The fierce online battle for luxury Chinese consumers refuses to let up. Close on the heels of Alibaba launching its specialized luxury platform, and the listing of Secoo, the largest online luxury retailer in China on the Nasdaq last month, JD.com has opened its own dedicated channel targeting rich Chinese shoppers, called Toplife.
To be unveiled Oct. 10, the platform will cater to luxury goods of all types — from fashion and accessories to health and beauty, home furnishings and electronics — and, addressing key concerns that high-end labels have over emulating the exclusive nature of the offline experience, promises more control for brands.
Names such as La Perla, Emporio Armani, Rimowa, B&O Play and Trussardi have already signed up, JD.com said, and the Chinese e-tailer has promised more will be revealed within the coming weeks, “some of which will launch their first online stores in China.”
“Working with Toplife, luxury brands worldwide are now able to directly provide customers throughout China with a true luxury shopping experience previously only associated with high-end offline stores,” said Richard Liu, chairman and chief executive officer of JD.com. “Toplife aims to mirror the offline luxury shopping experience in a premium e-commerce experience.”
To that end, JD.com is enabling brands to control every aspect of their flagship’s appearance, allowing 24-hour access to customer service and training fashion consultants to advise on luxury brands. Product sold through Toplife will also be stored in a special warehouse equipped with dust-free sealed spaces, strict temperature and humidity controls, and robotics.
Currently only 8 percent of Chinese luxury purchases are made online, according to a report last month from consulting firm Bain & Co., but this percentage is forecast to spike in the next few years, owing to increased spending by Millennials, the rising middle class and a new wave of working women.
“It took them some time but we are seeing more brands warming up to platforms like Net-a-porter and Mytheresa. The brand owners need to get comfortable with the platform’s positioning and presentation of products, just like how they would choose wholesalers in the offline days,” said CLSA analyst Mariana Kou. “The Chinese platforms have a transactional and promotional image so they would have to be more strategic with their positioning and branding to win the hearts of global luxury brand owners.”
Brian Buchwald, ceo of consumer intelligence firm Bomoda, said the persistent existence of third party-sold legitimate and illegitimate versions of brand goods remains a problem. “For instance, in August 2017 alone, we calculated nearly 8,000 Louis Vuitton products sold on Alibaba excluding fragrance. We modeled approximately 1,000 sold on JD,” Buchwald said.
Separate platforms may not necessarily be sufficient to coax customers to do their luxury shopping on these destinations, he contended.
“The reality is that the continued existence of illegitimate products sitting on Taobao even while a brand operates a Tmall store will continue to muddy the message,” Buchwald said. “Further, both Alibaba and JD are at their core, mass. It is what they do best and what they have been rewarded for in terms of their growth and market value. It may be that their ability to both be purveyors of mass market products and luxury products is limited through no fault of their own. Just like in a shopping center or shopping district, like sits by like, the nature of these marketplaces may preclude luxury adoption.”
Instead, Buchwald sees significant potential in WeChat, which is niche but growing quickly.
“At this point, most luxury brands are testing limited editions or time-boxing campaigns through pop-up stores. If those campaigns are successful we expect to see a broader push over time,” he said.