Alibaba still tops, but watch Pinduoduo and other Chinese online retailers

Online shopping competition heats up in China with Pinduoduo and Vipshop joining JD.com and Suning as notable contenders.

eMarketer has released its rankings for Chinese ecommerce platforms where, as expected, has Alibaba taking the top spot with a 58.2% share this year. Its closest competitor JD.com trails behind at a 16.3% share but the report emphasises that the Chinese ecommerce scene has become more dynamic in recent years with the emergence of several new players.

Most notably, specialist sites such as electronics retailer Suning and branded fashion retailer Vipshop, or vip.com are proving to be credible competitors to Alibaba’s Tmall and JD.com with their offering of more ‘authentic’ products. The report also mentions Gome, a social marketing-based online and offline retailer specialising in home goods which is expected to take a 0.7% share of all retail ecommerce sales this year.

Group discount site Pinduoduo, meanwhile, has been identified as a rising star, coming at third with a 5.2% share. It marks a significant leap for the platform from its 0.1 share during its launch in 2015. eMarketer notes that Pinduoduo’s strategy has been concentrated on shoppers from Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities who are more price conscious but nevertheless enthusiastic about the convenience of online shopping.

“Smaller ecommerce players such as relative newcomer Pinduoduo have benefitted from this trend as buyers in lower-tier cities have been less tolerant of the higher prices found on large players such as Alibaba and JD.com, but they are quick to seize upon the relative deals found on Pinduoduo’s platform,” Monica Peart, eMarketer’s senior director of forecasting.

Despite signs of a more dynamic market, the Chinese ecommerce scene is seen as a proxy battleground between Alibaba and Tencent since the latter owns stakes in JD.com, Pinduoduo and Vipshop. All the ecommerce platforms listed by eMarketer will account for 85% of all ecommerce sales in China this year.

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Source: campaignasia.com; 11 July 2018

Microsoft has unveiled visual search for Bing

Microsoft launched a new intelligent Visual Search tool for Bing — Microsoft’s search engine — that allows users to search the mobile web by uploading an image or taking a photo with their phone camera.

For example, taking a photo of a flower will not only identify the type of flower, but will also suggest where the nearest florist is. Visual Search is available in a range of apps, including the standalone Bing app on iOS and Android, as well as Microsoft’s web browsing apps for Android — Launcher and Edge.

Microsoft has joined the growing number of companies that are turning the smartphone camera into a discovery tool. Pinterest, Google, and Amazon have all rolled out visual search products within the past two years, for example.

And retail brands, such as Sephora, Asos, and Akira, have also integrated the tech into their smartphone apps to increase customer engagement and help drive conversions. Within two months of implementing a visual search feature into its site, 45% of Akira’s customers had used the feature, according to a case study by visual search company Markable.

For now, the technology is somewhat limited. But it has vast potential to transform the way consumers engage with brands and provide greater insight into consumer behaviour:

• Retailers can increase the accuracy of their product search and boost cross-sell opportunities: Visual search can help retail customers clarify ambiguities that occur when they attempt to describe objects and colours in text-based searches. For example, a consumer may see someone wearing a black hat that they might like to buy. Text search would return thousands of black hats, making it difficult for the consumer to find the hat they really want. Further, visual search offers an opportunity to “cross-sell” items based on contextual cues in the image, such as the customer’s shoes or shirt, by matching them to items sold by the brand.

• Publishers can increase consumer engagement with their content: Media and magazine companies can use visual search to bridge the gap between the printed page and real world. For instance, looking at a printed ad through the phone could turn the ad into an interactive video. The consumer could also scroll through the video to view more information about the product and even add the item to their mobile shopping cart.

And as consumers become more accustomed to using the smartphone camera as a search tool, it will find additional use cases in healthcare, government, transport and logistics, banking, and insurance.

Source: buisnessinsider.com; 26 June 2018

Chances are, your brand isn’t ready for WeChat 4.0

Brands and their agency counterparts need to keep pace with WeChat’s evolving digital ecosystem. Here’s what the latest changes mean and how to make the most of them.

