How Chinese Technology Start-ups Drive Retail Innovation

How Chinese Technology Start-ups Drive Retail Innovation


This September, the Global Retail Insights Network (“GRIN”) hosted country managers from 30 top western brands doing business in China along with 5 innovative startups that are looking to affect change in global commerce. The GRIN works to drive engagement with technology-based startups that are focused on changing the face of retail in China.

Research conducted by the GRIN shows that successful retailers have, by and large, adopted collaborative and outward looking approaches to innovation. This workshop was specifically designed to stimulate a culture of open innovation within China, and to help retailers there look beyond internal, traditional ideas of how to get things done.

“Retail is going through massive change in China, and Chinese consumers are becoming some of the most savvy and social in the world,” said Hank Horkoff, the CEO of customer engagement tool Magnet Technologies, Inc. “Magnet needs to look outside our own walls to grow with the market. Developing collaborative relationships with brands is key to success.”

Shopilist, a mobile and web platform designed for Chinese tourists to create personalized shopping guides, is using community selling to reach out to consumers. Grace Wang, the Partnership Manager at Shopilist, said “It was so interesting to understand the context of how established retailers might have different ideas on how to create added value in marketing our app to businesses. We’ve been focused on the consumer experience, but it’s vitally important to understand how the retail environment informs our data ecosystem.”

“It was impressive to see how a community of Shanghai startups are helping to change the traditional retail environment,” said Jen Loong, the China Brand Director for TOMS Shoes China. “The consumer is at the center of their focus, and they’re not lost in tech babble, which shows they really understand the retail environment.”

Kawo, a social media platform startup that helps Macy’s and the NBA create content across Chinese social media channels, was also present. “Western companies are challenged to keep pace with relevant information to the Chinese consumer. We solve that problem by providing timely and meaningful content across the most popular media channels in China,” said Alex Duncan, the product lead and co-founder of Kawo.

Seedlink Technologies, another innovative startup participant, is set to solve a massive pain point in the Chinese market. It is pioneering industry-leading language technology that helps companies predict behavior through language. “The retail space in China is seeing a massive amount of turnover in their stores,” said Robin Young, the CEO and Founder. “By using our technologies, retailers are able to pre-screen candidates by applying our algorithmic language technology.”

One of the most intriguing startups at the event was a company named the Squirrelz, which in addition to a B2C e-commerce site, has a B2B materials platform that takes factory waste and makes it available to designers for upcycling. The Squirrelz is a recent graduate of the Chinaccelerator program and is using models of open innovation to work with large brands like New Balance and Toms to expand their business. “60% of consumers will pay more for products that have a social or ecological impact” said Bunny Yan, CEO and Founder of the Squirrelz. “We have developed an ecosystem for factory waste to get in the hands of designers, and for designers to sell via our site. It’s a win-win for factories, designers, the earth, and consumers.”

“The GRIN community provides a great forum where retailers can learn from innovative startups about how they are solving pain points for our business.” said Jason Johnson, the CFO of Shanghai-based online eyewear site Motion Global. “As a fast growing global company, we are excited to be part of such a collaborative, innovative event and community.”

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