SHANGHAI, China — They say that history often repeats itself. Back in 1994, Maison Mode was at the forefront of China’s fashion retail revolution with Balbina Wong at its helm. The landmark department store pioneered the distribution of top designer brands in the Chinese market at a time when the country was still opening up to the outside world. Two decades later, that legacy lives on thanks to a new venture called MyMM that recaptures the pioneering spirit of Maison Mode for the digital era in the form of an app.
MyMM is a part of the Lane Crawford Joyce Group, one of Asia's leading fashion retail and brand management groups. In March of this year, the group’s Walton Brown unit launched the built-for-China social mobile commerce platform, in partnership with The Wharf (Holdings) Ltd and e-commerce technology company eCargo. Dedicated to a personalised online shopping experience, MyMM sells an array of ready-to-wear, accessories, activewear, lifestyle and beauty products through collaborations with names such as Lane Crawford, Joyce Beauty, Rimowa, TAG Heuer, La Perla and Kate Spade.
According to Thomson Cheng, who acts as MyMM vice chairman, there are currently 1,200 brands and more than 60,000 SKUs on the fast growing platform. “We’re a social commerce community of Chinese consumers who love fashion and lifestyle and want to have direct access to brands, merchants — and fashion and lifestyle leaders and influencers,” he says.
The app works directly with brands, their authorised distributors or selected multi-brand retailers, but it is the social component of the strategy that has piqued the interest of industry leaders. “We invite influencers and ‘creators’ to join the community and we identify users and consumers with a very distinct fashion or style point-of-view to create an inspiring environment,” Cheng adds.
As Cheng sees it, social media is the first step to cultivating a consumer community. “It is an inevitable trend to converge the two elements, social networking and shopping, in one platform,” he explains. “MyMM was developed with the Chinese consumer firmly in mind, so everything we do is based on meeting their needs and expectations. And as we develop, we’ll constantly search for ways to enhance our community’s experience.”
A number of social media platforms are becoming more retail-focused by integrating shopping buttons that, in turn, compel e-commerce businesses to invest in building a strong social media presence. “This is what Chinese consumers are currently looking for. As long as MyMM’s social functions add value to their experience, meet and exceed their expectations, they will use them,” he says.
To stay on top of relevant trends, MyMM’s team keeps a close eye on global platforms and apps while tracking the latest developments in technology. Although Instagram, Pinterest, XiaoHongShu (also known as ‘Little Red Book’) and Tmall all now compete in the same space, Cheng points to the fact that MyMM was exclusively created to serve the specific needs of the Chinese fashion consumer.
The app’s format as a semi-open, social platform allows it to tap into China’s collective consumer consciousness while encouraging each user to become an influencer. Collaborators such as celebrities, fashion and beauty influencers, designers and models — all known collectively as ‘creators’— upload original content, which users can either follow, bookmark, like, comment on and share within the retail forum. Current active creators include Leaf Greener, Grace Gao, Lv Pi Qiang, Kiki Kang, Rigel Davis, and Style Notes.
In August, the app released its first official video with the theme “True Beauty”, featuring a range of personalities including cellist and influencer Ouyang Nana, host Xie Na, blogger Becca Li and MyMM user Josephine Yue. The video showcased the app’s personalised user experience, interactive retail forum and standardised pricing commitment.
Growing the number of creators and users in the coming year is a top priority and the app has a number of tricks up its sleeve to achieve that. “Our marketing approach is multi-faceted, multi-channelled, and multi-layered,” Cheng says, pointing to MyMM’s online magazine Meige as one example. “We believe everyone has the potential to be fashion, style and trend leaders, so all MyMM users can therefore also be our KOLs (key opinion leaders).”
Our marketing approach is multi-faceted, multi-channelled, and multi-layered.
According to Katherine Fung, chief retail officer of Lane Crawford, one unique proposition of the app is that it is an opportunity to introduce emerging brands under the Lane Crawford umbrella to Chinese customers. “We focus more on contemporary and emerging brands for our store on MyMM,” she says.
In April, Fung oversaw an offline marketing event for the app at the Shanghai Lane Crawford store, which saw personal stylists from the department store offer fashion tips to the app’s customers. And during the April edition of Shanghai Fashion Week, MyMM went offline again when it participated in a sustainability event hosted by GreenCode.
Harriet Lee, vice president of retail operations and beauty for Joyce boutiques, believes that it is exclusivity that has attracted many of the app users so far. Joyce Beauty is solely available to Chinese consumers on MyMM and the majority of products on the app are officially launched in China for the first time. “As a cross border retailer, we have the advantage of retailing the latest products soon after the global launch,” she says.
Lee cites the app’s “clean shopping environment, which frees us from a mixture of branded, counterfeit and discount-driven products like in most domestic e-commerce platforms” as another driver for customer acquisition on the mainland.
With China at the forefront of mobile-first innovations like WeChat and a number of mobile payment solutions, the opportunity for players like MyMM is huge. By next year, Euromonitor estimates that China will be the second largest market for mobile commerce in the world after the US. But the challenges that the market poses can be just as stark as the opportunities.
“New platforms and mobile apps are mushrooming every day in China [so] the scale of demand from Chinese consumers is tremendous,” says Cheng. “The development of the [online] market in China is very fast and volatile.”
Using a platform business model, the app’s architecture allows brands to open their own storefront, with digital assets fully controlled by the brand. The low barriers-to-entry solution poses little risk for brands in terms of presentation. “Brands and merchants are like our tenants but [they’re] also our partners,” he explains, suggesting that the app’s streamlined no-nonsense approach helps foster a more intimate brand-platform relationship.
“[We do not] only occupy a luxury position, we have a brand assortment that starts at premium. Our app was especially created to serve the needs of the growing middle-class Chinese consumer.”
Cheng is aware that he faces stiff competition from existing market players and he acknowledges that Chinese consumers are becoming more diverse in their tastes and behaviour, so they can’t necessarily be understood by traditional ways marketers segment consumers.
“[But] as a part of the Lane Crawford Joyce Group, MyMM has been nurtured in the group’s atmosphere and heritage,” he says. It is this long heritage of luxury, design, fashion and beauty that Cheng believes will give it an edge over incumbents. “[Besides], the Chinese market still possesses huge potential for development. [There’s] an abundant talent pool, support from the government and resources well-suited to cultivate the emergence of start-ups.”
BoF is pleased to have MyMM as the principal partner of the BoF China Summit 2017, our platform for China’s top executives, entrepreneurs and captains of industry.