American interior design brand Herman Miller is building a home for itself on Alibaba Group’s e-commerce platform Tmall.
The Michigan-based furniture company, known for its ergonomic chairs and modern touches, partnered with Tmall in 2013 to engage Chinese consumers.
A decade on, it has proven to be a winning strategy that has kept Herman Miller’s physical footprint to one store in China.
“The best place people can see the brand, learn about what we offer and get the brand story is on our Tmall flagship,” Eric Ishii-Eckhardt, Director of Digital, APMEA, at Herman Miller’s mother company MillerKnoll, told Alizila in a recent interview.
The brand leverages livestreaming and partnerships with local influencers, especially during major shopping events like 11.11, while carefully curating viewership using data analytics to hone in on specific audiences.
“We see Tmall as the digital equivalent of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for China,” he said.
Watch the interview above or read the video transcript below, edited for clarity and brevity
Eric Ishii-Eckhardt: Herman Miller is a 100-year-old design-led company. We’ve been innovating in the furniture and interior space for that whole time, inventing new ways for people to make healthy and happy lives at work and home.
Around the 1990s, Herman Miller became really well-known for office chairs. We released the first ergonomic office chair: the Aeron chair. On the other hand, we’re also well-known for mid-century modern design.
Herman Miller is a global company with offices all around the world. But our headquarters is still in Zeeland, Michigan, just like it was 100 years ago. And having that sort of history of a small-town Midwest manufacturing company is part of our heritage. We still have a large manufacturing base in Zeeland.
China’s an important market for us. It’s important because a lot of innovation is coming out of China. I think the e-commerce suite you see in China is different than anywhere in the world; it’s something a global brand can learn from.
Herman Miller joined Tmall in 2013. So, 2023 is our 10-year anniversary on Tmall, which we’re excited to celebrate. It started as kind of an experiment. We didn’t know if the market would respond to classic modern design, authentic designs and ergonomic seating at the top of the quality spectrum. And we were happily surprised by the market response. We developed it into a much bigger business after that experiment.
We only have one physical store in the whole country. So, not many people can get to Shanghai and see that store. The best place people can see the brand, learn about what we offer and get the brand story is on our Tmall flagship.
There are a lot of tools on Tmall that help us understand our audience, reach new audiences, and make sales. We use livestreaming. That’s a big awareness builder for us. We like to activate KOLs. We look at the big shopping holidays, like 11.11 and 6.18. We make sure we participate in those in smart ways that get our product out in front of customers at the time when they’re really thinking about purchasing.
One of the ways our strategy on Tmall is segmenting our audiences more carefully. So, we’re looking at putting up flagship stores that address luxury furniture shoppers in the luxury category. We’re looking at better segmentation. Those are informed by the analytics we get and advice from our category managers. And we’re excited about that new strategy.
Growth in China is really important for our company overall. And the best place to see all of our products and the whole brand proposition is on Tmall. We see Tmall as the digital equivalent of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for China.