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Stuart Weitzman Making Push Into Asia, Boosting Global E-commerce

To oversee that growth, the footwear brand has brought on its first chief global digital and e-commerce officer, Monica Schwartz.

Stuart Weitzman is taking on Asia — and a new digital executive.

This story first appeared in the July 7, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The brand is putting considerable resources into bulking up its global e-commerce presence, including aggressive strategies in Hong Kong, China and Australia. To oversee that growth, Weitzman has brought on its first chief global digital and e-commerce officer, Monica Schwartz. Most recently, Schwartz was the head of David Yurman’s e-commerce team.

“Our goal is to make e-commerce our biggest channel of distribution globally,” Wayne Kulkin, the firm’s chief executive officer, told WWD, pointing out that “consistency” among all of its Web sites — American, Canadian, European and a Hong Kong site launched last month — is paramount. He noted that Europe has been the slowest region to accept e-commerce, but the area’s overall online business has still seen 100 percent year-over-year growth.

Weitzman’s Hong Kong site went live about three weeks ago, and still is in soft-launch mode; the destination will be fully up and running with new season’s merchandise in the next few weeks. There is a marketing team of three based in Hong Kong who also works with a local digital agency and Kulkin said the plan is to expand this team significantly.

In December, the brand will launch a Chinese site in partnership with the Pedder Group, which is responsible for distribution and customer service in China. A placeholder on the company’s URL is live in Mainland China.

Kulkin called e-commerce in the region “the black box everyone is trying to figure out.” He sees the market there as “tainted” because consumers have become so reliant on mobile communication.

“In China it’s Weibo and WeChat. Every single person is using it four to six hours a day, but no one has cracked how to sell luxury merchandise in a luxury way. The appropriate social and full-price site is somewhat new for the market,” Kulkin said. “The big companies like Taobao basically do off-price selling of luxury goods. The brands are trying to take that back but it’s difficult.”

He believes Greater China — including Hong Kong and Macau — is still two to three years away from being a massive luxury market for the brand, but he is sure that by 2017, Mainland China will be a bigger e-commerce channel than the U.S. for the company.

Getting involved with Tmall — the Alibaba-owned property that’s also China’s largest online retail platform — is part of the plan. It’s another way for Stuart Weitzman to speak to its customer and control the brand voice since the digital marketplace is comprised of more than 70,000 international and Chinese brands from more than 50,000 merchants — including Burberry, the first luxury brand to offer an official store on Tmall.com. The top priority, however, is developing Weibo and WeChat strategies to communicate with potential customers, with e-commerce on Tmall being the next step.

Of Tmall, Kulkin said the platform is a “key way to get your brand out there. It’s the most important regular-priced channel for Mainland Chinese to look at. It’s actually the only one.”

In a month, the brand’s U.S. site will begin shipping to China. Currently, Lane Crawford’s e-commerce site is the only way consumers can access the brand online in China. Pedder is part of the Lane Crawford Joyce Group.

Kulkin spends nearly a third of his time in China, and by year’s end, Stuart Weitzman will have freestanding stores in 14 cities in Greater China. A Zaha Hadid-designed shop-in-shop will open in Shin Kong Place Beijing in early November. While technically this isn’t a freestanding store, Weitzman’s strategy in China is focused on opening its own stores or shops-in-shop, apart from Lane Crawford. This strategy differs greatly from the company’s approach in the U.S., where wholesale comprises a significant portion of the business.

“There is no other place you can buy our shoes [except for Lane Crawford or freestanding stores]. We positioned our brand as a gateway to a luxury brand. When you go to malls, you see us next to [brands owned by] Kering or LVMH [Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton],” Kulkin said. “This builds a great aura and a halo effect because the Chinese consumer loves to buy outside their own country.”

As for when Kulkin sees the Chinese e-commerce market maturing, he put the time frame at two years.

“It’s like dog years. Every three months is like three years. They [the Chinese consumer] are so adaptable. Before, it was a follower market, now it’s a leader market,” Kulkin said, adding that if China doesn’t become the biggest e-commerce market globally in two years, it will be the second.

Spanning the APAC region, Stuart Weitzman, which is owned by Sycamore Partners, will open 20 to 25 stores a year there. By the end of this year, there will be 48 doors in the region. It’s also just signed on to add stores in Tier 2 Chinese cities like Chengdu, Harbin, Chongquing, Hangzhou and Suzhou. Pedder is its partner for e-commerce in Hong Kong and southern China, while Goodwill Trading is Weitzman’s partner for northern China.

Targeting local celebrities is key, too. And while Stuart Weitzman has yet to identify a global face of the brand in an official capacity, the company is starting to geo-target celebrities from a local standpoint. Key influencers like Korean actress Jun Ji-Hyun wore the brand’s 50-50 style of shoes (they weren’t sent to her by the brand) in the fall — and within seven days of her wearing them, every single store from Hong Kong to Australia sold out of the style.

“Whatever she wears from any brand causes mass buying panic,” Kulkin said of the actress, who stars in a show called “Love From the Stars” and is reportedly the highest-paid celebrity in Korea.

Beyond Asia, Schwartz said that improving the U.S. mobile site is a priority.

“Mobile tends to be more showrooming and tablet performs similar to desktop,” Schwartz said.

Kulkin said more than 50 percent of e-commerce traffic in the U.S. comes from a mobile device and the goal is to hit 60 percent.

Nearly 10 percent of e-commerce sales in the U.S. come from mobile, but two years from now, the brand would like to maintain a responsive mobile site that drives 20 to 25 percent of transactions.