[2:20][Brad] I’d like to invite Zarina from TMall to kick things off. Welcome, Zarina.
[Zarina] Thanks, Brad. Good morning, everybody. Thank you for having me here today. As Brad mentioned, I’m going to talk through three topics amongst growth opportunities for brands selling into China. Just to set the scene a little bit, TMall Global enables international brands to enter the China market. It’s a platform for brands to sell into China, and over 80% of the brands on TMall Global make their debut into China on our platforms. It’s the largest B2C cross-border ecommerce platform in China. This means that you can sell into China and to Chinese consumers as you would sell in your home country. As a result, we’ve got over 25,000 international brands from almost 100 different countries and regions, selling over 5000 different categories of products. For those of you who’ve never seen a TMall store before, this is an example of one UK brand MyProtein. This is what it would look like. A majority of the customers shopping are on the app, so that’s what you see here today.
[3:30]Now, a little bit of China context. China has 904 million Internet users as of this year, approximately three times that of the U. S. In fact, last year China added more than the population of the UK to its Internet users. So, you’ve got in the country really sophisticated delivery networks to support that infrastructure. In the major cities you could have your groceries or your order delivered in less than 20 minutes. And you’ve got a country that’s really comfortable with the online world. Forbes are forecasting that ecommerce will be around 50% of China retail sales by the end of this year. And you’ve got around 80% of Chinese consumers who were transacting online at some point.
Next, we’re going to look at health trends. I’m just going to give you some info on Healthy China 2030. The health and wellness boom is being driven by China’s emerging middle class. That is going to be around 780 million people in the next five years. It is largely the generation who were born after the 90s, so your generation are millennials who are, of course, digital natives. They were born with computers and phones and they have a really global mindset. Their top priority is a healthy lifestyle. That’s what they define as a good life. Around 70% or more of them are exercising regularly, they’re purchasing healthy and organic foods, and they strive to achieve a work-life balance. And, no surprises for many, women are a big driver of that trend.
Healthy China 2030 is actually a government initiative that was brought about from data that they found that rising levels of pollution, rising levels of obesity, of cancer, of diabetes, were becoming a real problem. So they developed this program which covers 14 different streams, from healthy eating, to exercise, to stopping smoking, to mental health, in order to get the nation up to a level that they believed would increase life expectancy from 76 to 79. The goal is 530 million people taking part regularly in exercise.
[6:00]Moving on the vitamins and mineral supplements market share in China, it is no surprise, with a population of that size, that it is the world’s largest market with $4.7 billion worth. It is forecast to grow cumulatively by 3% every year for the next five years. Since the pandemic, 70% of China Internet users have increased their consumption of health supplements. In fact, on Alibaba and our platforms the purchase of healthy foods increased by 16% in the first quarter of this year. That quarter was when the pandemic was taking force in China. You saw some of the bigger, long established brands, like Swisse and Blackmores, seeing huge increases in their sales of immunity products when the pandemic hit.
Onto fitness apps, which I’m sure many of you have started using. At home fitness is also growing in China. One of the biggest apps there was called Keep Fitness. In fact, it’s the largest, and it has over 200 million users, and it offers prerecorded sessions and livestream classes for users to use at home. To put that into context, Strava has got 42 million users, and UK famous Joe Wicks has got 2.2 million subscribers to his channel.
[7:25]Now we are moving to our first poll. I would love people to tell me what is the number one health issue affecting Chinese people. Do you think it eye health, sleep issues, immunity, or gut health? I’ll just give you a minute or so to choose your option. Brad, perhaps you could jump in and tell me the results.
[Brad] Absolutely, we’ll wait for 80% of the people to have voted before we give the percentages on that one. Okay, so we’ve got 13% on eye health, 40% sleep issues, 20% immunity, and 27% gut health.
[Zarina] We have very informed audience! Sleep issues are the number one health trend and concern in China. The stress of working long hours is having a huge impact on Chinese people. The trend for supplements which will help you relax, help you calm down and encourage sleep are very much in demand. Another reason that people do struggle with sleep in China is gaming. They are a big nation of gamers, so products that help you relax after you’ve been staring at a screen for a long time.
[8:45]Topic number two is meal replacements. These have been brewing for a while actually. They help people on the go. Chinese people, like many of us, are super busy all the time, so they’re looking for something that they can chuck in their rucksack, take with them to work, have after the gym, busy moms on the go, something healthy and nutritious that they can drink to keep a healthy, balanced lifestyle and require little preparation. Some of the brands that we work with, one of the incumbents is SlimFast from the UK, it’s been in China for several years, does pretty well. But what we’re seeing now are some newer brand. One of them is Exante Diet from The Hut Group in the UK. They entered earlier this year and in fact what they’re doing is tailoring some of their range and releasing three flavors that will cater specifically to the China market that differs from what they would offer in the West. They will soon have a matcha tea, a milk tea and a latte flavored nutritional shake. That really competes and positions them alongside some of the Chinese brands that we’ve seen doing really well in this field. Brands like Wonder Lab and Smeal who produce essentially powder in a bottle, they’re very lightweight to carry with you, and then you can add whatever you want to it, water, coconut milk, almond milk, whatever. And they come in obviously really popular flavors for the China market, things like sesame, red bean, matcha tea. They’re really good on the go-snack for the community.
