Groupe Clarins likes a challenge.

This story first appeared in the July 21, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The family-owned company is aiming to be the world’s number-one prestige skin-care brand. One big move it’s made to achieve that goal was to streamline its digital presence with just one global platform and engage directly with the consumer, according to Laurent Malaveille, the company’s former digital executive vice president. He now heads up the company’s efforts in the Swiss market.

It set up online beauty consultations, created a rewards program, suggested gift bundles, proposed exclusive offers and made available more than 100 samples with purchase, something no multibrand brick-and-mortar store could do.

It even urged customers to speak to one another online about the quality and performance of the products they purchased.

The brand set out to make its digital offer as good — and, in many cases, better — than its brick-and-mortar one, and today, is the brand’s number-one store.

“We focus on content that tells stories about our consumers’ lifestyles; we have questions and answers; we have beauty week, with the [Clarins] team sharing their top beauty routines for a vacation, but also for the Chinese New Year.…Asian women have so many beauty secrets to share,” he said.

Malaveille and his team faced challenges as they sought to expand internationally, especially in China, where the Web is protected by the so-called Great China Firewall.

Officially known as the Golden Shield Project, the government-controlled firewall restricts the dissemination of information and impacts e-commerce businesses from abroad, resulting in slower load times and compromised site functionality.

E-commerce is also dominated by a few homegrown Chinese players, the online marketplaces and, which operate much like eBay or Amazon, and can potentially be problematic for luxury brands keen to protect their upscale pricing and image.

“Sales are done through the gray market and through unofficial channels,” said Malaveille, adding that Clarins’ solution was to embrace the reality rather than fight it.

So the brand opened two online stores, a stand-alone one and a second on, both of which were served by the same back office. Their full-price offer mirrors that of Clarins’ department store partners in China, while the Web site on Tmall looks identical to

“From Day One, we knew that to be relevant to China we needed to have both properties,” Malaveille said. “So we decided to go there respecting our DNA as a luxury brand, selling our products at full price and with full service. By selling full-price on with rich content, we knew we would…set a good standard in China.”

Clarins launched online in China in September, and Malaveille said the results so far have exceeded the company’s expectations.

“Tmall is going to be our number-one China store this year, and it’s also going to affect the brand perception among the online audience,” he said. “And we have pushed down the gray marketers and discounters in the search engine results.”

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