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‘Trust Gap’ With Chinese Luxury Shopping Sites Spells Opportunity for International Platforms

Although Chinese consumers now make up between 25 percent and 35 percent of global luxury sales, more than two-thirds of those sales go to platforms outside of China, say researchers.

There are currently three generations of Chinese shoppers active in the luxury segment—and most still prefer shopping on international platforms. But, as more consumers in China look for exclusivity and experience from luxury purchases, native marketplaces are beginning to fight back.

According to a study conducted by OC&C Strategy Consultants, “Bridging the Trust Gap,” a survey of 5,000 Chinese shoppers who have purchased a luxury product over the past year found that overseas shopping platforms consistently outperformed their domestic counterparts. Amazon’s Shopbop, global luxury platform Net-a-Porter and Farfetch each ranked consistently higher in authenticity and assortment compared to local platforms.

Of the top five luxury platforms identified, three were run by organizations outside of China. Shopbop received the top rank from Chinese luxury consumers, closely followed by Secoo.com, a domestic luxury marketplace. After that, Net-a-Porter, JD.com’s domestic platform, Toplife, and Farfetch round out the most trusted platforms for Chinese shoppers by overall satisfaction.

However, despite the advantage in trust enjoyed by overseas competitors, domestic platforms still lead the way in conversion rates.

“It seems overseas specialists have more credibility and curation ability, while local e-commerce giants are more established especially in terms of infrastructure,” researchers explained.

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The study says this is due to a “trust gap” when it comes to luxury e-commerce in China. The data suggests most Chinese consumers still prefer older platforms with more established reputations, many of which operate outside of China. However, researchers say that could be changing soon, thanks to favorable government policies, better pricing and a new generation of luxury consumers who rate convenience and exclusivity higher than legacy and authenticity.

Nevertheless, the “gap” extends both ways, as many luxury brands are unwilling to license their products for unproven local platforms, fearing a reputation loss from unauthorized discounts and side-by-side marketing with cheaper products.

Unfamiliarity with e-commerce stands out as a defining factor for the distrust toward third-party platforms among luxury brands in China. E-commerce in China has a lower market penetration as a percent of sales (9 percent) for luxury products than in other developed countries, including Germany and Japan. For comparison, e-commerce makes up 29 percent of all apparel and footwear sales in China.

The biggest barrier to increasing e-commerce’s share of the pie and increasing its viability with Generation Z—59 percent of which already shop for luxury online—is giving the 63 percent of shoppers in China who only purchase luxury items in-store a reason to go online.

OC&C researchers suggest the answer to that question varies by generation.

The study found that China’s Gen X luxury shoppers still prefer authenticity and selection over trendiness when it comes to choosing an online platform, so native marketplaces will need to focus on building trust with local consumers. Additionally, Gen X is much more likely to visit a platform during a promotional season, at 48 percent, compared to 28 percent of responders from Gen Z.

Millennials represent a middle ground between the two, being more likely than Gen X to shop online but also favoring in-store experiences. The key to luring in their demographic and most others, researchers say, is to focus on an omnichannel approach that allows physical and digital channels to complement each other.

At present, 36 percent of luxury shoppers buy products through both physical and digital channels. Expanding that number will be a key focus for luxury marketplaces going forward.

“For luxury companies, e-commerce can no longer be about setting up an ‘e-commerce department’ separated from other existing channels,” the study noted. “Instead, it should aim at linking online and of offline channels to create a seamless integrated multi-touchpoint journey.”