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Designer goods delivered to your doorstep
Published on: 2017-08-01
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040Tang Hongliang is not a typical Chinese package courier. He delivers designer goods and drives an electric car to transport his expensive cargo.

In China, legions of delivery personnel power the world's largest e-commerce boom. Known for their careening three-wheeled carts, they terrorize pedestrians and sometimes dump their packages on doorsteps and desks with the delicacy of a restaurant employee tossing out yesterday's leftovers.

Then there is Tang Hongliang, who is part of an ambitious effort to bring some sparkle to the business - and perhaps help revive the fortunes of the world's makers of high-priced handbags and watches.

Decked out in a black suit, dark gray tie and white gloves, Mr. Tang does not look like a typical Chinese package courier. Instead of piping hot noodle lunches, he delivers a $2,400 designer handbag. Rather than a three-wheeler, he drives an electric car to transport expensive cargo. In the time he makes one or two deliveries, the typical courier would have made about 150.

"Efficiency is of course important," said Mr. Tang, who works for online retailer. "But serving the customer is the most important."

Facing slowing sales, global luxury brands are angling for a piece of China's e-commerce market, where people are accustomed to buying gadgets and groceries, but not high-priced jewelry and haute couture. Many are unsure, however, about diving headfirst into online retail, because China's favorite way to shop is also an industry better known for piracy and dusty deliverymen than for shine and polish.

To court the luxury market, companies like Alibaba and JD.com are using their vast customer base to offer upscale retailers support on issues like digital marketing, pricing, customer services and, in the case of Mr. Tang, delivery.

"The most difficult thing to overcome is the experience for the shoppers," said Xia Ding, president of JD.com's fashion division. "But because we own the logistics we are really able to deliver luxury goods in a way that makes shoppers feel like they are getting the same special experience as they get offline."

Chinese shoppers have long dominated the global luxury market. In the last two years, contributing to an overall global slump. Still, last year Chinese shoppers accounted for 30 percent of global luxury purchases.

Until recently, however, many Chinese luxury purchases were being made overseas or through daigou - personal shoppers who buy goods abroad and bring them into China. That started to change two years ago when, in an effort to combat gray-market sales, a number of high-end luxury brands led by Chanel took steps to reduce the price gap between goods in China and overseas.

As a result, brands have seen a shift in luxury shopping habits, with more and more Chinese consumers now choosing to buy at home rather than abroad. This so-called reshoring has caught the attention of Chinese e-commerce companies, causing major players like Alibaba and JD.com, as well as smaller luxury-focused companies like Secoo and Xiu, to invest aggressively in the luxury sphere.

"Mass market brands already know that there is no choice but to be on these e-commerce platforms," said Liz Flora of L2, a market research company based in New York. "So luxury is really the next frontier for these e-tailers. You can see the competition getting more and more fierce."

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