[10:20]Next is immunity. It will be no surprise that immunity has really boosted in demand over the last six months. It is the biggest sector of the health and wellness industry in China. It accounts for around 27% of sales. On TMall Global specifically, 71% off supplement buyers are under 40. The reason that that’s so important is because in China they react very preventatively. They don’t wait until they have a problem to solve it. They prepare in advance. They like to take supplements to ensure that they are at optimum fitness. The pandemic has really heightened that, so there’s a big demand at the moment for just your essential daily vitamins, vitamin A, B, C, at affordable prices.
Another trend, which many of you will know, also growing around the world is gut health. Probiotics have really grown recently. 64% of parents have bought probiotic supplements for their Children, and that’s not yoghurts, that is supplements. And then also women is a big category for that market. There’s an interesting UK brand called ProVen, which launched onto TMall Global last year which offers a probiotic supplement for women’s health specifically. And as that understanding about the importance of gut health and how it impacts overall health grows, this becomes a bigger and bigger trend.
[11:50]The next section of trends is older health. They refer to it is older but really it’s only over 40, so it’s not that old. More people over 40 are shopping on the Internet for the first time because of the limitations on being able to go outside. What that means is that there’s a greater demand for products that serve the ageing population. Eye supplements, brain health, glucosamine for joint health, and products for menopause are really in demand at the moment. One of the brands that does really well actually is Jointace by Vitabiotics. It launched just earlier this year and is doing phenomenally well because of this demand.
[12:40]Next we’ve got inner beauty. Beauty was one of the first big trends. In fact, it is the biggest category on TMall Global. But in the vein of preventive health, people are maintaining a younger look. People are looking for supplements that they can take which will keep them looking young. Fish oils from the Nordics are a really popular subcategory, and one of the standout brands that we work with his Noromega from Norway which offers fish and seal collagen supplements. Some other interesting brands which use more novel consumption methods are Hairburst which sells hair and nail gummies, and Perfectil by Vitabiotics which offers a collagen drink shot for your skin, hair and nails. Through the lock down people are having a little bit more time on their hands by not having to commute, which saw an even bigger rise in self-care, so that inner beauty from beauty treatments and skin care really does prove that beauty starts from within.
[13:40]Next we’ve got plant-based. Plant-based sales grew over 350% during the 618 campaign that happened in June of this year. Something like soy milk, which has obviously been in China for years, but one of the first Western brands to pioneer into the market was actually Swedish brand Oatly. They’ve been there for about five years, and they saw the opportunity to serve the needs of the 86% of Chinese people who are actually lactose intolerant. Earlier this year, we saw very hipster East London brand Minor Figures launch on TMall to serve the market. It just shows that you can be a huge brand entering China, but you can also be a small SME brand who goes in and really captures the market share.
Then on the alternative meat side, Beyond Meat, which is a US-based plant protein brand, they’ve made a massive impact in China. They’ve secured partnerships with Starbucks, with KFC, with Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and they have recently started selling in fresh food supermarkets. They serve the approximately 5% of Chinese people who identify as vegetarian or vegan, which sounds a small number, but actually that is a 17% increase over the last five years. It is a growing market. McKinsey recently conducted a survey about habits after the pandemic, and it found that over 70% of respondents will continue to spend more time purchasing safe eco-friendly food products, and that 3/4 want to eat more healthily after the crisis.
[15:30]Then we’ve got traditional teas and honey. These are something I won’t spend a huge amount of time on, but traditional tea and honey are things that have been around for obviously centuries and the Chinese really do believe in the centuries old way of being healthy. Traditional Chinese medicine is something incredibly ingrained in their society and beliefs. What is really in demand right now are black teas and just everyday honey, so everyday prices, that’s what they’re looking for.
The final trend that I’m going to talk about is medical devices and over-the-counter supplements. Again, with a bit more time on your hands, people in China have really been looking for at-home use products. Obviously with salons shut, they spending more time on Zoom calls. They want to make sure that they look great. The beauty device category with LED face mask for anti-ageing, for acne treatment, IPL hair removal. One of the brands we work with is a Welsh SME called SmoothSkin. Their sales actually grew 35 times in the first two years, and I imagine they’ve been growing even more since the pandemic because that’s what people are looking for.
