As Global Luxury Suffers, China Remains a Lifeline

Alibaba’s annual shopping festival Double 11 – also known as China’s Singles’ Day happens every year on November 11 and might be likened to the US’ Black Friday or UK’s Boxing Day sales … on steroids. According to CNBC, the 2019 edition achieved a whopping 268.4 billion yuan (US$38.4 billion) in gross merchandise volume (GMV) – an increase of 26 percent from the previous year. Luxury brands globally have been suffering heavily from the Covid-19 pandemic, with malls closed and travel shopping suspended. According to LVMH’s third-quarter revenue report, it recorded 30.3 billion euros (around US$35.5 billion) of revenue in its first nine months of 2020, slipping a full 21 percent from the same period in 2019.

But while, for example, the watch and jewelry sector’s organic revenue declined by 30 percent, it has seen a sales rebound in China in the third quarter.

According to Daniel Zhang, chief executive of Alibaba – the owner of the South China Morning Post – “The Chinese luxury market which is expected to account for half of the global luxury sales by 2025 – consists of hundreds of millions of young, digitally-native consumers.”

As the industry bets on China for its 2020 sales recovery, the Singles’ Day shopping spree seems more important than ever, and the perfect opportunity for sellers to reconnect with Chinese consumers. Indeed, all evidence points to the fact that luxury brands are jumping on board this year with unparalleled enthusiasm.

Last year, more than 93 international luxury brands from across the spectrum joined the 2019 Singles’ Day sale, from beauty brands La Mer and SK-II to fashion’s Ermenegildo Zegna and Fendi, Canada Goose and Maserati. This year, according to Retailinasia.com, that number has more than doubled to over 200 establishing a presence on Tmall, Taobao’s official platform for cooperating brands.

In fact, some of the biggest companies in the world are not just getting in on the act, but building a future corporate strategy around the event. On November 6, Alibaba and Swiss luxury goods company Richemont announced a huge, US$1.15 billion joint investment into online luxury retailer Farfetch, in a bid to bridge the gap between international luxury brands and Chinese consumers through a more seamless digital shopping experience.

Farfetch CEO José Neves explained that the new initiative extended Farfetch’s strategy to power the digital transformation occurring across the luxury industry, which has been accelerated by the unprecedented challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another luxury e-commerce site, ShopWorn, decided to open a flagship store on Tmall Global as a way to reach China’s 800 million high-end consumers and take full advantage of the 11.11 event.

An increasing number of luxury watchmakers and jewelers are joining the Double 11 club too, including Cartier, Piaget, and Vacheron Constantin – meaning online shoppers can impulse purchase a diamond-encrusted watch alongside their more reasonably priced Singles’ Day purchases too.

Luxury companies are also stepping up their new or limited collections. Many have even advanced their Christmas collections to launch in early November. The most prominent example, however, is Dior. For the first time ever, the brand rolled out a series of limited edition products exclusive to the Double 11 festival, announcing it on Dior’s official WeChat account on October 13. Similarly, Balenciaga has introduced 21 new hues of its classic Hourglass handbag, choosing to launch them globally on Tmall on November 1.

So why do so many consumers flock to Alibaba’s shopping platforms on November 11?

 Industry analysts explain that, in addition to boosting sales, the attractive discounts offered some second-tier brands even reducing prices by 70 percent offer an opportunity for brands to mitigate their inventory problems, a costly side effect of the Covid-19 outbreak. Savvy Maison Margiela fans can snap up a pair of the fashion house’s Tabi shoes for 5,190 yuan (US$787) during the festival for example, rather than the usual 5,590 yuan (US$848) retail price.

Other brands, such as Valentino, Chopard, and Prada, all chose to collaborate with Chinese high-traffic celebrities to roll out new items. Livestreamers like China’s “Lipstick King” Li Jiaqi have been gearing up for the big sales extravaganza for weeks. To give you an idea, influencer Viya had already sold out a number of luxury items including Piaget bracelets, Alexander McQueen trainers and Alexander Wang handbags all during presale live-stream sessions.

Another major player that still takes part, albeit indirectly, is LVMH. The luxury conglomerate, which refrains from outsourcing its e-commerce business to other multi-brand platforms, found a common ground in reaching Chinese luxury consumers this year by announcing a Chinese version of its own online platform, 24S, right before the Singles’ Day event. The platform a one-stop destination for brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior, Celine, and Givenchy offers up to 30 percent off orders over 23,000 yuan (approx US$3,500) in its own version of a Singles’ Day promotion.

In addition to everything the brands themselves are doing, Alibaba’s new “daily payment program” is also giving shoppers the feeling that extreme luxury can be more within their reach. For example, a 5,540 yuan (US$840) Dior Homme jumper is currently being marketed as costing just 15.18 yuan (US$2.4) per day – less than a daily coffee for 12 months. It’s tools like these that experts say will stimulate younger buyers’ desire to consume. So large are the pre-order numbers for Double 11 that many companies have already been prompted to move goods from overseas markets to mainland China well in advance.

According to Tmall, more than 80 percent of sellers taking part in the event’s presale period can expect a stronger performance than on the official Double 11 day itself. Whatever the final numbers, whether this year’s event will be the turning point for the luxury brand’s 2020 sales performance is yet to be seen.

By Sanjida Jannat

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