PARIS — As the Chinese luxury market steams ahead, propelled by ever-younger generations of consumers, e-commerce giant JD.com is beefing up the number of European labels on its luxury platform Toplife.
Nearly a year into its existence, the platform has 63 brands and counting: Eight labels are set to join this month and the company expects 80 by the end of the year, according to Xia Ding, president of JD.com’s fashion business.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Paris Retail Week trade show in the French capital, the Chinese executive explained to WWD how the platform’s relationship with luxury brands has evolved since she joined last year from Nielsen.
Toplife was launched in October 2017 to compete with rival Alibaba’s Luxury Pavilion, which counts 40 luxury brands.
JD.com says it has the most extensive logistics network in China and can deliver products within a day to 90 percent of the population.
Despite its logistical firepower, luxury brands were initially wary about hopping on to the e-commerce channel, according to Ding.
“At the beginning, brands were more focused on concerns…they just gave me many, many reasons why they don’t want to be online,” said Ding. She cited the three main sticking points as the “messy” nature of online commerce where counterfeit and off-season goods are sold, “adjacency issues” wherein brands were concerned they would be displayed next to less prestigious labels and the lack of physical interaction with customers.
The company created an independent app, with brands showing up in what she described as a type of online flagship store for individual labels.
“I don’t mix your skirt with other [brands’] skirts, so you’re merchandising by brand and it is operated in a way the brand can totally control their image, their pricing and how they want to mix and match” products, she added.
Services are also key, according to Xia. Toplife developed its so-called white glove service, hand-delivering products by well-dressed people wearing white gloves, in order to bring some of the emotional satisfaction missing from online shopping. The service has been extended from three cities at the outset to nine, and more consumers are opting to choose the delivery time in order to be present for the delivery ceremony.
“A lot of people choose the office for the delivery place, especially for the holidays,” she said, noting some people want their coworkers to see how much their spouse loves them.
The company is also bulking up teams of customer service representatives, which now number around 30 to 40, and serve as a type of fashion adviser, available around the clock.
“If there’s any question they can’t answer, we can elevate it to the brand level,” Ding said.
Asked what kinds of questions they field, Ding said that some customers were concerned by vintage-style clothing, saying, “Hey, did you ship used shoes to me?” but that the hotline adviser was able to explain that it was a brand’s deliberate design.
The company is working on helping labels increase brand awareness, and better integrate online and in-store marketing efforts.
“At the beginning, it was more about recruitment but now our job is about driving the performance and also helping them to build their brands, not just driving the sales, [but] helping to hold their hands and go further to explore more innovative ways they can do marketing,” she said.
Efforts behind the scenes include using artificial intelligence to gauge customer satisfaction based on comments, while more visible use of technology includes methods for virtually trying on clothing or high jewelry or seeing how an outfit looks in a party setting. The company is also creating an electronic archive system to help women see what they own.
“Ladies have an issue of too many clothes but they’re always missing one [item],” laughed Ding.
Toplife recently livestreamed a Mulberry fashion show that took place in Seoul and Ding sees an increasing role for the platform in pre-booking orders.
“If you see what you like then you can come to us to pre-book with us and maybe—it depends on supply chain flexibility of each brand—they can deliver in one month or two weeks,” she said.
With 48 percent of luxury goods purchased in the country by Chinese consumers under 35 years old, high-end consumers are around 10 years younger than their Western counterparts and less loyal to brands, said Ding, using the point to make the case for luxury brands to join the platform for help targeting a fast-moving audience.
As she seeks to woo more houses, Ding has bulked up teams around the world to serve as ears and eyes on the ground, with half a dozen employees in a new Paris office, as well as offices in the U.K., Italy, U.S., Japan and Australia.
She travels extensively herself, with stops in New York, the U.K. and China planned before returning to Paris for the Saint Laurent show on Sept. 25. A former model, Ding wore a black suit jacket embellished with a layer of black-and-white beading from an emerging Chinese designer, Tracy Chu.
“I used to be chasing bigger brands but now, like a typical Chinese consumer, I dedicate a lot of my time to helping emerging designers,” she said.