[16:45]But then you’ve also got more serious medical machines, such as the TENS machines. There is a brand called TensCare which offers a product which will help relieve pain for pregnancy. In China that product has actually been doing really well as a post pregnancy usage for weight loss. And then Elvie’s pelvic floor trainer. And then even more serious products like blood pressure monitors and temperature thermometers have been increasing in demand.
In summary, there are lots of trends going on in the health and wellness category. What we would recommend two brands is to find your niche, do your research, and then start preparing to enter the market, because there is certainly a big demand for this category as we hopefully move out of this pandemic.
[17:30]The next topic that we’re going to talk about is shopping festivals. Again, we’re going to start with a poll. Question for you all, Singles Day is bigger than which US shopping day: (a) Cyber Monday, (b) Black Friday, (c) Small Business Saturday, or (d) Thanksgiving Day? You can choose as many as you like here. Again, Brad, if you wouldn’t mind sharing the results with me.
[Brad] 30% Cyber Monday, 50% Black Friday, 10% Small Business Saturday, and 10% Thanksgiving Day.
[Zarina] Interesting. The answer is actually Alibaba’s 11.11 Singles Day outstrips all of the biggest four US shopping days. That’s a little fun fact for you. What is Singles Day? Singles Day is actually the biggest campaign of the Chinese shopping festival calendar. It started 12 years ago now with just 27 brands online at TMall. It was a shopping day that was actually invented by Alibaba Group CEO, Daniel Jang, who needed to get another shopping campaign in the calendar. Fast forward to now, last year’s gala show was headlined by Taylor Swift. The GMV on the day hit $38.4 billion that was achieved in 24 hours. There were over 200,000 brands and merchants who participated. It was a 26% year-on-year growth. 1.3 billion orders were delivered by the Sanyal Logistics Network. And over a million in new products were launched on the day. Some of the top countries that were selling where Japan, U.S., Korea, Australia, Germany, and UK at number six. It’s a really exciting time to be a brand in China, to have the opportunity to take part in Singles Day.
[19:50]Why are shopping festivals so important in China? They’re really essential for brand building. They’re not just about running promotions or discounts, they are an opportunity and an important occasion for brands to engage with new and existing customers. Going into China is not something that you do overnight. It is a long-term investment opportunity. Even preparation for Singles Day will start in May, ready for November. As a brand you really do need to see China as a long-term goal. The benefit of it is that you can use the data that you collect after these big shopping campaign days and you can really dive deep into what your sales were, where your traffic came from, and see your customer demographics to see who you can target, and then be more specific and build that loyalty in the future.
On the shopping campaign days, generally, customers already know what they want to buy, hence that advance preparation. But the three top factors for buying on a campaign day are, firstly, price discounts, secondly, social engagement, so they were either referred, they found something from a KOL, a celebrity, they saw the gala show, they may be played to Catch the Cat gamification game, or it’s an exclusive product, a new release or limited edition. Shopping festivals kind of become shoppertainment. They become family affairs. As you see here, this family is playing Catch the Cat, unlocking a deal, going to have pizza at a restaurant. They can unlock all sorts of promotional codes and limited editions. They incorporate this element of fun into shopping. That gala show that Taylor Swift was at, that streamed on Yoko so people can watch that at home and then play the games as it’s happening, add them to the basket, and then cheque out at midnight. This really helps to incorporate the online and the offline world. While it started as an online festival, these campaigns and shopping festivals now take place all over the country.
[22:05]I remember being in my first Singles Day in China three years ago, in Shanghai, walking into a mall, and there was a screen in front of me so I could choose which lipstick I wanted to potentially buy, and it would scan my face and it would show how that lipstick would look on me. Levi’s also do it. They will help you find your fit of jeans and then you can either take it home with you there or you can have it delivered to your home. This concept of online and offline integration is what we call new retail. It really does make it a seamless integration of a shoppertainment day.
Now we’re going to move to another poll. Adidas and McDonald’s collaborated on a pair of sports shoes for Singles Day 2019. Do you think that is true or false?
[Brad] We’re seeing 91% saying True.
[Zarina] We do have an incredibly informed audience today. In fact, yes, it is true. This is the sneaker that Adidas and McDonald’s produced here on the left. Also we saw Chinese brand Anta do similar with Sprite. This was really impactful because what you’ve got here are the combination of streetwear, which is a huge trend in China, and really well-known fast-food brands which came together and created a really exciting, interesting, fun, recognizable, lifestyle product. That last element of why people shop on Singles Day is really captured here because it’s all about doing something unexpected. We’ve also seen lip gloss brand Perfect Diary collaborate with a Cronenberg flavored beer. We saw Mac lipstick collaborate with a mobile computer game ‘Honour of Kings’. So they created this game that had virtual storytelling and it tapped into these millennial consumers. In fact, the Mac lipstick secured 14,000 preorders and then sold out with all channels within the first 24 hours. Expect the unexpected on the shopping days. It’s almost a test-bed to do something fun but really you need to use the data and prepare and market to your target customer way in advance in order to make the most of the day.
