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Fashion

The woman leading JD.com’s rise from online appliance seller to luxury fashion e-commerce giant

  • Xia Ding, president of international fashion for China’s No. 2 e-commerce player, is looking to sign up more high-end brands
  • To convince them she can point to the platform’s vision of ‘boundaryless retail’ that marries online, offline and virtual shopping
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 10:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 6:22pm

It started out selling consumer electronics online, but today, JD.com has a luxury fashion e-commerce portfolio to rival the likes of Yoox-Net-a-Porter and matchesfashion.com.

The No. 2 Chinese e-commerce company is courting on the one hand a group of luxury consumers among the biggest in the world, and on the other hand the high-end fashion brands that still haven’t opened an online boutique with it, or with any rival for that matter.

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In her role as JD.com’s president of international fashion, one of Xia Ding’s many responsibilities is to present a convincing argument to those labels still not convinced they should sign up. She can point to a raft of hi-tech and innovative undertakings to make her case.

Ding joined JD.com early last year, with experience as a retail analyst travelling between the United States and China. Her first challenge at JD Fashion is probably the one most well-known to industry observers: developing and launching Toplife, a channel dedicated to setting high-end fashion brands apart from their mass-market counterparts.

The platform has since signed up a wide variety of brands, from niche French labels such as Perrin to recognised names such as Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent, and now sells to 260 cities across China. Brands that join JD Fashion get access to “dust-free” warehouses and benefit from a white-glove delivery service, and protection against peddlers of counterfeit goods and third-party sellers – something JD.com prides itself on.

But e-commerce is cutthroat, and brands and consumers are demanding more. Hence, as part of its first anniversary celebration, Toplife debuted a pop-up store at the K11 shopping mall in China’s biggest city, Shanghai, in partnership with Elle magazine. The pop-up, which ended on October 24 and featured 38 brands, is one of the newest ways in which the e-commerce player is attracting online luxury retailers such as Secoo and Tmall’s Luxury Pavilion to make forays offline.

Ding sees these efforts as a step towards a future her team calls “boundaryless retail”, which involves a “seamless crossover between online, offline and virtual shopping”.

An example of this frictionless experience was a recent bricks-and-mortar partnership with Japanese beauty brand SK-II in Shanghai. Here, for its month-long smart store, Future X, JD.com created a bracelet that allowed customers to synchronise their customised in-store findings with their online shopping trolley.

Luxury fashion, however, places a unique emphasis on the physical, tangible boutique experience, which tends to give many brands pause when it comes to breaking into online retail.

“Currently, fashion is one of the more difficult categories for e-commerce because it will always include a combination of online and offline shopping experiences,” Ding tells the Post. “Luxury brands want to protect the special experiences they offer to their customers, and rightfully so. But those who have worked with JD to test the benefits of adding e-commerce to the mix have seen great benefits.”

These are delivered in sometimes surprising ways that combine technology with high-touch engagement. When Swiss luxury-watch maker Audemars Piguet launched a pop-up store on WeChat to tap the 1 billion users in China of the social media app, JD.com sent its founder Richard Liu and Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias to bring a purchase to one lucky shopper in person.

The store is powered through a WeChat Mini Program, an app-within-an-app that not only provides a fluid shopping experience for the consumer and the ease of mobile payments, but can give brands constructive insight on the Chinese market – JD.com’s partnership with WeChat’s parent company, Tencent, leverages search and purchasing data from this sector of customers.

It is not just services and experiences – Ding believes one of JD Fashion’s greatest assets is its curation of product and brand offerings as consumers’ tastes evolve.

“Fashion e-commerce in China has, up until recently, focused more on price and variety,” she said. “Today, consumers increasingly want quality and design, which is where our strengths lie. The market is changing in our favour because that is what consumers demand as their spending power grows, and their tastes evolve.”

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JD Fashion’s customers are not only willing to pay full price for well-known labels, but are increasingly seeking out niche products that express their individuality.

That is why the platform not only offers luxury brands through Toplife, but also crossover collections with a number of designer brands – including Judith Leiber, which released an exclusive handbag in the image of Joy, JD’s mascot.

In June, JD Fashion launched an exclusive collection of limited-edition, sustainably produced jeans with G-Star RAW, which Ding says sold out in three minutes.

Another arm of JD.com, JDesigner Boutique, sources fashions from up-and-coming designers including Xuzhi Chen and Xiao Li.

JD.com is also sourcing other categories of high-end product, including electronics and cosmetics, for its luxury customers. Ding says brands such as Helena Rubinstein, a beauty brand under L’Oreal Group, and LG Household & Health Care’s high-end skincare brand The History of Whoo, are growing in popularity among its customers.

For the past several years, JD Fashion has been building a foundation for future growth by forming internal partnerships with a growing number of brands. JD opened an office in Paris this year as part of its efforts to sign up more French labels, and expanded its fashion team in New York. It remains the only Chinese e-commerce company to be a member of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA).

In the UK, JD.com renewed a partnership with the British Fashion Council/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund for a second year, after what Ding called “a number of successful initiatives with them”.

After sponsoring the opening of 2015 BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund winner Mary Katrantzou’s online store on Toplife, JD.com this year invited shortlisted Fashion Fund designers, including Huishan Zhang, Rejina Pyo and Le Kilt, to show their collections in Shanghai. This year, Ding was the only representative from a Chinese company to serve on the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund judging committee.

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Ding emphasises the importance of her team catering to Chinese consumers’ expectations which, she says, are already much higher than those in other markets: they demand ultra-fast shipping, no-hassle returns, and seamless mobile payment.

“Chinese consumers want it all: curation, convenience and good service,” she says.