High-end shoe brand Stuart Weitzman is expanding their global e-commerce presence, and have identified China as one of the prime markets in the world.
The company recently hired its first chief global digital and e-commerce officer, Monica Schwarz, and intend to make e-commerce Weitzman’s largest distribution channel across the world, striving for consistency among their online presences in Europe, Canada, the United States, and, most recently, Hong Kong.
The company is particularly optimistic about China’s digital retail prospects. Weitzman CEO Wayne Kulkin believes that if China is not the world’s largest e-commerce market in the next two years, it will be second, and that by 2017 it will represent a bigger e-commerce channel for the firm than the United States.
“It’s like dog years. Every three months is like three years. [Chinese consumers] are so adaptable. Before, it was a follower market, now it’s a leader market,” Kulkin said in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily.
Part of the company’s plan in China is connecting with the country’s largest e-commerce platform, the Alibaba-owned Tmall. With a digital marketplace that features over 70,000 international and Chinese brands from over 50,000 retailers, the site represents a crucial point of entry into the Chinese market.
“It’s the most important regular-priced channel for Mainland Chinese to look at,” Kulkin said. “It’s actually the only one.”
Though Kulkin sees the potential for e-commerce expansion in the country, he also called the market “tainted” because it is heavily intertwined with consumer reliance on mobile devices and social media apps.
“In China it’s Weibo and WeChat. Every single person is using it four to six hours a day, but no one has cracked how to sell luxury merchandise in a luxury way. The appropriate social and full-price site is somewhat new for the market,” Kulkin said. “The big companies like Taobao basically do off-price selling of luxury goods. The brands are trying to take that back but it’s difficult.”
Weitzman unveiled a Hong Kong website three weeks ago, which is still in soft-launch mode but will be up and running completely within the next few weeks. As of right now, shoppers in Mainland China can only access Weitzman through Lane Crawford’s e-commerce site, but the brand’s American site will begin shipping to China in a month. In December, the company will launch a Chinese site, in conjunction with the Pedder Group, which handles customer service and distribution in the country.
Weitzman also plans on expanding their physical presence in China, with stores projected to be in 14 cities by the end of the year, including Tier 2 cities like Suzhou, Chongquing, Hangzhou, Chengdu, and Harbin.
“There is no other place you can buy our shoes [except for Lane Crawford or freestanding stores]. We positioned our brand as a gateway to a luxury brand. When you go to malls, you see us next to [brands owned by] Kering or LVMH [Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton],” Kulkin said. “This builds a great aura and a halo effect.”
image credit: stuart weitzman