How to understand and reach the Chinese consumer through Tmall

China is projected to become one of the world’s largest consumer
markets as consumption in the region continues to grow exponentially.
According to a 2016 study conducted by McKinsey & Company, the
majority of Chinese consumers are increasingly interested in buying
premium quality products across categories, meaning they are willing
to spend more money to ensure satisfaction with their purchases.
Forty-eight percent of consumers responded that they would pay at the
top of their price range for the best product in apparel, while 51
percent agreed with the statement in regards to fast moving consumer
goods and 49 percent in regards to consumer electronics.

Across categories, western brands are realizing that the Chinese
market is one of enormous potential and they must quickly familiarize
themselves with the needs and wants of the consumers in the region.
FashionUnited sat down with Christina Fontana, the head of fashion and
luxury for Alibaba’s Tmall, during the National Retail Federation’s
conference earlier this month to better understand the Chinese

FashionUnited: How would you sum up what the Chinese consumer is
looking for?

Christina Fontana: Tmall has over 700 million Chinese consumers on
our platform, and they are looking for everything from everyday
products to cars to groceries to fashion. The biggest trend we’ve seen
is the upgrading of Chinese consumption, meaning consumers are looking
more and more for higher quality products. They are buying a lot of
overseas and imported products as we’ve seen the size of the middle
class grow.

What is the most surprising aspect of this consumer to American brands?

Chinese consumers are very sophisticated and very demanding,
because they are well-informed. Most consumers come to our Tmall
platform eight times a day because it allows them access to incredible
content from the brands – brand stories, brand history, short videos,
live streaming – that are telling everything about the brand. It’s
also important to note that they’re not only being informed by the
brands, but they’re also being informed by fellow consumers. This
generates a retail culture in which consumers that are very aware,
very well-informed and very demanding, and this is sometimes
surprising to brands when they enter the Chinese market for the first

Does this make it more challenging for Western retailers to engage
with these consumers in a way that makes the most sense for the

The biggest mistake that brands can make with the consumers in
China is thinking the Tmall e-commerce platform simply involves
selling products online. This isn’t what Tmall does; it is the biggest
marketing platform in China, allowing brands to share their stories
and content that educates consumers to empower them with the
information that they want about brands before making retail

Are there any content marketing strategies that don’t work with
this consumer?

Email doesn’t work because these customers don’t use email – it’s
not even a data point that we track. People don’t communicate via
email there.

What is the most successful way to reach them?

Consumers can follow brands they’re interested in on Tmall, and
information about those brands will be automatically pushed to
consumers. We generate heat maps to show brands how close their
relationship is with a particular consumer based on how much time that
consumer spends with a brand’s content. Using this information, brands
can decide which demographics of consumers will see specific types of
content or products, to be sure they show the right content to the
right consumers.

This consumer seems to value personalized digital communication.
Is that an accurate way to describe them?

Yes. We say that we have 1,000 pages for 1,000 faces on Tmall,
which means that every person who opens Tmall has a personalized
experience. Each consumer has his or her own shopping experience that
allows them to discover exactly what they tend to shop.

Consumers like to feel close to their brands. As brands develop
strategies through Tmall, they are able to consider ways in which to
personalize that experience for their consumers, whether through
inviting them to in-store events or providing early access to shop new
products. As brands sell directly to their consumers, they know which
of their consumers are most engaged, which are most interested in
their brand and which will amplify their brand.

How would you describe the process of educating new Western brand
partners to understand and best reach the Chinese consumer?

We spend a lot of time with Western brands before they join our
platform to be sure that they have taken a good look at their market
in China. We want to be sure they understand the local market scene,
they understand their local competitors and they have developed an
idea of who their target audience is. We have 700 million consumers on
our platform, but brands usually don’t want to talk to 700 million
people – they want to talk to people that will resonate with their
brand. So we help them to develop a strategy that will work on our
platform. While we share insights with brands, it is always the brand
that is running its own business on Tmall. We build technology, we
help them access data, we give them the tools to be successful in our
market and we are very happy to share insights. Yet in the end, the
strategy is up to the brand. Each brand must develop a strategy that
resonates its message and best communicates that message with Chinese
consumers to succeed.


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