Secret weapons in China's luxury ecommerce: A mobile number and a ribboned box

by Jenny Chan 陳詠欣 |

Clued-in online retailers in China use every aspect of the experience to telegraph luxury to demanding buyers. And domestic companies are better at it than those from the west.

Communicating via SMS, not email, is key. Delivery in one to two days, not a week, is the norm.  When it comes to buying luxury goods online in China, western e-retailers like Mr Porter lag behind local ones like Tmall, WeChat, JD, Yintai and Secoo, according to a joint report by ContactLab and Exane BNP Paribas. The latter group taking the lead on both physical and digital customer engagement touchpoints, as they know how Chinese consumers expect to be engaged differently than in the US and Europe. However, other notable European online stores such as Yoox Net-A-Porter Group (YNAP) or Farfetch were not assessed in this report.

The report tested 65 parameters in the entire purchase experience of five luxury brands (Armani, Tod’s, Burberry, Montblanc and Chanel). Within those parameters, metrics focused on communication in regards to ordering, purchasing, packaging and return procedure show stark differences between Chinese and European e-commerce operators.

Firstly, Chinese operators make mobile contact points compulsory, while Europeans prefer emails as a primary form of communication. It's a no-brainer—SMS, as a push notification, is simply more convenient and speedy.

Secondly, Secoo stands out by giving attention to China-friendly payment methods, and even cash-on-delivery and instalment payments. Notably, Tmall is the only platform allowing a ‘pay by someone else’ option. Mr Porter offers the least variety in payment options.

Thirdly, makes a striking impression by delivering goods one day from Guangzhou to Fujian (where the Contactlab team conducted the test) after payment, compared with making good on arrival within four days from Shanghai to Fujian.

It's a mixed bag when it comes to external packaging. An experiment buying Chanel on WeChat provided a 'wow' effect (see below), while Yintai and JD were not doing the luxury merchants any favours with plastic fillers and bare-looking boxes.