LONDON — Forget about Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Black Friday and Cyber Monday, China doesn’t care.
With pent-up demand driving Chinese luxury sales at a record-breaking rate throughout 2020, having a deep understanding of China’s very unique sales cycle — which is dominated by traditional festivals and e-commerce-led events — is imperative for brands and retailers in 2021 to stay ahead of the game in an increasingly competitive market.
In recent years, many have embraced the Chinese New Year holiday — by releasing Ox-themed capsules to tap into the gifting traditions — and Chinese Valentine’s Days 520 and Qixi festival. But there are still several untapped traditional holidays, including Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival, that brands can capitalize on to gain more visibility, as well online opportunities beyond well-known shopping events like 618 and Singles’ Day.
Dragon Boat Festival, which occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, has been a public holiday in China since 2008. It is the time of the year when people eat Zongzi, a Chinese rice dish made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves, and commemorate the death of ancient patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Miluo River over 2,000 years ago.
While restaurants take pride in making the most delicious and innovative Zongzi — even Starbucks and KFC sell them in China — fashion brands are mostly absent. But wouldn’t it be fun if there was a collaboration between a fashion brand and a Zongzi maker, or an award-winning dragon boat racing team? Perhaps Prada can sponsor a dragon boat racing event in China as it does with the Prada Cup.
Similar is the Mid-Autumn Festival, which many consider as the second-most important holiday after the Chinese New Year. On this day, people enjoy the full moon with their family and eat mooncake, a rich pastry typically filled with sweet-bean or lotus-seed paste, and salted duck egg yolks.
Luxury brands have been commissioning five-star hotels to make beautiful and creative mooncake gift boxes to send to VIPs and press for decades, but these mooncakes are not for sale most of the time.
For those who have expanded into the hospitality sector, like Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton, selling branded mooncakes to the masses, or even designing a luxury case or fine china to display the mooncakes, is guaranteed to generate huge online buzz.
A Patriotic Shift
As Beijing continues to push its citizens to celebrate Chinese festivals as an act of patriotism rather than Western ones, which are increasingly considered cultural invasions, these seemingly farfetched ideas may become relevant sooner than one thinks.
Iris Lai, head of creative agency Drum’s China operation and a former marketing executive at Shanghai’s top luxury mall Plaza 66, said many of her local colleagues see Qixi Festival, also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day, as more important than its Western counterpart when it comes to celebration and gift-giving, and brands have been acting accordingly to cater to this shift.
“From my experience, Dior had placed their marketing focus on Qixi instead of Valentine’s Day with setting up a pop-up store and launching a full Qixi collection in the last two years,” Lai said, adding that if brands want to secure a prime location for a festival-themed event, they will need to book the slot with the developer at least a year ahead.
Another factor is that sometimes Valentine’s Day is too close to Chinese New Year. This year, for example, they are only two days apart. Several brands told WWD that they have given up promotions around Valentine’s Day as Chinese New Year offers a much broader audience.
Tina Li, communication director at event agency K2, said she is seeing some brands starting to pay more attention to selling opportunities during China’s traditional festivals and planning integrated events around that.
Chinese New Year Boom
From top brands like Dior, Versace, and Thom Browne to emerging brands like Pronounce and Annoushka, there has been an explosion of Chinese New Year capsules this year. Even Ladurée introduced a Chinese New Year macaron gift box for the Chinese diaspora in Europe.
While there is a growing concern over this year’s Chinese New Year spending as COVID-19 flared up, which can trigger potential national lockdowns if not managed properly and wind down consumer confidence, the Chinese government has been advising its 1.4 billion citizens to celebrate the holiday locally. The progressive curbing of regional outbreaks in Northern China and Shanghai, as well as China’s advanced e-commerce and logistic infrastructure, also make the outlook for this holiday season’s sales less dampened than many analysts would think.
Luxury outlet Florentia Village, for example, opened its seventh China outpost ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday in Chongqing, the fourth wealthiest city in the country.
On its grand opening day last week, buoyant shoppers flocked to the mall, hunting for bargains from designer brands like Furla, Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld, Brooks Brothers and Tommy Hilfiger.
Maurizio Lupi, managing director of developer RDM Asia and Florentia Village, said they anticipate three to five times more visitors during the Chinese New Year period this year.
“We are launching a series of activities and offers to engage with existing and new customers across all channels, encompassing city roadshows, in-center installations, and animations, social media challenges, livestreaming as well as sales promotion offers at our physical outlet malls, online platforms, and partner platforms,’ he said.
