Shanghai Leadership Lab: Understanding Tmall Data is the Key to Success in China

Shanghai Leadership Lab: Understanding Tmall Data is the Key to Success in China

As global marketplaces continue to dominate in Asia, the recent GRIN Shanghai Leadership Lab served as a space for top retailers to take a deep look at how to prioritize and optimize brand positioning in this hyper-competitive region.

There has been a lot written about Jack Ma and his massive global conglomerate, Alibaba. For better or worse, Tmall and Tmall Global have become the predominant marketplace players for brands entering the Chinese market. However, though no one can deny their influence, if you talk to most brands in Europe and North America, retailers associate Tmall with steep discounting and a race to the lowest possible pricing. Retailers at the GRIN’s Leadership Lab learned that Tmall is much more than discounting, and the opportunity to truly establish a brand is there.

“The Chinese people are the most prolific traders in the world,” Josh Gardner, CEO of TP and data analyst company Kung Fu Data, said. “Tmall and Taobao are the perfect platforms for traders and consumers, where a high degree of accountability, unparalleled transparency, and ongoing customer conversation is just a part of the ecosystem. The problem that arises when Western brands enter into the marketplace is that they don’t understand this model. The conversations and trading culture that dominates the marketplace means that oftentimes brands struggle to control price, product, and the overall brand promise. Our job is to utilize data to optimize the management of the channel for major brands so that eventually they will be back in control of their brand story.”

As more brands develop their flagship stores on Tmall, in-category competition is becoming ever more fierce.  For established brands, competing with legitimate sales of their own product by competitors can be incredibly difficult. Often, less than 10% of their own product sales are being controlled by the flagship store.

“The journey of managing your brand in China has changed significantly over the past five years,” says Mark Batty, Head of International for the UK brand Boden. “In the past, it was about marketing your brand. Now, it is more about managing your brand. We have also found that it is less expensive and less risky to work with the cross-border marketplace solutions like Tmall Global, and JD Worldwide.”

The complete strategy around how to sell into the massive Chinese market varies greatly depending on the category of the market, strength of the brand, and availability of time and budget. But here at the GRIN, we have found that brands that approach China with a measured approach led by data have a path to success in both revenue and brand management.

“Brands and retailers must evaluate all options as they enter into China. This means considering wholesale, marketplaces, their own sites, and retail,” says Patrick Deloy, founder of leading Asian ecommerce solution provider the BlueCom Group. “Ultimately, most brand that we work with choose a hybrid approach. They work with the marketplaces and develop a strategy that includes a direct-to-consumer site to help control pricing, selection, and brand experience.”

The ecommerce landscape in China is in constant flux, and working with experienced experts, developing a brand advisory committee, and visiting the region often should be part of every serious involvement in a new market. In 2017, the GRIN will be holding leadership labs in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Hongzhou, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Singapore.

The GRIN will be holding an Asia Strategy Leadership Lab in New York on October 20th. We will review data analysis on Tmall and other strategies for success in China. If you are interested please email us at

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