There’s more than one way for Australian online retailers to enter China.

South Australian fashion e-tailer BNKR (pronounced bunker) launched its Chinese-language website this week, choosing to build their own online channel rather than signing up with one of China’s internet giants such as Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace.

BNKR is the retail channel for Australian Fashion Labels, an apparel company founded Adelaide in 2007. The company’s fashion brands can be found at more than 1,700 stores worldwide and the business employs more than 130 staff worldwide.

With online storefronts in the UK, US and Australia, BNKR’s global ecommerce strategy is to open country-specific online stores to allow for more targeted offerings in each geography.

“We want to be seasonally appropriate and we also want to be able to provide a service and experience which is personalised to different regions around the world,” Jared Brown head of eCommerce & digital at Australian Fashion Labels told Which-50.

In 2015, the business opened an office in Shanghai and sales from China via the English site have been steadily growing, which the business took as justification for further investment in the market.

Brown said BNKR took a “holistic approach” building the platform to ensure the end-to-end journey worked for Chinese shoppers.

BNKR China Store

BNKR ships its Australian and New Zealand orders from an Australian warehouse while a warehouse in Hong Kong services the rest of the world segment, including China. The dual warehouses allow the business to hold the right seasonal stock for the right regions, ie winter clothes for the northern hemisphere and summer clothes for the southern hemisphere.

There is still work to be done to speed up the time it takes to get orders from Hong Kong, through bonded warehouses and into China, Brown said.

Despite the challenges, Brown said it was less risky and a smaller investment to develop their own BNKR-branded platform than engage an online marketplace like Tmall.

“The strategy is to set up our BNKR store which has got our aesthetic. It’s lower risk in the sense that the platform is running already and we are seeing good results out of our English website to Chinese customers,” Brown said.

“I wanted, as a proof of concept, to show what sort of growth we could get through our own channels and then from there we’ll be able to gather enough data to make decisions and have a roadmap to start working with marketplaces.”

The goal is to understand what BNKR’s Chinese customer looks like and how they like to shop so the China team can be more strategic about its investments.

“Once we’ve got customer data, we’ll be in a better place to look at marketplaces in smarter fashion rather than saying ‘that’s the way to get massive sales in China’ when potentially there’s more to it than just launching on a marketplace and just making sales.”

Digital marketing in China

Brown is now turning his attention to the brave new world of Chinese SEO and social media. But for the time being the company is taking a gradual test and learn approach to digital marketing in China to find out what’s working for them and what’s not.

“First we want to get the product mix right for China, we want to get the messaging right and we want to get our delivery proposition sorted. You only get one shot at customers a lot of the time so you don’t want to go out with a crazy digital marketing strategy and then you are still weeding out issues with delivery or cross-border [imports].”

“That being said we are starting to formulate how we want to talk to our Chinese customer and we will definitely be utilising the Chinese social media platforms and we have started building content for those already.”

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