If brands and their agency counterparts aren’t keeping pace with WeChat’s evolving digital ecosystem, they are forfeiting valuable opportunities to create consumer relevance.

Just last week, WeChat’s subscription account display improved from a stacked list of accounts to a content feed.

Here’s some other recent changes:
• Look, an inventory, technical and distribution partner for fashion KOLs claimed that its most successful KOLs can move anywhere between 5 million and 100 million RMB of stock per month through their individual WeChat stores.
• 跳一跳 (Jump, Jump), a mobile game within WeChat, attracted 400 million players within three days of launch.
• Netease Music migrated playlists from its app to its WeChat mini-program.
• Tencent Video opened a WeChat mini-program that allows viewers to watch the latest Game of Thrones episodes.

The above examples beg a simple question: What’s happening to WeChat?

The answer is deceptively simple, but the implications are far-reaching. WeChat’s evolving. It’s now a fully-fledged digital ecosystem, enabling its billion-strong monthly active user base to access digital experiences and services, not just content.

To understand the changes taking place, let’s first backtrack a little to WeChat’s humble beginnings in 2011.

From WeChat 1.0 to WeChat 4.0

WeChat’s development has been through four distinct phases.

The first phase, WeChat 1.0, connected users with users. Users chat with, call and transfer files between one another through individual or group chats.

The second phase, WeChat 2.0, connected users with information through WeChat Official Accounts. These official accounts, including subscription accounts and service accounts, periodically send users long-form articles, memes or notifications.

In February 2014, WeChat was turned on its head as its ‘Red Packet’ (红包) function was unveiled at CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala, with 1.2 billion red packets delivered over the festive period. This represented the dawn of WeChat 3.0, which connected users with payments.

WeChat’s integration with payments didn’t stop at peer-to-peer payments through red packets stuffed with virtual money. In the blink of an eye, WeChat extended its payment function to utilities, mobile phone credits, and offline purchases.

WeChat 3.0 was a significant turning point in WeChat’s development. It transitioned WeChat from a social media giant to a ‘super app’, commanding around 30% of Chinese internet users’ time online.

However, WeChat’s most significant change came in January 2017 when it lifted the veil off its mini-program. This program allows an application smaller than 10 megabytes to run instantly within WeChat, removing the need to download and install an app from Apple’s App Store or Google Play. It may sound small, but apps smaller than 10 megabytes can achieve a lot: order a taxi, have take-out delivered to your door, rent a shared bike, purchase a pair of sneakers, and watch your favourite vlogger’s livestream. Like its ‘red packets’ in 2014, mini-programs heralded a significant shift in how Chinese users interact with WeChat.

Within the space of the next 18 months, WeChat implemented a new format of Moments Ads (advertisements now presented as an enlarged ‘card’, instead of the previous text-image-link format), WeChat Search (an internal search engine across content on Moments, in articles from official accounts, related mini-programs, stickers, music or novels), and Mini-Games.

An enormous amount of change, compressed into a relatively short time frame. This is the fourth stage of WeChat’s development, WeChat 4.0, which connected users to a full digital ecosystem. Messaging, search, entertainment, gaming, payments, e-commerce, mobility and lifestyle services can now all be completed within WeChat.

Source: campaignasia.com; 25 June 2018

Facebook just secured Premier League rights for the next four years

Facebook won the rights to stream all 380 Premier League soccer matches per season from 2019 to 2022 in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, in a deal worth about £200 million ($264 million).

This is likely Facebook’s highest profile sports streaming deal to date — the platform has previously streamed Major League Baseball (MLB) games and World Surf League (WSL) competitions among other sporting events — because the Premier League is the world’s most watched sports league.

Facebook’s acquisition of the Premier League rights represents how digital platforms are contributing to cord cutting by increasingly curating premium sports content that has historically only been available on linear TV.

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Source: businessinsider.com; 6 Jul 2018

It’s not ‘Tmall vs JD’ in China: Two other apps are taking over

Two up-and-coming apps are starting to make a real impact on China’s ecommerce landscape.

Secoo's experience centre in Shanghai

Secoo’s experience centre in Shanghai

It’s understandable if you’re outside of China trying to learn about ecommerce here, and you think the quest for success is between the go-to platforms Tmall and JD.