For its Chongqing branch, Florentia Village also partners with ride-sharing platform Didi and mobile payment providers, as well as hotels, resorts and booking portals to assist visitors traveling to shop. In addition, shoppers have the opportunity to win a Maserati driving experience and enjoy Chinese and Italian performances while they shop there.
Lupi added that Florentia Village has employed an omnichannel model since 2018. Customers can shop offline and online at physical stores, virtual pop-up stores, e-commerce platforms, its WeChat mini-program or e-gift card platform. As a result, it can launch integrated promotions whether it’s for traditional festivals or the ones that have been created from e-commerce channels.
The festival has also gone global. According to cross-border payment solution provider PingPong, international e-commerce sellers will see one of their biggest surge in sales yet. Product data analysis shows that this Chinese New Year could eclipse the previous four years of sales combined, as sellers are adding products to their inventory at five times the rate than they were in 2019.
More Opportunities Online
“China’s Post-’90s and Gen Z users have become more and more interested in Chinese culture,” said Kevin Jiang, president of international business, JD.com fashion and lifestyle. “Traditional Chinese festivals have become an important time for them to express their love to their families and friends through gift-giving.”
Jiang added that on top of the traditional festivals, 618 and Singles’ Day, there are multiple theme-specific marketing events every month for brands to participate in. The platform also hosts an annual luxury shopping festival in December. Over 1,600 brands participated in the latest edition.
During its Chinese New Year festival, a campaign dedicated to shoppers buying gifts, food and red envelopes running from Jan. 31 to Feb. 7, the platform generated an average of 120,000 new followers per day for 24 participating brands, including Rimowa, Coach, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Pinko.
Tasha Liu, founder of fashion retailer Labelhood, which is best known for its curated selection of Chinese designers, said the e-commerce-led festivals are mostly sales target-oriented, while traditional festivals offer a good opportunity to produce content that engages with the audience emotionally.
Its Chinese New Year campaign, shot by Leslie Zhang, centers around the idea of a family portrait and highlights exclusive items from homegrown designers like Samuel Guì Yang, Yuhan Wang, and Yueqi Qi in a traditional Chinese mansion setting.
This campaign is also Liu’s attempt to bring high-brow content to Tmall, as Labelhood is a participant in Tmall’s New Year Festival, which is one of the e-commerce platform’s 100-plus marketing events throughout the year.
Tmall also provides a bespoke promotion service, Super Brand Day, to premium partners, such as Cartier, Dior, Burberry, Michael Kors, Tom Ford, Nike, SK-II, and Perfect Dairy. The brand can pick any day in a year, and Tmall will come up with an integrated plan to promote the brand across its 779 million annual active consumers.
The most recent case was Cartier’s Super Brand Day on Feb. 3. Friends of the house, singers Li Xian and Meng Meiqi, actress Ma Yili and the Mandarin Band, spoke about the brand’s history, inspiration and gave styling tips for wearing its iconic timepieces via livestreaming on Taobao Live.
Mostly driven by Li and Mandarin Band’s popularity, the campaign hashtag #CartierTheCultureOfDesign has received over 360 million views and 5.25 million discussions to date on China’s microblogging site Weibo.
New Year: Jan. 1
New Year shopping festival*: Jan. 17 to 25
Chinese New Year Holiday: Feb. 11 to 17
Lantern Festival: Feb. 26
Queen’s Festival*: March 3 to 8
Qingming Festival Holiday: April 3 to 5
Men’s Festival*: April 22 to 27
Labor Day Holiday: May 1 to 5
Mother’s Day: May. 9
T-shirt Festival*: May 8 to 11
I Love You Day: May 20
Shoes and Bags Festival*: May 27 to 28
Children’s Day: June 1
Dragon Boat Festival Holiday: June 12 to 14
618 Festival*: June 18
Father’s Day: June 20
Swimwear Festival*: July 27 to 31
Qixi Festival: Aug. 14
Fall Fashion Festival*: Aug. 23 to 27
Mid-Autumn Festival Holiday: Sept. 19 to 21
National Day Holiday: Oct. 1 to 7
Winter Fashion Festival*: Oct. 10 to 11
Chongyang Festival: Oct. 14
Singles’ Day*: Nov. 11
Clothes Refresh Festival*: Dec. 1 to 6
Double 12 Shopping Festival*: Dec. 12
Christmas: Dec. 14 to 25
* E-commerce platforms led festival