As other regions stall, China’s a market ripe for growth for luxury brands. The pull is so strong, even the digitally-averse Céline can’t hold out.
The LVMH-owned label launched a brand account on the Chinese social media platform WeChat this week, as reported by the publication Jing Daily on Monday.
By establishing a presence on WeChat, Céline is finally making progress in digital, and in a big way: As of September, WeChat has more than 900 million daily users. The luxury brand has been notoriously slow to adopt any form of digital technology, only launching its Instagram account earlier this year. It’s still absent from other social platforms, including Facebook, which creative director Phoebe Philo once said she would rather walk down the street naked than join. And after years of holdout, the brand’s first e-commerce site is finally in the works: CEO Séverine Merle, who joined the company in February, announced plans to launch Céline’s first online store by the end of the year.
Regardless of a luxury brand’s anxiety over e-commerce, the potential for growth in China is undeniable. Thanks to shifting consumer behavior, a crackdown on counterfeits and an emphasis on bringing luxury purchases home, Chinese luxury customers are spending more money domestically. But a complex e-commerce market, dominated by Alibaba, JD.com and WeChat, has resulted in luxury brands partnering up with these platforms in order to make a more seamless direct connection with customers.
“WeChat is an advanced form of social media, with a high return on engagement with Chinese influencers. It can help boost a brand’s profile in China,” said Rony Zeidan, founder of the agency RO NY. “Céline embarking on WeChat follows insights of brand interest in China and a desire to directly communicate with customers there.”
As luxury brands figure out their strategies to get in front of the increasingly important Chinese customer, there are options to weigh. Alibaba and JD.com offer benefits like exposure, local delivery logistics and high-touch experiences for luxury brands. But for brands not ready to commit fully to China’s two largest local e-commerce marketplaces, WeChat is a worthy alternative. Through the platform, a brand like Céline can interact with potential and existing customers in one-on-one messaging, send branded campaigns and sell limited-batch products.
Céline’s not the first luxury brand to gain footing in China by working on WeChat, without a formal e-commerce presence. In 2016, Dior sold a limited-edition handbag directly to customers who followed the brand on WeChat, with the collection of $4,000 bags selling out within the first day of the sale. In China, Coach had experimented with Tmall before closing its store on the e-commerce marketplace platform and focusing solely on a WeChat strategy, according to CEO Victor Luis.
Efforts to connect with high-spending, digitally savvy customers in China are expanding across all areas of luxury, from premium beauty brands like La Mer and Guerlain, to fashion brands on the mend like Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors. Niche high-end luxury labels like Céline and Loewe, which is also owned by LVMH, are looking to capture some attention from customers looking to branch outside of the industry stalwarts like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. According to Alibaba group manager Sebastien Badault, Loewe made a custom bag collection to sell on Tmall in order to raise awareness.
“There’s great opportunity for brands to figure out new ways to engage with customers in China,” said Badault. “Brands that target their audience directly to build recognition and identity are going about it in the right way.”
It’s unclear whether or not Céline will end up selling products directly to WeChat followers, but building up a digital strategy in China can help a brand create a blueprint for other regions.
“This should prove to be a formula of success in accompanying the brand’s expansion in China, as well as its drive to embrace e-commerce,” said Zeidan.