1 What is Velvet’s story and what are the services it offers to its clients?
VELVET is a digital consulting agency based in Shanghai specializing in the deployment of communication strategies and online marketing, as well as e-commerce activities and structure for the Chinese market. We cater to international luxury, fashion and cosmetic brands. VELVET’s clients include Boucheron, the famous jeweler in Place Vendome, Galeries Lafayette department stores, brands from L’Oréal or Kering (ex-PPR) one of the largest luxury groups (Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, etc..) and lifestyle brands (Puma, Volcom, Electric, Cobra).
Our main playground is the Chinese market, though our customers are international. This has led us to realize missions in Paris, New York, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Florence during the past year. I [Patrice Nordey] launched VELVET after six years of experience in China. It is the result of my first digital adventure started in 1998 with the founding of French online magazine Neteconomie.fr, which was later sold to a sizable media company.
2 What is the real reason that inspired you to start your company in Shanghai?
Creating VELVET is the willingness to reconcile two distant worlds, luxury and digital (internet and mobile). The Chinese market has become since this year, the largest market in the world of e-commerce (ahead of the United States) and the most important consumer market for luxury goods and services. We are betting that a position in strategic consulting in this segment will bring tremendous value to the market. Of course, this is in addition to advertising agencies like Publicis-Omnicom, WPP, Dentsu, Aegis Group and more specialized agencies which have greatly strengthened their presence in the last 5 years.
3 What is your vision of the luxury market in China in 2013?
China’s market represents 25 % of this year’s global luxury market and remains very strong, despite a slowdown since 2010. This makes it the most attractive market for luxury brands. Moreover, it remains highly fragmented and rapidly changing. The share of purchases of luxury goods by Chinese traveling abroad, including France, for example, is the most dynamic component. Consumers are slightly tired of traditional luxury brands and are more in favor of “affordable luxury” and dynamic premium brands. Sophisticated clientele take a closer look at more specialized brands such as Christian Louboutin or Maje that arrived in China this year. Chinese consumers browse on their smartphones and iPads to discover luxury brands and products, not only at home but also when shopping in store. There is a unique opportunity here to capture and engage customers via social media and other mobile-specific applications.
4 What is the most important online social platform for a luxury brand in China today?
No platform is perfect within itself. We recommend Sina Weibo to reach a wide audience, WeChat for more interactive communication and the point of sale, and vertical platforms such as P1 to reach urban and more advanced communities in fashion. This year we worked with BoBo, a mobile social networking app catering to Chinese hairdressers and stylists who want to share new hair styles and styling techniques, with a community of 200,000 professionals. The collaboration between a well-known cosmetic company and BoBo was an effort to target high-end salons and famous hairdressers through an online social network. This collaboration was very effective!
5 Why luxury brands are afraid to sell on the Internet today? Are they wrong?
This fear is based on realistic problems: counterfeit goods, parallel distribution, sales of luxury goods at rock-bottom price, and other issues that are prevalent online. Naturally, it would not be a confident environment for luxury brands to launch their products online. However, market conditions are gradually improving, along with an emerging class of consumers who want to live a true online “luxury experience” with their favorite brands. I think the real question for these brands is their degree of integration with the stores, the “OmniChannel” approach, as well as the development of real differentiating services based on a structured approach to CRM. Be able to book a shopping appointment online on the brand site, pick up your purchase in the nearest shop, and have access to services such as VIP concierge through the mobile platform. These are the avenues to explore and to differentiate in order to offer a true digital experience within the luxury industry.