More domestic brands appearing on store shelves may indicate that the golden days for foreign brands are slipping away. “Made in China” was once considered a sign of cheapness and low-quality, but the belief now has changed. Chinese consumers now think that Chinese brands are equal to, or even exceed, foreign brands. As buyer confidence grows and domestic quality improves, what can multinational brands do to regain ascendancy?
When talking about the Chinese wine market, most Westerners think of baijiu, a strong alcoholic beverage made from grain. But young Chinese have now developed their taste for various non-Chinese wines—red, white and sparkling—and wine can be found at parties, banquets and even dinners serving strongly-flavored Chinese foods, such as hotpot. Claudia Masüger, a businesswoman from Switzerland who has been importing wines to China for over a decade, says the Chinese are becoming more sophisticated in their taste for wine, caring not just for wines, but for pairing food with the right variety of wine. Furthermore, the market for western wine in China is even larger than imagined.
While e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba continue to rise, many physical-store retailers are dying off. MINISO is a rare exception, however. Founded in 2013 by Chinese entrepreneur Ye Guofu and Japanese designer Miyake Junya, MINISO has exploded into an emerging business empire with 1,800 stores in 40 countries, delivering an eclectic collection of affordable, curated goods, challenging the physical retail naysayers. What is the key to MINISO’s success? Through careful consideration of the customer and a unique aesthetic, it manages to do what online stores cannot: Deliver an experience.
At the enormous Pacific Department Store on Shanghai’s Huaihai Road, barriers block the street entrances and windows are shuttered. The store, which was one of the largest on one of the city’s busiest shopping streets for nearly two decades, closed in January. The shell of the store now sits incongruously opposite the K11 mall, which has been thriving ever since implementing a smart re-think of the shopping mall concept a couple of years ago. The lesson of the different fates of these two shopping centers is clear—adapt or die. Retail is not declining in China, it’s just changing.
After incredible growth in recent years, e-commerce in China seems to be slowing down. One reason behind this is the high penetration rate. By 2016, 62% people in Tier 3 and 4 cities were shopping online, while the number in Tier 1 and 2 cities stood at 89%. On the other hand, consumers in China have also changed over time, now the middle class are shifting their money from cheap products to premium services and goods where experience and recognition ties take priority. So does it mean online retail will go gloomy and physical stores may return to the spotlight?
Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo has quickly found huge popularity in China based on an ethos of high quality at affordable prices. It has been steadily building its presence in China over the last decade, and now has ambitious plans to accelerate its growth, most notably through a bold expansion in its number of shops. That might seem sensible given its growing popularity—revenue soared by 21% between August 2014 and 2015 across Uniqlo globally, largely driven by an increase in Greater China revenues of 46% and operating profit of 66%. But is it now at risk of over-reaching itself, particularly given the slowing Chinese economy?
An underdog in an industry dominated by giants, sportswear brand Under Armour recently pulled off a growth miracle by increasing its quarterly revenues more than 20% in 21 consecutive quarters. The 19-year-old Baltimore, MD-based company surpassed its German competitor Adidas last year in sales in the US, only trailing Nike in the world’s largest sportswear market. And now Under Armour trying to replicate its success in global markets, especially China. What does it have going for it in the world’s second-largest consumer market?
Alibaba’s investment in Suning is a signal that companies in retail in China need a multichannel strategy: embracing both the online as well as offline worlds.
A Q&A with Zeynep Ton, author of The Good Jobs Strategy, on how four retailers make more money by paying above-average wages.
Miko Wormuth, CEO of TWICE Fashion Accessories, on what it takes to build a business from scratch in China and the challenges of operating on e-commerce platforms like Taobao and Tmall.