American Brand Starting With Online-Only Strategy In Greater China Region
One of many mid-range American retailers set to debut or expand in Hong Kong or mainland China this year, this J. Crew announced a new partnership with the Hong Kong-based high-end department store Lane Crawford that will make J. Crew’s collections available in the region this October. According to Hypebeast, the partnership will, initially at least, comprise the F/W 2012 women’s ready-to-wear, men’s apparel and accessory collections, stocking them at Hong Kong’s ifc mall Lane Crawford location and its Seasons Place location in Beijing, as well as online at lanecrawford.com.
While J. Crew preps its physical launch in China, the retailer is focused more intently on the online space, as Divia Harilela wrote in her most recent column for Jing Daily. Seeing the obvious opportunity in China’s expanding e-commerce market for mid-range international brands, J. Crew began its Greater China expansion late last year, starting by offering flat-rate shipping to Hong Kong (HK$150) and mainland China (US$30). Within six months, Harilela noted, Hong Kong has already become one of J. Crew’s top five biggest markets. This year alone, the likes of Net-A-Porter and Neiman Marcus, as well as American mass retailer Macy’s and fashion designers like Alexander Wang have said that they’re ready to launch e-commerce options in China. Considering the country’s overall online retail market hit US$121 billion in sales last year,according to Barclays Capital, a 66 percent increase over 2010, and China is expected to become the world’s largest luxury retail as well as luxury e-commerce market by 2015, it’s easy to see why global and home-grown companies continue to pile in.
This partnership with J. Crew is the latest in a string of cooperative launches we’ve seen by Lane Crawford. This past April, the store kicked off its second partnership with American Apparel with a special pop-up space, selling a range of best-selling basics, at the sprawling “lab concept” space in Admiralty’s Queensway Plaza. Last month, Lane Crawford hosted a special “NicoPanda” collection developed in collaboration with Nicola Formichetti (best known as Lady Gaga’s stylist) in Hong Kong as well as Beijing. Other launches and events held by Lane Crawford in recent years include more exclusive labels like 3.1 Phillip Lim, for whom Lane Crawford has maintained a “Shop in Shop” for quite some time, and whose “4 x 3.1″ project for Lane Crawford made its debut in Beijing back in October 2010.
As it prepares for its (physical) China launch, J. Crew is making a smart move by first going digital to drive consumer interest in China and pave the way for a strong debut. We’d actually go a step further and put far more emphasis on the women’s collections on J. Crew’s lanecrawford.com “store.” Unlike China’s brick-and-mortar luxury market — which is largely driven by male-led “gifting” — the future of China’s high-end e-commerce market is very much female. (Though this demographic is making up a growing proportion of buyers at physical stores in the country as well.)
As Jing Daily recently noted, the ratio of male to female shoppers out of the estimated 2.3 million Taobao shoppers in China currently sits at 30 percent to 70 percent, though among “active shoppers,” the ratio of male to female is 20 percent to 80 percent — this, a recent Taobao study pointed out, indicates that to Chinese women, e-commerce is “the platform of choice for their favorite foreign products.”
Only a few years ago, we’d be pessimistic about the retailer’s prospects in label-and-logo-mad China, but now — with more “logo-lite” brands gaining in popularity, middle-class interest in mid-range American brands like Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch (which is set to debut in Hong Kong this August) steadily rising, and the added prestige J. Crew will get by linking up with a credible partner like Lane Crawford, the brand may just surprise even the most jaded industry observer.