These two platforms are often mentioned by certain media outlets churning out quick articles. As is usually the case, the reality here in China is far from the online portrayal of it. Speaking to a variety of experts in China, it becomes clear to me that the two real up-and-comers are in fact Secoo and Xiaohongshu (also known as ‘Little Red Book’).

Despite receiving less attention in international media, the figures show Secoo’s strength. Its market share in China is 25.3% as measured by GMV, according to a Frost & Sullivan report. How has it achieved this?

O2O = Oh? to Oh!

It’s not just a gimmicky term. ‘O2O’ really does enjoy the best of both worlds: the convenience of mobile e-commerce with personalised, tangible brand experiences.

What’s more, the fun factor of these omnichannel experiences, full of photo opportunities to post on WeChat Moments, is all-important in China. Secoo now has 10 offline ‘experience centres’—including one in Malaysia—where popular weekend activities like cooking classes or wine tasting sessions bring credibility for Secoo, transmogrifying it from bland e-commerce into a lifestyle platform. Every item used at the experience centre is for sale.

Plenty of foreign media still pump out the same old news about China being ‘cashless’, sometimes making it seem as though brands have been really ‘clever’ in accepting mobile payments.

The reality in China is that you can pay for your wet-market vegetables or your car-parking coupons via Alipay or WeChat Pay, and everyone does that, from kids to grannies. There’s nothing ‘clever’ or too new—until Eric Chan, CEO of Secoo Luxe, explained to me how Secoo took the concept of cashless payments further. First, customers can opt for interest-free monthly instalments to make higher-value purchases than they were previously able to (and didn’t want to use a credit card for). Also, Secoo partnered with retailers, such as Parksons, so that customers can pay for products using the same interest-free instalment plan that currently has partnerships with 26 banks in China.

Ecommerce is more than products

Secoo has taken a lead in diversifying its ecommerce options. It doesn’t only sell luxury products. Travel-wise, it focuses on 48-hour trip packages, having found that many of Secoo’s affluent consumers preferred shorter, work-friendly vacations, for example. These, plus the health and educational services it sells, reflect the (pursued) middle- to upper-class lifestyles in China that Secoo understands.

JD’s luxury section, Toplife, promises certain user-friendly features such as first-class delivery services when it launched in Oct 2017. But Secoo has been doing this for a while. If you buy a suit, it arrives with larger and smaller sizes for you to try on, even with a belt-hole puncher to adjust the belt to your exact size.

Chinese women make up a prosperous 88% of Xiaohongshu’s user demographics in 2017. The shopping-tip app—valued at US$3 billion in its series D round—is a platform for (mainly) women to read reviews of beauty and fashion products from ‘desirable’ overseas destinations. They purchase chosen products for themselves, and then review their own purchases. Rinse and repeat. It’s a beautifully simple cycle of a clearly beloved hobby of young Chinese ladies below the age of 35 (i.e. 89% of Xiaohongshu’s users).

With 100 million users as of now, another strength of Xiaohongshu is that there is no sharing or forwarding function. Users can save their favourite reviews to their own shopping lists, as well as like and comment on other’s posts. This prevents spam and builds the notion of a ‘safe place’ which is just about user reviews.

Yet, authenticity is still an issue for Xiaohongshu. I spoke to several young Chinese ladies as part of my research and discovered many were wary of the authenticity of KOL reviews. This caution is an ever-present aspect of ecommerce in China, and worth mentioning amidst this gushing praise of Xiaohongshu.

Crucially, the aspect of user-generated content by leading KOLs, who post at will and for their own pleasure, is something that Tmall and JD don’t have.

All in all, Secoo and Xiaohongshu have engendered greater popularity among ecommerce players in China and are where brands should be looking to engage with their target consumers.

Source: campaignasia.com; 26 June 2018

How Shell is tackling the gender gap

As attitudes change in the post #MeToo era, brands from publishing to tech are tackling the lack of female representation in their workplaces head on.