[24:40]Now we’re going move on to our final section: live streaming. Last pole of my section. Question to you, What is Viya? Do you think it is a promotional tool, a lipstick brand, a KOL, or a city in southern China?
[Brad] I could honestly say I have no idea about this one. We have a 50/50 split between a promotional tool and a KOL.
[Zarina] Interesting. Viya is a KOL, a key opinion leader. In fact, she is one of China’s most famous key opinion leaders and she really became famous by being a Taobao live streamer. Live stream has really taken off in China literally. You can sell anything by a live stream, from wine, to lipstick, to luxury cars, and, as you can see here, even a rocket. Viya recently sold a rocket through live streaming for $5.6 million.
What makes life streaming so special? It’s real time, it’s interactive, and it enables you to see now and buy now. You can see here people are writing comments on the screen as she’s livestreaming. There are options to purchase. It is very engaging for the shopper.
I just want to emphasize how much live streaming has grown in the last couple of years. After Singles Day, the second biggest campaign in China is the Summer Campaign 618. It happens on the 18th of June. In 2018, just two years ago, Taobao livestream generated 100 billion RMB, which is around $15 million in JMV from livestreaming. This year in 618 campaign, there were 15 brands who generated more than 100 million RMB, that’s $15 million, just from live streaming. It has grown really, really fast. Also the number of live streaming sessions grew 123% year-on-year.
[26:55]Let’s have a little look at some of the brands which have been successful through livestreaming, because it doesn’t have to be just a brand. Firstly, we’ve got the British Museum. Last month they livestreamed a tour of their exhibits to 370,000 Chinese people who were not able to travel right now because of the pandemic. They were able to give a tour of the museum and bring it into their homes by partnering with Fliggy, which is Alibaba’s travel business, and they were able to enjoy the museum. More seriously, the issue with crops and farmers who were producing stock which really didn’t have anywhere to be sold as the pandemic hit because restaurants were closed, their stock really would have gone to waste. However, farmers started livestreaming. They went full force on this actually. Not only did they livestream, they also created on agricultural-based game to play with it. That enabled them to sell 250,000 kg of fresh fruit on day one of 618 this year. And that shopping game featured Cherries from Chengdu. It featured rice from Harbin. Passion fruit from Kunming. At the peak, there were 100 million consumers a day playing this game, and it contributed to a billion RMB in sales of agricultural food and products that would otherwise have gone to waste.
Finally, one of the brands that took part is Whittard of Chelsea. They’ve tried lots of different types of livestreaming, including a live stream with Viya, with the goal of raising brand awareness with consumers. They wanted to keep their existing consumers, but they also wanted to acquire more. One thing that they found was that their best sellers in China were not the same as their best sellers in the UK, so that then enabled them to use that data to drive more specific targeting towards their future customers on their TMall stores. Some of the lessons they learnt is that you need to be fast. Livestreaming opportunities with people like Viya can come up really quickly with often only four or five days’ notice. As a brand you don’t really choose these big famous KOLs, they choose you. So you have to be ready to act and take advantage of the opportunity.
[29:20]This here is the lipstick guy, Lee Jiaqi, also named as Austin Lee, a man of many names, and also a man able to sell many lipsticks. He once tried on 380 shades of lipstick in a seven-hour live stream and in five minutes sold 15,000 lipsticks. He is a super popular guy in China. In Singles Day last year, he sold $145 million of sales, generating an audience of 36 million. Lots of stats there about how popular he is.
Some tips for using the livestream format. Firstly, you really have to be prepared for the volume of stock that you could sell on a livestream. People like the lipstick guy and Viya are really powerful influencers, and they have the ability to help you sell lots and lots of stock. Be prepared for those big stock keeping units. And it’s quite an informal way of selling. You have to be prepared for letting go of your perfections. It is quite a casual and informative way of selling and that is what makes it so engaging.
Sometimes livestreaming can be about working with these big KOLs. But also other times it can be really about having good knowledge, particularly with the health industry, with OTC products, with farmer products, with mother and baby products. The audience wants to know that they are being sold a product that will really serve their needs. So it’s critical that the livestream that you work with at times really does know your product and can sell it authentically. Essentially, livestreaming is quite low risk but can be high return way of working in China and it really can encourage creativity amongst brands.
