More enjoy browsing foreign brands in store, than online

The internet may be taking over the high street, but new study shows for many, only the personal touch will do

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2016, 7:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2016, 7:30pm

Chinese consumers still enjoy viewing, trying on and experiencing international apparel brands in bricks-and-mortar stores, rather than online, according to a new study.

And they view their visits to the outlets as a lot more than just shopping, with many arranging to meet friends there, according to a new report from OC&C Strategy Consultants, meaning it remains appealing for the top brands to maintain a presence on high streets.

The trend is in sharp contrast to many other areas of the clothes retail industry, such as more high-end and luxury items, which are tending to scale down their physical store in China, in the face of a sluggish economy and a rising dominance of e-commerce.

OC&C partner Jack Chuang said Chinese shoppers still like to get to know the feel and look of their international apparel brands in a conventional setting.

Some 57 per cent of 2,600 Chinese customers polled by the London-based consultancy between March and May said their awareness of international brands was through simply passing by brick-and-mortar shops.

That compares with 43 per cent who said they learned about new domestic apparel brand from Chinese social media sites such as Tencent’s Wechat and Sina’s Weibo, the same number from offline advertising, and 32 per cent from search engines such as Baidu.

The study also revealed that among the foreign brands, Swedish multinational retail-clothing giant H&M boasted the highest recognition among shoppers, helped by a 300-strong network of stores across the country.

Although creating a large physical presence appears to be “the most effective way of building a brand in China”, the report noted that “it is neither cheap nor easy”.

“And it is not only the scale, but also the location of the physical stores that counts, when a new entrant tries to attract Chinese shoppers,” said Chuang.

California-based clothes label Forever 21 was singled out by the consulting firm as a role model for brand awareness in China, having cleverly opted to set up their stores either in prime retail sites or in one-stop shopping malls.

With Chinese consumers now finding it easier to buy goods from overseas, the consulting firm suggested international apparel brands should consider narrowing the price gap between China and their home regions.

The study showed Chinese consumers are still happy to pay a premium for international apparel brands, but that willingness plummets dramatically when that’s 30 per cent above domestic prices.