5 Questions with OOAK’s Alice Xu; Succeeding in China with omni-channel boutique fashion

Having begun in 2012 and now with over 230,000 followers on Taobao, a new Tmall store and the OOAK Concept Boutique, OOAK (One Of A Kind shopping experience) has realised the retailer’s ideal of a multi-faceted brand which features both Western and Chinese designers, even creating their own branded jewellery in the process.

We spoke to the Founder of OOAK, Alice Xu, about the journey.

You have recently started selling on Tmall. Why did you choose Tmall over the other options?

Yes, we started on Tmall on the 1st of December. Last July, we launched our own namesake jewellery brand and then last September or so, we were invited by Tmall to open our official Tmall store as part of their designer brand mix. The timing was just perfect, as around that time, we were also in preparation for our first ‘ooak’ (lower case) jewellery store, which, compared to our flagship OOAK Concept Boutique, is a more focused and well-curated jewellery-only multi-brand store. So, it’s partially an organic development but also one of the things that have been on our agenda for a while.

We have been running our Taobao store for about 4 years; in fact, we were one of the very first multi-brand stores in China embracing online platforms. Till today, we have about 220,000 followers on Taobao. Also, we were the first few stores collaborating with other more niche platforms like Red and the Beast. We chose Tmall to be our official online store because it’s a very mature platform that has a really strong system, as well as unbeatable traffic scale.

Did you start your business years ago with a clear concept? Or is it more a case of reacting and changing the model as you go along?

We started in 2012, and our vision remains unchanged, which is to “bring the world’s best jewellery to you”. We believe that beautifully designed, well-made and reasonably priced jewellery isn’t a myth, and buying jewellery should be easy and fun. This was why I started OOAK in the first place.

As the name itself suggests, we offer one-of-a-kind products and shopping experience to our customers and this stays at the essence of our business. What has evolved and changed along the way is the “content”, that is, what comprises our product mix.

At the beginning stage, we only carried foreign brands, then around 2014, we started to stock Chinese jewellery designer brands because we scouted a few very talented young Chinese designers, and then, we did a few very successful crossover collections with a variety of designers. Most recently, as you know, we started our own jewellery brand “ooak”.

It’s altogether quite a natural progress, just as we launched our own jewellery line in response to the rapidly increasing demand for contemporary designer jewellery. In terms of our business model, it has also evolved quite a bit. From a single multi-brand store in the former French Concession area, to a multifaceted concept comprised of a brick and mortar retail store, with e-commerce, pop-up event spaces, an in-house brand, showroom and PR agency. You have to be very responsive to the market and industry in China, that’s why we are always planning something new and different, but overall everything we do is around the idea “style in jewellery”, and is a small step towards our vision.

What have you noticed as the current trend and expectation of the Chinese consumer? And what do you see going forwards this year?

Indeed, now the buying cycle is becoming shorter and shorter, and the difficulty in attracting your targeted consumers is unprecedented as there’s so much competition out there. On the one hand, Chinese consumers’ buying decisions are increasingly influenced by celebrity endorsements and KOLs’ recommendations, on the other hand, their interest in a certain product (or a certain celebrity/KOL) can only last so long that as a brand or retailer, you have to constantly create buzz or to do something cool to keep the consumers interested.

Also, your store or products need to be picture-ready or social media worthy as people are so eager to post something special. We have always seen our concept store as a destination shop because we are not the easiest store to find in map, hidden as a “boutique hotel”. We thought the location might be an obstacle, but on the contrary, people love the idea and visiting the store has become more of a leisure activity, taking selfies and posting well-taken pictures are now as equally, if not more, important as shopping itself.

As for going forward, I would say the new generation of the Chinese consumers is less loyal to brands; consumers are more products-oriented in a way. It’s a very segmented market, for our typical customer, she often buys the dress from one brand, shoes from another brand, the bag from another, and then the earrings from us, her total outfit may sometimes consist of a dozen brands. You have to be the top of your game.

Although there is so much international news about China and its consumer, when you travel overseas and talk about China, what do people abroad still mis-understand about here?

People I know of from overseas are all very keen on knowing what’s happening in Chinese market, mostly designers or brands. What they may still misunderstand, or gradually starting to grasp, is that the “aura” around Western brands is fading. Chinese consumers are more sophisticated and acquired now. They are looking for great design and quality with a reasonable price tag, whereas the country of origin is quite down on the list, from what I observe.

The KOL trend is still on the rise. Have you co-operated with KOLs, and what do brands need to be careful of or anticipate when working with them?

Yes, we are in close relationships with KOLs. I think it’s key to work with the right ones, not necessarily the ones with most followers. Whether the KOL’s personal style or image is compatible with your brand identity is the most crucial factor to consider.

Over 90% of Chinese Tourists Prefer to Use Mobile Payments Shopping Overseas: Survey

A whitepaper issued by Nielson and Alipay (continue reading to view the full report) has revealed further evidence that any brand outside of China cannot afford to ignore the mobile payment preferences of China’s consumers — and, that the numbers of Chinese tourists travelling overseas only continues to rise, maintaining their place as the number one in overseas spending.