[31:10]In summary, retail is now entertainment in China. It enables you to explore and discover, to share and recommend, to watch short videos, to play games, to engage in livestreaming. What will that hold for the future of commerce in China and the rest of the world? Well, we think it’s going to be pretty exciting, very dynamic, interactive, real time engagement, a full immersion experience. Thank you.
[Brad] I was there and lots of opportunity. I just wanted to say one right way to think about this is to think creatively about how you apply these learnings. That was awesome. Thank you so much for that. Just a reminder: if you have any questions, pop those into the chat and we’ll get to them at the end of the session. Next stop. I’d like to welcome Yunman to continue things with her presentation on KOLs and short video.
[33:00][Yunman] Thank you Zarina for sharing very interesting issues about Chinese health industry and also livestreaming. Now I will dive you deeper into the KOLs in China. Just as Zarina said, Chinese retailing is entertainment now. KOLs who are creating the entertainment content on the Internet as well as social media are very important for your success in China. Depending on the follower numbers, KOLs in China can be divided into the top-tier KOLs, such as Viya and Li Jiaqi, and also mid-tier KOLs who have fewer followers but are more focused in one niche area. The bottom is micro KOLs, also called KOCs, the key opinion customers, who have just several thousand followers on social media but they have the closest connection with the customers, they have the best engagement with the customers. The top-tier KOLs bring a very big exposure for your brand and products, but micro KOLs can build a very good engagement for your brand and the customers.
Exposure and traffic growth by KOLs can help to build the base for a new product to get into the Chinese market. Also customers trust KOLs more than the ordinary advertisers. Customer brought by the KOLs have bigger loyalty to the brand and the product and it can offer a better long-term performance and is helpful for the brand building.
[35:30]KOLs exist in all kinds of platforms in China. There is a model that has proven in practice very useful and helpful for the brand to have good performance already that is combine the KOL and KOC. Top-tier KOL has the biggest follower group, and KOC (key opinion customers) will have only a few thousands of followers but better engagement with the customers. Therefore, your brand can have a good exposure offered by the KOL and also being trusted by the customers who have good connection with the KOC. KOC bring the trust to the customer and better trigger the five behaviors for your brand. Here is the example from a Chinese cosmetic brand called Florasis. This brand was founded in 2017 and has become a big hit across China since 2018. This brand also reached $40 million sales within just one hour in last year’s Single Day’s shopping festival. How this broad can achieve that? It, firstly, used celebrity endorsers to help build brand awareness of among people, and also cooperating with the top-tier KOLs, which is Li Jiaqi. He gives the brand a very good exposure to Chinese consumers, and the content of Li Jiaqi is very product-oriented, focused on how this product is good and how it should go for the customers. However, some customers may still feel concern about the product, not very trusting the contents from Li Jiaqi and also the celebrity endorsers because everybody knows that this is advertising from the brand. So the micro KOLs, which are also known as KOCs, they share their user experience of the products and build trust with customers, communicate with the customers. Therefore, the customers who know this product from the top-tier KOLs and celebrities also know this product from their trusted bloggers, their trusted opinion leaders who have just several 1000 followers on the Internet, and they find this might really be a good fit for them, and so they would trigger the purchase activity of the customers.
[38:50]How to make a successful KOL campaign in China? First of all, you need to be aware that there are some fake KOLs whose fan quality is not good and cannot at all drive real traffic to your brand or product and drive sales to your product. Secondly, you should know your audience and find the right KOLs. You should know where your audiences are and what kind of KOLs they are following and find the coincident of the KOL’s followers and your target audience. Third, you should choose the right channel and creative types. For example, if you want to promote a food product, it should be better to use video or live streaming so that the KOLs can show your product in different dimensions instead of just a picture and a word. But if it is a cosmetic product, it would be fine using just the picture and words.
Fourth, you should make good use of macro and micro KOLs, because the KOLs can sometimes bring very good cost efficiency to promote a product. If you have the money, the budget, it’s also very nice to combine with a top-tier KOLs and also the mid-tier KOLs to boost exposure.
The next is optimized KOL combination, because for different KOLs their followers may have some coincidents. For example, KOL A and KOL B, if they have 15% coincident followers, and KOL A and KOL C they have only 20% coincident followers, then you should choose a combination of KOL A and KOL C to have a better reach.
The next one is customer-centralized content. For a KOL campaign you cannot just make the content only in to show off how good is the brand, you should focus on what the customers need and what they want what the product can solve their needs and choose some pen points so that the content can stand out and inspire the customers and also inspire other KOLs, maybe you don’t cooperate with them and they will also to try share the product as well.
Last but not least is be well prepared with your delivery capability and your customer service, because KOLs have a very strong ability to trigger the sales. If you cannot deliver the product properly then it can be a very bad effect on your brand as well as your products.
