Tea is the most-popular drink in the world after water, a fact that inspired Walter Whittard to open his first tea shop on London’s Fleet Street in 1886.
Over the last 134 years, Whittard of Chelsea has endured generational shifts and hardships – everything from world wars to the coronavirus crisis – and through it all, has continued sharing its premium teas, coffees and hot chocolates with U.K. consumers.
Today, the British brand is a jolly good success at home. But, aware that 25,000 cups of tea are consumed every second across the globe and that, from its origins in China, tea culture has spread far and wide, it has been actively expanding its international footprint over the past several years.
Four years ago, Whittard launched a store on Alibaba’s Tmall Global, the e-commerce giant’s cross-border online marketplace for brands. Since its launch, the company said it has seen strong double-digit growth annually.
Perfect Blend of Convenience
Following the successful Tmall Global launch, Whittard launched another store last May on Tmall, Alibaba’s B2C platform for brands that have built up a more mature presence and network in China.
“We were blown away by the popularity of the brand on Tmall Global. We’ve had a really amazing time with all the support from the Alibaba teams both in the U.K. and in China, so we were really excited to launch a local store too and we have been delighted with the performance of both stores,” said Lexie Morris, China GM for Whittard of Chelsea.
Aside from expanding its e-commerce presence, Whittard has made offline shopping more convenient for Chinese visitors to its U.K shops, accepting digital payments via Alipay – the world’s leading mobile payments and lifestyle platform – at all 50 of its brick-and-mortar locations across the U.K.
“We had Chinese customers pass by the doors of our stores in the U.K. and notice the Alipay logo. It gave them a real pleasure to be able to shop conveniently in a way that they are used to, and we love being able to give our customers such a positive experience of shopping with us,” said Morris.
Thirsty for More
According to industry publication World Tea News, China accounts for 40% of the world’s tea consumption. The country’s younger generations, known for their curiosity and love for anything novel, are also fueling new patterns of consumption and growing thirst for overseas teas and tea-inspired products.
Whittard’s Tippy Assam black tea, for example, has become an instant favorite among young Chinese shoppers, since its malty and bold flavor profile is so well-suited for milk teas – a beverage that has stirred up a craze with Gen Z and Millennials in China.
“Our Tippy Assam has always been a staple in the UK,” said Morris. “But we were still surprised at how well it has performed in China. It took a little while for us to really understand why it was so popular.”
To further promote this tea to China’s young audience, Alibaba recommended Whittard host a livestreaming session with one of the country’s top Key Opinion Leaders, Viya.
The livestreamed session was a huge success. The brand went on to launch its own channel on Taobao Live on Oct. 21, in time for the pre-sales period of Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival – the world’s largest single-day retail event.
“It has been a steep learning curve, but as a team, we have loved the opportunity to engage real time with our customers. Livestreaming has been the perfect opportunity to share all the wonderful stories behind our tea, coffee and cocoa,” Morris said.
Aside from experimenting with Taobao Live, Whittard has also started making bespoke products catering especially to Chinese shoppers. For example, it created a Moon Bunny tea gift set to celebrate this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival. The set also included two other bespoke tea blends, a dark chocolate black tea and a petit macaron green and black tea blend.
Whittard hopes to continue its upward sales trajectory in China all the way through to 11.11. The company said it will continue tapping Alibaba’s other marketing and engagement tools to keep educating Chinese consumers about its brand, products and its love for tea, coffee and hot chocolate.