Beijing: In China, legions of delivery personnel power the world’s largest e-commerce boom. Known for their careening three-wheeled carts, they terrorise pedestrians and sometimes dump their packages on doorsteps and desks with the delicacy of a restaurant employee tossing out yesterday’s leftovers.
Then there is Tang Hongliang, who is part of an ambitious effort to bring some sparkle to the business — and perhaps help revive the fortunes of the world’s makers of high-priced handbags and watches.
Decked out in a black suit, dark grey tie and white gloves, Tang does not look like a typical Chinese package courier. Instead of piping hot noodle lunches, he delivers a $2,400 designer handbag. Rather than a three-wheeler, he drives an electric car to transport expensive cargo.
“Efficiency is of course important,” said Tang, who works for the online retailer JD.com. “But serving the customer is the most important.”
Facing slowing sales, global luxury brands are angling for a piece of China’s e-commerce market, where people are accustomed to buying gadgets and groceries, but not high-priced jewellery and haute couture. Many are unsure, however, about diving headfirst into online retail, because China’s favourite way to shop is also an industry better known for piracy and dusty deliverymen than for shine and polish.
Luxury companies have long been concerned that with e-commerce, it would be impossible to replicate the gilded, perfectly curated in-store shopping experience. Brands also worry about their products being sold next to counterfeit and grey-market items — an issue that Alibaba in particular has struggled with in the past.
To court the luxury market, companies like Alibaba and JD.com are using their vast customer base to offer upscale retailers support on issues like digital marketing, pricing, customer services and, in the case of Tang, delivery.
“The most difficult thing to overcome is the experience for the shoppers,” said Xia Ding, president of JD.com’s fashion division. “But because we own the logistics we are really able to deliver luxury goods in a way that makes shoppers feel like they are getting the same special experience as they get offline.”