Eventually ecostore decided to launch their own e-commerce store through Tmall, a Taobao spin off intended for B2C retail, and operate alongside the daigou. This would allow them to own the data and gain insights and a greater understanding of consumers, says Yu.
“China has different hurdles. You think of brick and mortar and competing with multinationals, but actually it’s the daigou, the fragmentation of the audience; the product is more niche. I think it’s really about understanding and making proper use of each channel. For example, Tmall is not just about the sales, it’s also about broadcasting your brand and understanding consumers. So when we choose a partner it’s about understanding their strengths. We look at the different capabilities. They also have to understand our brand and believe in sustainability as the goal.”
Understanding those unique channels isn’t always easy though, and a contributing factor to ecostore’s delayed entry into the market was ensuring they knew how best to utilise the options at hand. Yu’s expertise was invaluable, says Whiten, but they needed partners they could rely on that knew the channels and the audiences.
“One of the key things when moving into any market is trying to see if there is a gap in the market and a market in the gap, and whether or not your brand appeals. If you really care about your ROI, it’s about really understanding your niche, that gap. In many respects it’s not “should I enter that market?” It’s “do I have relationships or am I able to establish relationships with partners who genuinely understand those markets?” Alongside Derek, we have market managers in Korea and Japan based there that helps us with those markets. Because no matter how big the gap is, no matter how big the opportunity is, if you don’t have that expertise it’s going to be hard, hard work.”
“But if you’ve got that – thanks to China’s massive size and the scale of its market, it is actually possible to get a positive return on investment, even at an early stage.”
For Yu, it always comes back to the ecostore brand. That original vision established on the Northland coast in 1993 is what continues to drive the brand as it expands overseas today.
“Of course you have to profit sustainably and you have to grow there, but you need to know your mission. Ask yourself, as a brand and as a personality, what sort of message do you want to deliver to the world? I think ecostore has very clear values and they’re what we’ve been working towards for the past 25 years. So that guides how you engage with consumers and through which channels.”