Tackling the gender gap in engineering and technology has been a big area of focus for Charlie Fryer, digital and social media strategy advisor at Shell. Over the past 18 months she has been leading a project aimed at using social platforms to encourage more women and girls to enter STEM careers, those in science, technology, engineering and maths.

The team found that while getting women into the sector in the first place remains a challenge, encouraging them to stay is just as big an issue.

“A huge problem is that 30% of the women engineers who make it leave and it’s not because they have families, it’s because of something a little bit darker,” explained Fryer.

“We did interviews with engineers around the world working at all sorts of different companies. We took the experience they shared with us and turned it into a script for a campaign which essentially takes those micro-aggressions, the intangible things that are destructive when they accumulate and are hard to communicate.”

Launched in April, the campaign integrates the women’s real life experiences into a content series spanning tear-jerking videos to satirical memes.

Source: marketingweek.com; 20 June 2018

Google is updating Android Messages to take on iMessage

Google’s rolling out Android Messages for the web, enabling Android users to send and receive messages from their computer through the web app, the company announced on Monday. The new Messages for web feature helps to expand the Android messaging experience by offering cross-platform access to messages. Messages for web is also one of the top requested features, according to Google. The full rollout of Messages for web will be completed in the week ahead.

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Web support for Android Messages is part of a wider feature update to the Messages app that aims to enhance the overall Android messaging experience. Google introduced four new features — smart replies, the ability to search and share GIFs, link previews within conversations, and copy of passwords with one tap — to Android Messages. Most notably, the addition of Smart Replies, which is an AI-powered feature that automatically creates suggestions for responses to messages, can help Android users save time when messaging on the go.

The addition of these new features to Android Messages is significant for two key reasons:

– It helps make Android Messages a stronger chat app competitor. Google in April began suspending work on its most recent chat app, Allo, to focus on building out Android Messages. The increased focus on Android Messages is notable because Google’s messaging strategy has been notoriously fragmented, and in turn, ineffective over the past several years. The lack of direction has allowed iOS to surge ahead with its iMessage platform — which is a key selling point for iPhones — and has enabled third-party players like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to become go-to messaging tools for Android users. By introducing features that are already available in other chat apps like iMessage, Google is positioning Android Messages to gain traction among Android users.

– It’s one of the first steps toward Chat. Google plans to evolve Android Messages with the new Chat feature, which is an over-the-top (OTT) messaging solution built on Rich Communications Services (RCS). RCS is a replacement for standard SMS and MMS messaging formats on compatible devices with participating carriers that enables users to send more content types in interactive formats. By adding new, useful features to Android Messages, Google is helping to lure Android smartphone owners to use the Chat app. And as Android Messages gains in popularity, it’s likely that mobile carriers, hardware makers, and brands and businesses will be more inclined to embrace the standard, which is crucial for RCS to take off.

Source: businessinsider.com; 21 June 2018

Google is investing $550 million in JD.com

Google will invest $550 million in JD.com as part of a strategic partnership between the companies, according to The Wall Street Journal. The deal will only net Google an approximately 1% share of the Chinese e-commerce company, but it will also see the two work together, leveraging the logistics capabilities of JD.com and Google’s technological expertise, according to a press release from Google. Additionally, JD.com will start selling through Google Shopping, allowing some of its products to be sold internationally.

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This gives Google another retail partner as it builds its e-commerce profile. Google partnered with Walmart to sell its products through Google Express last August, and worked with the retailer again, along with the likes of Target, Ulta, Costco and Home Depot, when it tested its Shopping Actions program, making it easier to shop these high-profile retailers through Google. Adding JD.com gives Google more products to attract consumers with, an important effort as it competes with Amazon for product search.

JD.com gains another powerful backer that can help it battle Alibaba. As of Q1 2018, JD.com held about 25% of China’s business-to-consumer internet retail market share, falling behind Alibaba’s Tmall platform at a 60% share, according to Analyst.

The Chinese e-tailer already counted Tencent and Walmart as allies — Tencent is its largest shareholder at 18%, while Walmart has a 12% stake — with JD.com regularly working with both partners on various initiatives and investments. Google gives JD.com yet another strategic partner with deep pockets and technological capabilities that can help it fight Alibaba over China’s valuable e-commerce and retail markets — the country reached over $1 trillion in e-commerce sales in 2017.