[42:35]The next part I’m talking about is the short video. Short videos have become very popular after the pandemic breakout in Europe, in America, in Australia, and all round the world. TikTok, people get addicted to TikTok and other short video platforms in China, they use AI driver recommendation so that you cannot stop yourself from seeing what is next. In China, despite Douyin, which is TikTok in the West, they also have Kuaishou, Bilibili, and some others.
Data from this January shows that one every three Chinese is watching Douyin video every day, and there is also a rapid growth of screen time spending on short video platforms after the Corona breakout. In 2019, Chinese New Year, there was only 11% of screen time average on the short video platform, but in the Chinese New Year in 2020, it grew to 17% of the average screen time. It’s just like the shift from newspaper to the TV, and from the TV show to the Internet, now it’s shift from other platforms to the short video platform. We all know that when making the advertising and trying to raise customer’s attention, we need to chase every opportunity of the customers.
The last things you need to know is that the short video platform in China is not just short video. It can also combine with ecommerce in many different ways. Firstly, platforms like Douyin, they already have built-in ecommerce platform that you can’t directly buy in the Douyin application. And, secondly, you can use the log page from the short video platform to the ecommerce platform to easily buy the products that are mentioned in the short videos. So it forms a complete chain from attention to interest to desire and to take action to purchase.
[45:45]The last thing is how to create value through short video platforms. First, there are three suggestions for all the brands, not matter in the West or in China. You can do content marketing or advertising, and in content marketing you can both cooperate with KOLs who are already showing in the short video platform and already have a group of fans and already have the experience to produce high quality content. You can also operate a brand account to start from the beginning and to build your own audience, your own group of friends to bring value in the long-term.
The third one is you can also do advertising on short video platforms. Advertising on short video platforms doesn’t look different from the ordinary content, and it’s very important for the marketers to keep in mind that the content of your advertising should also be very funny and should be very attracting so that people would not switch out of your content and will be engaged into the content.
Thank you for listening and let’s welcome Thomas from WalktheChat to bring his content.
[48:25][Thomas] Hi, everyone. We’ll talk a little about WeChat marketing. Feel free to write if you have any questions as I speak. Feel free to write if you have any problem understanding my French accent which is quite pronounced, I know. The presentation is kind of stepping up quite fast, so we’ll start with some very basic stuff. If you’re already familiar with China you might get bored. Don’t worry, hopefully I will only bore you for around 5 to 8 minutes with basic concept and then we’ll move to case studies ad more practical numbers about how to run WeChat marketing in China.
About me, I have six years of experience as co-founder of WalktheChat which is an agency which specializes in social marketing in China, WeChat, Douyin, and others. We have some big companies but also some small companies to sell in China. Before that, it was the same stuff, it’s pretty boring, so I won’t bother you with that.
[50:45]First I would like to talk about the impact of Covid on Chinese ecommerce sales and WeChat sales. Just to give you a sense, on our own platform what we saw is a drop in January and February and a recovery as early as March. This is a comparison with the same months last year, so December is the baseline, this is before the epidemic, our merchants grew 16% on average. This is just organic growth from the fact that they did a better and better job of selling at WeChat. Then during the epidemic the sales dropped by 48% in January, by 31% in February. So already you could see a recovery, it only dropped by 31% year-over year. The first half of February was very rough but the second half was much better. And then in March you can see a full recovery, so sales were actually much better than the previous year, better than the baseline in December. April was extremely good because all of the sales moved online, but still people were quite confident about the future, so they were buying a lot. There was a bit of a relief after the epidemic hit. Then in May it stabilized around 47% increase compared to May 29, 2019. So a very good year for e-commerce. If you look at some external data, if you look at, for instance, sales during the 618 shopping festival, you can see that JD.com, which is a market place, got an excellent growth from 2019 to 2020. The growth had started to slow down between 2018 and 2019. You can see that during the last festival, which happened during 18 June 2020, the growth of sales increased by 33% again all the way up to $269 million RMB of sales for JD.com during these 18 days. So you can see it the strength of the e-commerce market in China right now which has really fully recovered and which is beating it performance from last year.
[53:30]How to use WeChat to sell through this e-commerce market? WeChat, as you might know, is the biggest social app in China today. It has around 1.2 million monthly active users, and it’s still growing, although the growth of WeChat is slowing because pretty much all of the Internet users in China already have the app installed, so it can’t really grow very fast anymore. The app is actually split between three different sections. One is the chat section similar to Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp and this is where people can communicate with their friends but also actually with brands. You have the timeline, which is for WeChat moments, which is similar to the Facebook timeline. And you have the Wallet where you can access e-commerce futures.
