The world’s largest creative commerce platform, Etsy, boasts buyers and sellers from all over the world. Pinkoi, a similar platform targeting the Asian market, also has a network of over 20,000 designers and 600,000 active buyers. On the mainland, Tmall.com leads the Asian creative commerce market in terms of online sales revenue, featuring over 50,000 shops and a clientele of 400 million people. Can this diverse range of online shops help to bring Macao’s local designer products into overseas markets? In this issue, we talk to three local entrepreneurs active in the cultural commerce field to learn more from their experiences in online sales and marketing.
Macon: The Power of Customer Database
Set up in 2013, the local fashion label, Macon, has successfully become the first original fashion brand from Macao to feature on Tmall.com, Asia’s biggest shopping platform. Its creative director, Jane Chan, agrees with the immense potential of online sales and marketing and decides to make good use of the online channel and information to reinforce sales strategy.
Having studied fashion design in Beijing, Chan has partnered with Fu Son Garment Factory for a few years when she joined Macon, which refers to the Macao-made element and the use of comfortable, pragmatic and delicate cotton material.
Since the beginning, Macon relies on online channels for sales and distribution, saving on retail rent. Nevertheless, like any other actual retail outlet, it also has its own costs to meet, such as human resources. The recruitment of various professional talents required—such as designers, pattern-makers and manufacturers, IT professionals, quality control staff, sales teams, customer service and administrative officers, etc.—cost over a million dollars a year.
The major risk of running an online fashion boutique is the relatively low visibility of the brand. Its success depends largely on effective sales channels appropriate for its clientele. For example, Macon generates a substantial volume of customer database via a comprehensive online products catalogue, i.e. data to do with the age groups and geographical reach of its customers as well as the popularity of its various product items. By analysing these data, Chan and her team could adjust their business strategy to enhance sales.
Chan believed that, ultimately, it is the customer experience that counts, and a successful fashion business must take into account the customer’s needs at all times, from the designing stage to the after-sales customer service. She said: “In order to attract customers, Macon needs to emphasise its Macao-made element. This is best achieved through thoughtful products photography and copywriting, combined with a visually appealing website experience. This requirement differs from the operation of an actual retail store. For the latter, customers can go there and try on the clothes they like before deciding to buy the products. On the other hand, it would be harder to communicate with the customers in an actual store the brand’s design philosophy.”
Macon has opened shop in Tmall.com, a subsidiary of Taobao.com. These two online channels differ in the sense that Taobao.com features all kinds of online shops including those run by individual sole traders, whereas Tmall.com is a more sophisticated platform that caters more to companies, and is complete with guaranteed quality control and copyright protection. Macon’s online shop at Tmall.com offers detailed information on each product, including the materials, transaction volume and reviews. Customers can also click for the option to ask questions via live chats, such as finding out more tips on matching outfits and fashion styling. These services help to reduce the likelihood of sales refunds. Once a customer decides to buy the product, Macon would despatch the item in two days, and offer Tmall.com’s sales policy of seven-day refund. This is comparable to customers trying out clothes in an actual shop before buying. Typically, the customer service team would get in touch with the customers a week after their purchase to understand their needs, and may even offer them value-added advice such as guidance on garments care. As such, it is not difficult to realise that sustainable sales is built on a pleasant customer experience rather than cheap prices.
At the beginning of her career, Chan was able to benefit from the Subsidy Programme for Fashion Design on Sample Making organised by the Cultural Affairs Bureau, which effectively lowered the risk of her business venture. However, as Chan pointed out, the scheme was useful only for the launch of the business, since she had to rely on her own resources in the processes that followed from pattern-making, such as production and sales.
With a limited capital, Macon took part in several fashion shows organised by Macau Productivity and Technology Transfer Centre, where it gained industry recognition both locally and outside Macao. For example, Macon took part in Hong Kong’s Fashion Week in July, where it was promoted jointly with several other Macao brands. The fashion label successfully captured new partnership opportunities from buyers in the fashion expo.
Other than growing Macon’s online outlet, Chan has expansion plans by collaborating with more retail outlets. She said: “At present, Macon enjoys good sales from its consignment at Macao Fashion Gallery. In the future, we hope to develop more consignment locations with local fashion stores. With the rise of spending power and more awareness towards cultural business commerce among Macao’s customers, we are confident that fashion brands with originality will fare well.”