In the fashion industry, creative design can fly.
In our current retail environment, e-commerce watchers are now embracing the unique idea that the Alibabas Tmall platform offers a theft opportunity, with a set of wings.
History teaches us many lessons with fashion and, of interest for the moment, is the unusual experience of Douglas Corrigan. Eleven years after Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Douglas Corrigan wanted to be recognized for his work as a flight mechanic on the Lindberghs Spirit of St. Louis. Douglas felt ignored by aviation historians and developed a creative idea to build his own aircraft from abandoned aircraft parts. Eventually, he decided to cross the Atlantic solo in his homemade plane, but aviation experts were very concerned for the safety of the mission and Douglas was expressly prohibited from crossing the ocean.
Defeated, but still with a glint in his eyes, on July 17, 1938, Douglas Corrigan boarded his plane in New York City and told everyone he was heading for California. Shortly after takeoff, to the amazement of the spectators, it made an aerial U-turn and disappeared into the clouds.
The next day a Corrigans junk plane landed safely in Dublin, Ireland, where stunned airport workers reported it was arriving: Im Douglas Corrigan. I just got back from New York. Where am I? I intended to fly to California.
Mr Corrigan claimed his compass had malfunctioned and he really did not know where he was. But, clearly, he knew it – and had risked everything to save his dream. The media immediately dubbed him Wrong Way and the nickname stuck. The depression was over and Wrong Way Corrigan instantly became an aviation legend. Even today, when things don’t work out one way, someone will inevitably bring up Wrong Way Corrigan – because often times going the other way is actually better.
Step into iconic e-commerce company Alibaba, which fully understands that American retailers and brands are engaged in a similar struggle. Retailers are definitely looking for new ideas / directions and the Alibabas Tmall website opens a unique opportunistic window by allowing American brands to sell directly to the Chinese consumer. Keep in mind that America has a population of 328 million and China has a population of 1.4 billion, so selling to China is a really good idea, especially now.
Tmall comes in three versions: Classic, Global or Pavilion, which version you choose depends on your market and how you plan to reach the target consumer. Already, there are over 250,000 brands stationed on Tmall, which includes 80% of the mainstream brands that have appeared on the Forbes 2019 list of Most Valuable Brands.
When Diane Von Furstenberg smoothly launched their company’s flagship store Tmall in September 2019, Gabby Hirata, Asia Pacific Business Development Manager, said she had 10,000 fans. As of March 2020, they had 300,000 fans.
On the luxury Tmall pavilion, you can find Cartier, Prada, Valentino, Burberry, Balenciaga, Versace, Tory Burch and Michael Kors. Three months ago, Michael Kors opened a personalization service on the site he called MK My Way. Michael said: The Tmall app allows me to instantly style a wide range of people. It’s like a trunk show for modern times.
In America, it is clear that the retail business is going through a tough time. Between store closings, limited reopenings, social distancing, masking rules, reduced inventory, oversupply and lack of cash, times are tough. Frankly, unless a rescue suddenly emerges, the retail business is in a race for survival or bankruptcy. If a fashion brand were to have the hottest fall line ever, its suppliers always ask for money up front, and many retailers have developed credit problems, making it extremely difficult to fund new orders.
In Tmall’s world, Alibaba handles marketing, targets consumers, handles payments and logistics, and generally makes the relationship a seamless experience. Retailers and brands can now focus on the shopping experience and build relationships with customers. Alibaba does not claim to be the retailer and in no way competes. With hundreds of millions of potential customers, Alibaba can live stream virtual fashion shows, run virtual shopping days (like 11/11 Singles Day), and even create one-day promotions.
As most industry players are painfully aware, it is extremely difficult to obtain credit from financial factors or from banks. Many textile mills are looking to get paid up front, tailoring factories want ten days, and retailers usually ask to extend their terms of purchase because cash is seriously depleted. In desperation mode, many retailers have mortgaged their assets to stay afloat. The buildings have been sold and the retailers are renting their own space. Stocks have been emptied and money is being collected to buy new stock or in some cases just keep the lights on.
While Wrong Way Corrigan alternately went east to west, its flight in Ireland brought the world closer together. Business alternatives like Tmall now allow for a bit of the magic that many retailers are looking for. The data indicates that US exports and imports with China have fallen at alarming rates, which is particularly problematic in the world of fashion retail. For years (and for many reasons), the fashion industry has become heavily dependent on China – while still holding a 40% US market share of all clothing and 65% of all footwear. The future growth plans of many retailers and brands now depend on opening up new markets, especially the Chinese market, where American brands remain very popular.
The problem with fashion is that success is seasonal and there is little time available to gain more of the existing customer base. Alternative thinking is paramount for retail, and this is why paradigm shifts are urgently needed, and also why Alibabas Tmall offers some hope for a struggling industry.
When the Tapestrys Coach brand adopted the Tmall platform, former CEO Jide Zeitlin explained that forging strategic partnerships with leaders such as Tmall helps us connect our unique lifestyle brands (with fashion) and Chinese digital savvy consumers.
When Michael Kors launched on Tmall, Chairman and CEO (parent company Capri) John Idol said: Consumers are increasingly digitally engaged in luxury shopping (in China) and the Tmall luxury pavilion is the ideal place to communicate.
Tmall is essentially the operator of a digital mall with virtual stores. The brand (not Tmall) completely owns the look (and feel) of its own storefronts. Alibaba created a new global shopping order, and Tmalls’ very large consumer base in China became the target customer.
At the end of the day, Wrong Way Corrigan was probably right. When the world is going in one direction, maybe a better strategy is to hedge your bets and go another. The Corrigans’ flight path and plane was certainly a risky adventure at the time, in large part because it took off shortly after the crash and disastrous fire of the Hindenburg airship in New Jersey.
However, American retailers are very resilient and they come to understand what works for them and what does not. If the smart retailer has the option to choose between a ride on a Corrigans plane or a seat on the Hindenburg, that smart retailer will know exactly what to do.
Right now, for struggling brands and retailers, Tmall just opens up a whole new world of opportunity.
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