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How Chinese D2C is shaping the future of global branding

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) is picking up in APAC. The pandemic accelerated this movement; we observed brands go from one extreme to the other: from owning their own channels, to building unique communities of hyper-personalised referrals.

As always, China offers a ‘crystal ball’ lens into potential futures for the rest of the world. This was first evident in its pioneering of e-retailer partnerships that served as a precursor to today's D2C market.

E-retailer partnerships in China

In 2014, Nike was one of the first global brands to create a “brand zone” with Alibaba’s TMall— demonstrating that you could control your image in the overcrowded e-marketplace, at a time when counterfeits went unchecked. Today, Nike’s success in China is largely attributed to their ongoing partnership with Tmall, with an ever-growing portfolio supported by more than 5000 mini-videos a year.

Today, TMall Global and are locked in a fierce “battle of the brands” to create exclusive space, maximising behavioural data and pricing strategies. From Huggies and Head & Shoulders through to Louis Vuitton, offers customised pages to redirect to, WeChat mini-programs, and official sites to complete the transaction. Meanwhile, Tmall’s Luxury Pavillion (since 2017) provides an ‘invite only’ luxury marketplace that shares behavioural and lifestyle data of its consumers with their brands, such as Bang & Olufsen, Burberry and Maserati.

Adaptations in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asian ecommerce platforms have similiarly become a conduit for brands to engage customers more directly, even beyond CPG or apparel. Pre-lockdown, BMW formed an exclusive partnership to launch its 1 Series on Alibaba-owned Lazada in Southeast Asia. Not just a gimmick, today you can buy test drives and leases for a complete suite of BMWs in a fully immersive environment—all on the platform, which is typically known for groceries and electronics.

Rather than purely lifting and shifting ‘what works’ in China, SEA platforms are doing it their own way. Singapore-based Shopee (launched in 2015), with its mobile-first, super-localised team, structure and content, now leads the Southeast Asian e-commerce market. And now that they’ve garnered local support, they’re courting giants.

For example, Shopee launched two programmes to maximise their online development. First, the Regional Champion Brands Program launched earlier this year for 16 brands that receive priority support (marketing, innovation, insights), including Adidas, Amorepacific and P&G.

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