#NRF2020: How Allbirds leverages Tmall in China

When entering the Chinese market the strategy of sustainable shoe brand Allbirds involved launching on the Alibaba-owned platform Tmall, which has both generated sales and provided learnings it has fed into its other markets.

Speaking at Retail’s Big Show 2020, organised by the National Retail Federation (NRF), Eric Haskell, president of international at Allbirds, said: “A sign of the prominence of Tmall in China was that it was critical for us to use it for the launch strategy of Allbirds in the China market. We needed Tmall to introduce the brand [into the market].”  

He admits that the company entered the country with “extremely low brand awareness” but felt comfortable with using Tmall as it is different to other such platforms and enabled the brand to be featured in a way that ensured it “felt like Allbirds”.

Part of the partnership involves data from the site being shared with brand owners. Chinese consumers are open to leaving feedback, with 80% often sharing their thoughts on a brand post purchase, which helps inform brands like Allbirds. “Even smaller brands can enter China and receive lots of feedback,” said Christina Fontana, head of fashion and luxury at Tmall.

This feedback has been particularly important to informing product development. “Tmall consumers give lots of feedback on fit and so we made the necessary changes in San Francisco to adapt the product. We get things back quickly from Tmall and so we can put this into the product development cycle,” explained Haskell.

The company has also learnt a lot about how it approaches consumers and has adjusted its messaging. “The media market in China is very fragmented. We’ve learnt how to communicate through these channels. Some of these don’t exist in the rest of the world,” he added.

Another take-away from the Chinese market for Allbirds is that it is almost exclusively mobile – with over 95% of transactions done on such devices: “This has caused us to look at what we are doing in the US where 50% of sales are on mobile. We’ve looked at China as a bit of a lab.”

Fontana agreed there is much to be learned by brands operating in China as it can inform them of trends ahead of them taking hold elsewhere. She pointed to live streaming as a particularly interesting activity that brands are undertaking. “It’s about people telling their brand story. People can buy direct from the live stream.”

The other major initiative that has been particularly informing to Allbirds is the annual 11/11 Singles Day from which Alibaba drove $38 billion of sales last November – driven by the launch of an exclusive shoe on Tmall.

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