The brands, as I said, weirdly enough, use the chat section to communicate with users. You have two type of accounts. One is called service accounts which appear as friends. When they send out messages it is exactly like if a friend would send you a message. They are very good, for instance, for customer service. And then you something called subscription accounts which are less visible. They are a specific folder called the Subscription Folder. They’re more used by influencers to send daily articles to their followers. Basically there are two types of accounts that have a trade-off between visibility and number of messages. The service accounts are more visible but they can only send four messages every month, about one a week. And the subscription accounts are less visible because people have to click into this folder to see all of the subscriptions, but they can send one message every day. So they are actually less visible but have more frequency of posting. They are mostly used by influencers who want to publish some fresh content every day.
[55:35]One important addition to this ecosystem was WeChat’s mini-programs. Basically we have mini-programs that enable users to easily access some ecommerce experience or other types of experiences within WeChat. There are apps within the app which are written with a specific programming language. They can be easily accessed from the homepage of WeChat just by sliding down and then you can see your favorite mini-programs. They have this kind of native experience, native transitions, which make them very, very nice to use. They also have some nice features, like they will automatically get the address from the user. And of course WeChat payment to close the sales. So it makes them quite powerful and they can also integrate directly from influencer campaigns. If you have an influencer post you can click on a product inside the influencer post, it will automatically open the mini-program. So it enables very integration between content from influencers and sales, and basically the users can just click on the influencer product, then mini-program will automatically have their address. They can make payments, so they can go in two, three or four clicks from discovering a product through influencer contents to completing the purchase, which leads to very interesting return on investment on campaigns, as we’ll talk about later. The big idea is that mini-programs are hosted on your own server so you can easily control the data and control the experience, compared to other applications, like TMall which are more marketplaces so you’re basically renting space on somebody else’s home.
A little bit of advertising for what we provide at WalktheChat. We are the first solution which enables integration between WeChat mini-programs and Shopify/Magento. It means if you have a Shopify or Magento website, we can enable you to export these products to a WeChat mini-program. When you receive orders they would appear on your Shopify website, and when you fulfill these orders we will send the legacy information to the end user via WeChat and then they will be able to track the delivery of their order through the WeChat mini-program.
There are a lot of advantages of using this integration rather than just using a Shopify website in China. The log-in methods will be much better. It will automatically log in users via WeChat. The checkout experience will enable auto-filling of the email address. The system will automatically verify the ID of the user which will help to clear customs. Notifications will happen via WeChat and SMS, instead of emails that people don’t really read in China except for professional use. Transitions will be native. Speed will be fast because it is hosted in China directly by WeChat. User experience will be much more Chines friendly. Payments will be via WeChat Pay and AliPay. It will easily integrate with KOL campaigns. And it’s much easier for users to accept access your store after they leave it because it will be accessible with just a swipe to recently-used WeChat mini-programs. So a lot of upsides of using mini-programs rather than just conventional websites.
[59:10]The question you might have now is how to promote these mini-programs. This has been presented previously but I would just like to get into it a bit more detail and case studies from some of our clients. Influencer collaboration is the best way to leverage WeChat. The way you do it very classic, you identify influencers, give them the product, this will get you some free exposure. If this free exposure is positive you will arrange a paid campaign and then you will encourage the influencers to keep engaging with your brand after the campaign.
The typical cost of influencer campaigns on WeChat is really high in terms of cost per impression. With the price of one WeChat view, you can buy 15 views on Douyin, on short video platforms, which will make it sound very, very expensive, but actually if you look at the details of it, although in order to purchase 1000 KOL impressions you would have to spend 1,100 RMB on WeChat against only 6500 RMB on Douyin, there is a big difference in terms of the value of the products you can buy on WeChat compared to the value of the products you can buy on Douyin. Douyin is perfect for promotion of products between 1 to 200 RMB, while for WeChat there is already no limit. There is a famous case study that Becky Li, is a very famous WeChat influencer, sold 100 Mini Coopers in five minutes using WeChat. But, in general, you can WeChat to sell relatively expensive items. For us the average order on our WeChat store platform is around $128, it’s not super high but it’s definitely not low, it’s 900 RMB on average, which is pretty high for an e-commerce platform. If you compare that to an average order on Douyin, it will be much closer to maybe 100 RMB, so merely a tenth of this amount. There is a big difference in terms of what you want to promote. If it is an affordable product, you might want to put it on Douyin. If you are trying to sell, let’s say, a handbag for 2,000 to 3,000 RMB, then you really want to go on WeChat.