The deal may help JD.com’s International expansion plans, especially its aspirations in the US and Europe. JD.com wants half of its revenue to come from foreign markets in 10 years. To accomplish this, the company is planning to be in every Southeast Asian country by the end of 2018, and is making inroads in the US and Europe. It may not need as much help in Southeast Asia since it’s already somewhat established there, but selling through Google would allow JD.com to meet American and European consumers on a familiar platform, which is key since many foreign consumers may not be aware of JD.com.

But the prospect of a US-China trade war could complicate JD.com’s expansion plans. With tensions rising between the two countries, and with the announcement of new tariffs from both sides, cross-border e-commerce may suffer because consumers and importers will face higher prices.

For JD.com specifically, this current climate is slowing down its US expansion. The company originally planned to enter the US market in 2018, but will now wait, CEO Richard Liu told CNBC. The partnership with Google could jumpstart its efforts, but it will still need to be ready to adjust to any new tariffs or changes that would affect its business.

Source: businessinsider.com; 20 June 2018

LinkedIn Launches Carousel Ads For Better Storytelling

LinkedIn has announced carousel ads for Sponsored Content, a new way for marketers to tell their brand story and interact with their target audiences.

Whether you are marketing to end-consumers or businesses, storytelling is a proven technique to connect and engage with your target audience. Starting today, marketers can use the new carousel ads on LinkedIn, to add texture to their stories by featuring multiple visuals that people can horizontally through horizontally on the LinkedIn feed.

Carousel ads are not a new thing for advertisers. They were first introduced by Facebook years ago. But this is an interesting first for LinkedIn. The platform is revamping itself and carousel are a definite plus for marketers. Storytelling is at the heart of engaging with audiences on social media, and after video, carousel ads are the best way to tell a brand’s story.

Since launching in beta, over 300 advertisers, like Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, RBC, and Volvo Canada, have used carousel ads to create fun and informative campaigns and to tell stories about their company, products and services, industry, and more. 75 percent of beta advertisers saw increased engagement and click-through rates.

Source: Wersm.com; 12 June 2018

Facebook drops Trending topics section, tests other ‘news experiences’

Facebook will be scrapping its Trending feature in favour of other “news experiences” on the platform. The feature was first launched in 2014 to help users discover news topics which were popular in the Facebook community.

“However, it was only available in five countries and accounted for less than 1.5% of clicks to news publishers on average. From research we found that over time people found the product to be less and less useful,” the social media giant said in a blog post.

Trending will cease from the platform from next week onwards, along with products and third-party partner integrations which rely on its Trends API, the statement added. Instead, Facebook will roll out new features called Breaking News Label, Today In and News Video in Watch.

The move comes as Facebook observes a change of how its users are consuming news on its platform – primarily on mobile and increasingly through news video. The move hence allows it to explore new ways to help people stay informed about timely, breaking news, while ensuring the news is from trustworthy and quality sources.

“Breaking News Label” is a test Facebook is currently running with 80 publishers across North America, South America, Europe, India and Australia. It allows publishers to put a “breaking news” indicator on their posts in News Feed. Breaking news notifications are also being tested.

Facebook is also testing “Today In”, which is a dedicated section on Facebook that serves to connect people to the latest breaking and important news from local publishers in their city. This includes updates from local officials and organisations. Meanwhile, “News Video in Watch” is a dedicated section on Facebook Watch in the US where people can view live coverage, daily news briefings and weekly deep dives that are exclusive to Watch.

In January this year, Facebook updated its News Feed to prioritise local news. This is to ensure users can view topics that directly impact them and their community, as well as discover the latest happenings in their neighbourhoods. It was also a bid by the social media giant to emphasise high-quality news.

Most recently, it also scrapped its idea of splitting the news feed in two; one for posts from friends, and one – dubbed ‘explore’ – for publishers and brands. When news about the split news feed first surfaced, it sparked concerns about the growing power of the social media giant, and how publishers would be affected.

Source: marketing-interactive.com; 4 June 2018