The first 88 customers who bought the newest version of Cartier’s iconic Love bracelet in rose gold on the French jeweler’s WeChat store got a bonus with their purchase- the bracelet was hand delivered to their door by a “Cartier Boy” replete with a round hat and a red jacket trimmed in gold buttons.
Cartier started selling the bracelets exclusively on its new WeChat boutique as of Feb. 6 and sold 150 pieces within one week. While many a fashion and luxury brand is experimenting with activities on WeChat- Dior and Bulgari have used the social media platform for flash sales for example– Cartier is one of a small number of pioneering brands who have fully embraced the channel, launching a full-fledged permanent shop on the platform in May of last year.
Renaud Litre, chief executive of Cartier China, said WeChat represents the “greatest platform for communication between a brand like like us and the people” given the app’s interactive nature. As reported, WeChat has become much more than China’s answer to Facebook or Twitter, evolving from a simple messaging app into something resembling a mobile operating system with a host of imbedded, integrated services. WeChat users turn to the app to communicate with friends; blog; pay for goods in physical stores and online; exchange money with their friends; review products; and receive special offers and discounts from retailers. The app’s active user base was 768 million as of December, that’s at least 56 percent of China’s total population of more than 1.38 billion.
Cartier also has a traditional e-commerce website for China, which it launched in 2015- Litre said sales on both it and the WeBoutique are growing at a triple-digit rate- but the executive said the WeBoutique is distinctive because it offers a more targeted environment based around specific campaigns or events. Each transaction is for just one product, like the Valentine’s Day initiative for the Love bracelet.
“The WeBoutique is not a platform where you browse products. You don’t go there for browsing,” he said.
Not even a year into its WeChat experience, Litre said this is just the beginning. The jeweler is looking at ways to roll out more features on WeChat that make “life easier” for its customers, allowing them to arrange for repairs with free pickups or access their guarantees online. These types of services should be rolled out over the next fiscal year. He said he’s staying mum on other WeChat initiatives for now for competitive reasons.
“We are still in the learning curve and in the discovery process,” he said.
While WeChat sales still represent a tiny fragment of Cartier China’s overall sales, Litre sees the social media platform as central to its longer-term strategy. E-commerce sales, both on the brand’s traditional website and through the WeBoutique, represent less than one percent of Cartier China’s overall sales. Of those digital sales, the WeBoutique is only generating a third of them but it’s a highly efficient channel given the stickiness of the app and its highly engaged users, he explained. Currently Cartier has some 270,000 subscribers on WeChat- an ample base of potential consumers.
“The WeBoutique is very much targeted towards the WeChat community, so the more we activate the WeChat community, the more efficient is the conversion,” he said.
Jing Daily, a site tracking luxury consumer trends, cited Cartier as one of the industry leaders on WeChat and urged other brands to forge a similar path on the platform. Coach is another brand worth noting- last year it announced that it was abandoning Alibaba’s Tmall in favor of WeChat sales.
“WeChat is even more ubiquitous in China than it already was in 2014, and more crucial than ever for luxury brands,” Jing Daily said in a recent research report. It also highlighted drinks maker Pernod Ricard’s move to open a WeChat storefront as a model worth emulating.
“Pernod Ricard’s reason for introducing a WeChat store included making it easier for shoppers to make their purchases without leaving the app, which in turn allows the spirits company to efficiently collect data on their customers,” Jing Daily said.
Regardless of WeChat’s enormous potential as a sales vehicle, it’s clear that bricks and mortar stores will continue to play a central role in Cartier China’s strategy for the foreseeable future. Its 34 jewelry stores and 52 watch stores run through partners still account for the vast majority of sales, which Litre said are going very well at the moment.
“The market is not slowing down for us. We had a very good 2016. 2017 just started but it looks very promising,” the executive said, citing a robust sales of jewelry- especially to women buying for themselves- as well as a rebound in the men’s watch market.
Litre’s comments mirror broader trends in the industry suggesting a recovery in the Chinese market for luxury goods, which has been experiencing a slowdown since about 2012.
Earlier this week, Prada flagged a rebound in China sales in the third quarter. Macquarie Research said there is “strong supporting evidence…the luxury sector in China is recovering,” citing promising figures from Prada, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Kering and Cartier’s corporate parent Compagnie Financière Richemont.