With a career not only spanning, but creating global fashion e-commerce, Claire Chung is a renowned expert on Chinese and international retail, digital, fashion and culture.
Speaking 5 languages and having lived across continents, Claire was a pioneer in leading Chinese cross-border commerce, launching China’s first luxury multi-brand online fashion retailer. As VP of ShangPin.com, Claire forged epic deals, bringing global brands and western government entities into China with strategic partnerships.
In 2015, Claire moved into a newly created executive role at Net-A-Porter Group level, to expand all businesses in the China market. After the historic merger between Net-A-Porter Group and YOOX Group which created the world’s number one retailer in luxury, Claire was promoted to lead all of the YOOX-Net-A-Porter Group‘s businesses in China.
We met with Claire to hear her insights on the China luxury market.
We have seen so many brands enter China – while more are still in the process or considering the level of involvement. How do you see the ‘entering China’ topic in 2018?
When I joined the business in 2015, it was in a newly created executive position at Group Level, with many of the functions reporting into China vs HQ. This was a big shift and recognition of the importance of the China market and a realisation of how empowering the local team is the only road to success.
In the digital sphere, China has a unique ecosystem that is different from the rest of the world — especially pertaining to marketing functions. Localisation is a big focus at the YOOX Net-A-Porter Group and China had its own dedicated China Plan. We all know of many companies entering and exiting China simply because they replicated the global model and never bothered to localise and truly try to understand the market and its evolving luxury customer base.
I have worked and lived in New York, Milan, London and Hong Kong — all cities where we have offices — and I can say without comparison, the pace of change in China and the rise of the Chinese luxury consumer is astounding. I have spent more than 20 years in the luxury sector and I am awed by the transformation in China. It’s economic rise is driving growth across Asia and this is not a temporary trend but a new reality that brands must take into consideration.
The Chinese customer is not only in China but traveling globally. Many are sending their kids to the top boarding schools in USA, UK and Europe, so the new Chinese diaspora is truly a unique demographic who are traveling and shopping around the world.
If brands want to be successful in China, they also need to understand the values of its customer and its much younger demographic that should be relevant in their brand messaging and merchandising.
Some apps which never sold luxury are now opening luxury-specific sections – how do you see this working?
China is a competitive market built on “platforms” with each platform having a certain customer base. Success depends on many elements including providing the discerning luxury customer with impeccable service, a highly curated edit of the most desirable luxury brands, capsule collections and so on.
Will sustainability have a place in luxury in China?
Consumers here are generally segmented by generation. The new luxury consumer in China is young and are only-child consumers: that is a unique demographic. I think the new generation is very aware of the environment and are interested in expressing their personal values in the brands they buy. It’s an evolution of discovery.
There are also demographics which are dependent on aspects such as a tier 1 vs a tier 2 consumer. So if your day-to-day life is impacted by certain topics, you think about sustainability. Sustainability is really just beginning but growing in importance.
What do you look at outside of your own direct industry and day-to-day concerns?
I’m always looking at how different technologies can bring relevancy to what we do. Technology is what is going to change the customer experience, and China is at the forefront of that. If you look at VR, then it could be slightly gimmicky, especially as you need a headset or lens, and with AR you are using something to point and look around. For me, AI is much more interesting as a transformation point. It has real use and can seamlessly improve the user’s experience.
How do the up and coming Chinese brands compare to existing luxury brands?
There is a lot of talent in China. Within the fashion industry, we need the development of more industry “infrastructure” to support their development and success. I hope to see more trade shows open during Shanghai Fashion Week. We already see the opening of more multi brand boutiques or “select” shops in China and this should further support the emergence of local designers within the China market.
It can be difficult to get global buyers to come here, as the overseas fashion weeks are already exhausting for people who attend them. So this means that Chinese designers must go to New York, London or Paris to sell and expand distribution into the international markets to grow their success. This is an issue that needs addressing in order to better support the talented Chinese designers coming through.