As I said, we start with seeding usually, the process of gifting products to influencers. Usually the return on seeding can be very good. But usually it’s not directly sales, what you get from seeding is more PR. You would get through gifting some mentions which typically would cost several thousand dollars if you are to pay the influencer to talk about this brand in this way. Because when you do gifting in general, the influencer will not an ecommerce link to your mini-program, it will be hard to drive sales directly from that. Seeding is mostly used for PR, to drive some small amount of sales and to build relationship with influencers. It can bring some good results. The Hunter group in the UK with quite a bit of return on their first week of launch on the WeChat store, and we got about $15,000 worth of free promotion in a month simply by gifting 20 products to influencers by being very strategic to whom you are doing the gifting, and 3 million free impression on WeChat and Weibo via gifting. So gifting does work, it’s just that it’s not the heaviest driver of sales.
[1:02:50]The heaviest driver of sales in paid campaigns. In order to immediately move volumes, you actually need to pay the influencers either via commissions or via fixed fee. For instance, this is a campaign we did with a brand called Giesswein, which is a merino wool sneaker brand, very similar to Allbirds. The first campaign they did in China led to a 500% return on investment. So we paid the influencer $6000 and generated $30,000 of sales. These are the kind of returns we aim for when we work for clients. This is a relatively good campaign, it’s hard to get these kind of returns, but it’s possible. If you want to look at more of a reasonable initial investment, this is a campaign we conducted in June 2020, just months ago, after Covid, and this was a commission-based campaign, so the influencer took 35% from the sales of this bag and generated around $35,000 of sales. This was also the first campaign for the brand and it was relatively successful. Of course you can run bigger campaigns and have more sales. This is just to give you a sense of what a relatively small campaign is on WeChat, a medium sized campaign which we move between $20,000 to $50,000 of sales and it is good way for brands to get started selling in China via social. This is a campaign where the average order was around $500. That’s why WeChat is a good choice for these types of campaigns.
[1:04:40]Finally, one of the interesting things with WeChat is you can use it to sell cross-border. There are specific industries which can sell through WeChat cross-borders. Most of our clients are in clothing, cosmetics and jewelry, but all of the industries in this slide can actually sell cross-border. The nice thing with WeChat is they provide cross-border payments so you can have the Chinese customer paying in local RMB, local currency, and you can receive the money in any overseas currency, such as USD, Euros, British Pound, etc. WeChat will charge a 2% commission on these transactions. You don’t need to set up directly with WeChat payment, you can actually have some marketers in specific countries who can help you do the set up. You can click the link, it will be sent to you in the slides later, in order to get a list of different partners from different countries who can help you with setting up your WeChat payment account.
Another important point when it comes to cross-border sales on WeChat is that you need to have the right logistic setup. Usually you have two ways to ship to China, one is the proper way, the cross-border import, so you would basically register your products with the customs and then you would pay a flat 9.1% fixed tax on all of the cross-border shipping. This is the cleaner way to do the custom clearance. If you don’t have this setup, you can also do personal import, which means you are going to basically send the product as a parcel without paying customs. Some of these products are going to get held by the customs and then you will have to pay full taxes on them, which may be 15%, 30% or 60%, based on which category your product is in. Because not all of the parcels are going to be controlled, you might actually end up paying less than in the cross-border import. It is just a more complicated way to ship and it will slow down the customs clearance process. You also have to make sure that if the parcel gets held up by the customs, it is not the customer who is going to pay this but it will be hopefully your logistics provider who will have to pay this fee so that the customers doesn’t have to front it, which will cause a lot of customer service issues.
[107:30]If you start moving to a more local logistic setup, you could have your products either in Europe or US or any other geography and ship from there, in which case you are able to ship within usually five to ten days, maybe five to fifteen, depending on where you are located. If you have a Hong Kong warehouse you can ship to mainland in four to seven days. Or if you could have a bonded warehouse in mainland China, you will be able to ship much faster but your inventory is going to be committed to mainland China. In this case it will be very hard if you decide to relocate this inventory to other geographies to move it out of mainland China because you have already cleared the customs.
These are the three option and they go faster and faster in terms of shipping but they also require more and more commitment of inventory. So usually our clients will start on the left and then they will move to the right as the volumes of sales increase.
I will conclude here with a typical quotation, but I won’t go through it, you will have in the slide. As a conclusion, this is very, very fast presentation, but I was suggested to keep it to around 15 minutes. The Chinese digital ecosystem has fully recovered from Covid and is now booming. WeChat growth is slowing down but it’s still the number one social network in China. It’s great of ecommerce and also it’s the best to promote more expensive items. Foreign businesses can create service accounts to promote their brands. WeChat mini-programs are a must-have to sell on WeChat. WeChat influencers are the most expensive but they are the best to promote premium items. And WeChat cross-border sales are a powerful way for companies to get started in China, preferably with a Shopify integration through WalktheChat. That’s it. I’m done speaking for my presentation.
[Brad] Brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing those opportunities with us Thomas. I think the WeChat mini-programs store stuff is very cool because it ticks a few boxes at once in terms of setting up a point of sale.