-density communities and rural areas just before 6.18 kicked off. During the presales period, Cainiao’s express-delivery service guaranteed 95% of its orders would be delivered on the same or next day. By 8 a.m. on June 1, over 1 million shoppers had received their presales purchases through Cainiao.
Earlier this week, Taobao and Tmall also partnered with Cainiao to launch a free door-to-door delivery service to serve students and faculty members in 1,000 university campuses across the country. That’s not all – throughout the month, Cainiao is setting up 5,000 parcel-pickup stations in China’s remote villages and towns to expedite deliveries for more consumers.
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