The Chinese Visitor: Are Luxury Brands Losing Control Of Their CRM to Salespeople?

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Luxury brands have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in CRM and building their database, and for the most part it is working.

The one exception where traditional CRM capture is falling short is in the Chinese traveler market. The reason is simple. While brands typically have salespeople capture email addresses, many Chinese have eschewed email for WeChat, using the social platform as not only an all in one replacement for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, etc. but for good old email.  WeChat has grown in several years to over 700 million users!

The desire of brands to capture data about customers, particularly emails, is critical as it gives the brand a way to stay in touch with customers even when a salesperson leaves. However, the new affinity for Chinese travelers to use WeChat in place of email has not escaped salespeople working at luxury brand boutiques. Needing an effective way to stay in touch with customers to schedule second fittings, notify them when a piece they wanted comes in, engraving is done or just to sell them more, salespeople working the Chinese market are communicating to customers from their private WeChat accounts.

The department manager at a major boutique from one leading European luxury company who said corporately there is no WeChat platform specifically dedicated to the Chinese visitor shopping in the U.S. told me, “Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about it.”

Building a WeChat database specifically of Chinese travelers to the U.S. is more important than ever with the new 10-year visas introduced at the beginning of this year.  Applicants for the new 10-year renewal visas represent the frequent, affluent visitor to the U.S. luxury brands are courting, but are harder to find as they travel independently and not with tour groups.  By building this database, brands will be able to market to this target during multiple annual return trips.

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WeChat is an opt-in multiplatform marketing dream that enables brands to communicate with customers, providing videos and webcams as well as enabling customers to share purchases with others on the platform.

Alec Glos, CEO of i2i Media, a Shanghai based communications company specializes in assisting companies targeting Chinese travelers. Speaking about the growing importance of WeChat as a de facto email, he reported after a recent trade mission from America to China his team entered over 500 business cards of Chinese contacts. More than half the emails bounced or went unanswered. It turns out even though the emails were on the business cards, the Chinese executives had abandoned email in favor of WeChat’s replacement feature.

Glos notes WeChat even has an appointment scheduling feature that enables users to schedule appointments. The ability to target repeat visitors from China is becoming more important. In 2014 nearly two-thirds of Chinese visitors to the U.S. were repeaters. This segment is not only the highest spending, but also is more likely to be traveling independently, so can’t be marketed to via tour group leaders. On the other hand, Chinese travelers stay in a variety of hotels, including non-luxury and with relatives, so local “concierge” solutions don’t work.

i2i under Glos is now working with luxury brands that not only want to capture more of the $24 billion Chinese visitor market, but who want to strategically ensure they have ownership of their CRM.  The upcoming launch of Galerie is an extension of the successful Essentially America platform, this time targeting Chinese visitors penchant for luxury shopping and real estate purchases.

The platform begins by capturing opt-in Chinese visitors coming to the US who receive the magazines when they are getting their renewal visa.  80 percent come to the US within 60 days and 98 percent within six months meaning for luxury marketers who want to find a needle in a haystack of 1.3 billion people, the distribution method connects directly to the approximately 1.5 million repeat Chinese visitor market brands are seeking.

Luxury Daily recently called the platform “really smart.”

i2i not only handles all of the implementation, including managing all the social media aspects of WeChat for the brands, but also takes care of translation.  “It is like having dedicated support to the Chinese visitor market, which when considers has a $24 billion annual value just to the U.S. is something critical for brands,” Glos told me.

Of course the key is being able to access Chinese visitors at the point of visa renewal.

For more information, please email me at douggollan@aol.com

About Doug Gollan

I am Editor-in-Chief of Private Jet Card Comparisons and DG Amazing Experiences, and a Contributor to Forbes.com.
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