The whitepaper compared Chinese and non-Chinese tourist behaviours, and we’ve picked through the report to highlight some key findings. Continue reading “Over 90% of Chinese Tourists Prefer to Use Mobile Payments Shopping Overseas: Survey”

How YSL Picked Up a Social Lipstick Trend in China – and Won

By Jiaqi Luo

In a modern world of diversity, cross-cultural interchange and rapidly evolving societies, it remains fair to say: women love lipstick. In the west, the term “lipstick effect” was born; when disposable income drops during a time of economic crisis, lipstick sales rise. Women love lipstick because it is an affordable product that instantly feels luxurious and increases their confidence level. (editor’s safety note – the writer is a woman!) Continue reading “How YSL Picked Up a Social Lipstick Trend in China – and Won”

Luxury Conversation Paris Briefing: The Real Life of China’s Most Beloved KOL

By Susan Owens

Prestige European fashion brands embracing the power of KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) are swiftly mastering the art of reaching out to the world’s fastest-growing luxury consumers – Chinese Millennials.

But for many brands, mystique still surrounds the power of the Chinese KOL. While Influencer Marketing in the west is within their comfort zone, the clear barriers of not only language and culture but a fully individual digital eco-system can cause a lack of clear understanding.

The Luxury Conversation’s Paris breakfast briefing (following recent London and New York briefings) to an audience of 50 invitation-only guests set out to demystify this subject with an intimate tête-à-tête at the House of Tai Ping Showroom in Paris.

Continue reading “Luxury Conversation Paris Briefing: The Real Life of China’s Most Beloved KOL”

The Luxury Conversation Briefing – Paris, February 28th – How do Chinese KOLs Influence Luxury?

Following on from the recent successful Luxury Conversation Briefing in New York, we will be hosting an invitation-only event in Paris, on February the 28th.

Speaking on the day will be one of China’s most popular KOLs, Zuo An Xiao, who speaks to millions of loyal Followers across Chinese social media and Instagram. Continue reading “The Luxury Conversation Briefing – Paris, February 28th – How do Chinese KOLs Influence Luxury?”

The Luxury Conversation Briefing in New York, with U.S. Luxury Survey Results

If luxury brands want to succeed in China over the long-term, they must focus on Chinese Millennials.

To gain more understanding of this premise and to go deeper into the issue, The Luxury Conversation hosted a Briefing in February 2018, at The Mark Hotel in New York City. The U.S. event followed up on the recent successful London Briefing.

Speaking to a room full of guests from top global brands, agencies and media was Chloé Reuter, Founder and CEO of Reuter Communications (and co-Founder of The Luxury Conversation), with guest speakers Ketty Maisonrouge and Richard Chen.

Ahead of this invitation-only event, The Luxury Conversation conducted a survey of Chinese consumers’ preferences and idea about luxury shopping and travel in U.S., so that glean their true views and opinions. Continue reading “The Luxury Conversation Briefing in New York, with U.S. Luxury Survey Results”

Luxury Chinese Travel to the Middle East Hots Up; Chinese Travellers Seek New Silk Road Adventure

What are the opportunities for Middle-Eastern and North African brands trying to attract the luxury Chinese traveller?

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region had previously lagged in popularity, but is now witnessing a boom in Chinese visitors. Growth is being driven by local travel incentives introduced into the region, including visas on arrival for Chinese nationals visiting the UAE, and the rising sophistication of Chinese travellers who are seeking new destinations off the beaten path. In addition, China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, which cuts through the region, has the potential to put MENA on the map for travel savvy Chinese. Continue reading “Luxury Chinese Travel to the Middle East Hots Up; Chinese Travellers Seek New Silk Road Adventure”

Exclusive: How Wendy Yu is Shaping Luxury Business & Cultural Exchange between East & West

Wendy Yu has been near and dear to the luxury world for some time now — as a patron, an investor, a business partner and a cultural tie between the East and the West. Yet her ambition didn’t end there, as demonstrated by the announcement of Yu Holdings’ establishment, investment in Mary Katrantzou, and an eye to expansive growth in 2018, somewhat commemorated with a glamorous Chinese New Year Dinner that was the talk of the luxury society.

The Luxury Conversation met with Wendy on a recent visit to Shanghai, to talk about Yu Holdings, how she had arrived at this point and what was in store for the future of Wendy Yu. Continue reading “Exclusive: How Wendy Yu is Shaping Luxury Business & Cultural Exchange between East & West”

China the Digital Pioneer; How Luxury Brands Should Capitalise on China’s Blazing Online Trail

China is where any luxury brand needs to be.

McKinsey’s recent report, What can we expect in China in 2018, gives some details and data on the ongoing rise of digital China.

Investment in global infrastructure and start-ups, investment in culture, better regulations and more is all made possible with a pioneering level of leading tech. Cash is already (as good as) obsolete, with facial recognition for payments and next-gen AI being led by China.

What does this mean for luxury brands? Continue reading “China the Digital Pioneer; How Luxury Brands Should Capitalise on China’s Blazing Online Trail”

How (Not) to Be Culturally Appropriate to Chinese Luxury Consumers

“Why do luxury brands misunderstand us?”

“How come luxury brands interpret the Chinese aesthetic this way?”

“Let’s see which brand has the ugliest Year of the Dog edition product!”

These comments are just some examples of recent titles from popular WeChat/Weibo posts. They are from Chinese Millennials mocking some luxury brands’ Year of the Dog collections. Chinese consumers were not only shocked, but disappointed by the poor Chinese aesthetics produced by big-name fashion houses. Continue reading “How (Not) to Be Culturally Appropriate to Chinese Luxury Consumers”