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Multiple platforms for British brands to build on Singles’ Day

BritCham / CBBC
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On 11/11/2015, brands from around the world took RMB 91 billion on China’s Singles’ Day, the world’s biggest online sales promotion. Numerous British brands are already in the thick of the action, but this year Alibaba – the original pioneer – restyled the event as a “global shopping festival”, opening the door for many more overseas entrants in the years to come. 
But Singles’ Day is about more than just Alibaba. Similar promotions are held on a variety of sites, such as Yang Dongxi (YDX), China’s first cross-border O2O platform, which taps into the huge demand for imported products and especially niche overseas brands. YDX, using an integrated trade-logistics-payment model, offers a new route to market for British brands. And as a member of the China-Britain Business Council, the company has a demonstrable interest in working with more British brands.
One such is Scottish Fine Soaps, which entered the market within three months of establishing cooperation with YDX, generating £10,000 of sales in its first month and over £200,000 in the first year. Back in 2013, the company had scoped the market on a mission led by CBBC, UK Trade & Investment and Scottish Development International, which included one-to-one meetings in Scotland with Chinese distributors, agents, department stores and e-commerce companies. Two years on, it has established itself on YDX and is a good example of how e-commerce in China is not only for major, established brands.
To give other British retailers a flavour of what can be achieved in China - using platforms such as Singles' Day and CBBC's Great British Brands Festival as a springboard - we spoke to successful market entrants Dyson and Marks & Spencer about their experience and what they've learned.
"It’s about addressing a real need, not just flogging products"
"Dyson’s first participation was last year, and we were overwhelmed by the Chinese appetite for our technology. We sold RMB 3 million worth of technology in just the first 11 minutes. Demand outstripped supply and China became Dyson’s fastest-growing market in 2014. In 2015, sales increased five times by volume. So for 2016, we have expanded our offering.
"11/11 isn’t just about buying cheap products at crazy prices. The event is maturing and what people are really after is good technology at good value. This gives Dyson an opportunity. Our aim is to make this technology more accessible to a wider audience. But it’s dangerous to apply Western thinking - Tmall is not China’s version of Amazon. The first thing a business must do is dive deep into local conditions, which is not an overnight process.
"In some cases Chinese people are skipping the in-store experience for a virtual way of shopping and the key sits in most people’s pockets – the smartphone. Chinese e-tailers have a sophisticated offering on mobile which makes browsing easy and combining this with accessible payment methods like Alipay makes the purchase process smooth, helping with conversion. 
"We don’t really look for gaps in the market. Actually we are much more interested in problems that we can use technology to solve. It’s about addressing a real need, not just flogging products to an emerging middle class. The challenge is keeping up with increasingly sophisticated shoppers who relentlessly research and solicit word of mouth before purchase.
“The network of relationships that CBBC and UKTI possess are their greatest assets. They can point companies in the right direction. Continuing to build these networks beyond just the big cities is really important to helping companies scale their businesses."
Marks & Spencer
"We benefit from the scale and reach of online marketplaces"
“We first participated in Singles’ Day in 2012. As the biggest online shopping event in the world, it’s a fantastic opportunity to introduce Marks & Spencer to Chinese online customers. And we are very happy to have seen high year-on-year growth. This year’s 11/11 saw more interaction with customers and more powerful marketing through different channels. 
“In the UK our website is established in its own right, but in China, marketplaces like Tmall [an Alibaba platform] are the key destinations for online shoppers. We can benefit from their scale and reach. 
“There are lots of opportunities in e-commerce in China, and for us, with a store presence in Shanghai and this winter a new one in Beijing, we can offer a multi-channel shopping experience for our customers. China is a dynamic and fast market, so it’s important to innovate. CBBC and UKTI help brands to understand the latest industry trends and government and business strategies, which enables us to do this.”
To find out more about how to get involved in CBBC’s upcoming retail and e-commerce initiatives in China, or to get advice on entering or expanding in the Chinese market, please contact Ms Xie Shu in Shanghai: shu.xie@cbbc.org.cn 
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