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On June 28, 2018, Alibaba announced the launch of Taobao Xinxuan (淘宝心选), which translates to ‘Taobao Selected’. After a year in alpha testing, the company’s new concept is finally available to the wider public.

Through the website or one of two physical stores in Hangzhou and Shanghai, users can shop for affordable quality lifestyle and functional daily necessity goods including home fragrance, smart power sockets, underwear, and sonic-control toothbrushes.

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Rimowa?

According to TechNode, the recently opened store in Shanghai was raided and emptied by eager customers in a mere two hours.

What is Taobao Xinxuan?

Appearance wise, the Taobao Xinxuan concept will remind many of Japanese retailer Muji, whose clean and simplistic stores offer a wide range of quality and affordable clothing, stationery, bags, and even furniture.

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Taobao Xinxuan Store Concept Design

From a business model perspective, Taobao Xinxuan is actually more like Xiaomi, the smartphone-manufacturer-turned-global-electronics brand. Its Manufacturer-to-Consumer (M2C) approach and short supply chain allows the company to quickly go from the latest consumer insights to manufacturers to create products and achieve go-to-market in a few months.

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Xiaomi Flagship Store in Shanghai

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Xiaomi Flagship Store in Shanghai

Arguably, Taobao Xinxuan could be considered a clone of the M2C ecommerce platform launched by Chinese gaming company NetEase called Yanxuan. Since its release in 2016, Yanxuan has seen rapid growth in a unique vertical that avoids direct competition with Alibaba and JD.com.

The Yanxuan model can be described as an ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) model as well. By going directly to Chinese manufacturers creating products for established global brands, NetEase is able to get the same quality while selling at a much lower price by skipping over distributors.

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NetEase’s Yanxuan website

By targeting young, mainly urban consumers who value quality and design but are also price sensitive, Yanxuan has been able to achieve rapid growth in the Chinese ecommerce space. The company reached a monthly GMV (gross merchandise volume) of RMB 60 million (about US$9 million) by Q3 2016, only a few months after its initial launch. This allowed Yanxuan to break into the list of top 10 Chinese ecommerce platforms based on GMV.

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Yanxuan Home & Living Category

Alibaba’s New Trojan Horse?

For a business to execute the M2C model well, it needs to understand what consumers want and then act on it swiftly. Considered the pioneer in M2C in China, Xiaomi is well known for asking its users directly what they’d like to see in terms of new features and products.

Another company that knows what its users want is – surprise, surprise – Alibaba. Being the largest ecommerce company in China, Alibaba has extensive data on what brands and products people are buying and when and where. This doesn’t even include the additional data it gathers through its other businesses Ant Financial, Ali Health, and its offline Hema supermarkets and ‘New Retail’ initiatives.

Alibaba’s US counterpart Amazon hasn’t shied-away from using its data to introduce its own private label brands to compete directly with the other brands selling on its platform.

“The company now has roughly 100 private label brands for sale on its huge online marketplace, of which more than five dozen have been introduced in the past year alone. But few of those are sold under the Amazon brand. Instead, they have been given a variety of anodyne, disposable names like Spotted Zebra (kids clothes), Good Brief (men’s underwear), Wag (dog food) and Rivet (home furnishings).”

New York Times, ‘How Amazon Steers Shoppers to Its Own Products’

And this move by Amazon isn’t a small pilot project. Amazon private labels have a large impact on revenue:

“The results were stunning. In just a few years, AmazonBasics had grabbed nearly a third of the online market for batteries, outselling both Energizer and Duracell on its site.”

Amazon’s home court advantage gives it a leg up versus other brands:

“Take word searches. About 70 percent of the word searches done on Amazon’s search browser are for generic goods. That means consumers are typing in “men’s underwear” or “running shoes” rather than asking, specifically, for Hanes or Nike.

For Amazon, those word searches by consumers allow it to put its private-label products in front of the consumer and make sure they appear quickly. In addition, Amazon has the emails of the consumers who performed searches on its site and can email them directly or use pop-up ads on other websites to direct those consumers back to Amazon’s marketplace.”

Alibaba has been flying under the radar with regards to any private label initiatives, and for good reason. Unlike Amazon, which started out as a retailer buying and selling products, Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall properties are pure marketplace plays from the beginning. Because Alibaba’s main goal is helping connect merchants and buyers via its platforms, a neutral stance is essential to the platform’s success.

It’s not surprising then that Alibaba decided to launch Xinxuan as ‘Taobao Xinxuan’ rather than ‘Tmall Xinxuan’. Originally a part of Taobao, Tmall spun off to provide a more premium B2B2C marketplace for authentic brands to sell their products online. Mixing in Xinxuan’s private label products would only upset brands competing in similar product categories.

Lazada’s LazMall a stepping stone towards introducing Lazada private label in Southeast Asia?

Last week, Lazada officially launched LazMall, its Southeast Asian version of Tmall. It’s a move towards splitting Lazada (‘b-to-C’) and LazMall (‘B-to-c’) and aims to offer a premium place for big brands to sell online, away from the grey market sellers on the platform.

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From the outside, this looks like an obvious move against JD, known to offer a better customer experience according to our recent Indonesia online marketplace survey.

However, seeing Alibaba’s new concept in China with Taobao Xinxuan, it’s not far-fetched the LazMall spin-off will lead to Lazada M2C private label brands in the near future.

The Chinese ecommerce market, being about 10 years ahead of the Southeast Asian one, acts like a crystal ball for brands operating in our region. Battle-tested brands with operations in China know better to diversify their channels before putting all their eggs into a single basket.

Southeast Asian-native brands are recommended to shake off their naivety and learn from China’s history.

Monogamy in ecommerce does not lead to happiness.

*Thanks to a ecommerceIQ Community member for sharing the launch of LazMall with us:

In case you missed it, JD Central’s long awaited joint venture went live in Thailand a few days ago:

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And reviews have already come in,

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Though rough, the experience has been positive so far and as expected by JD, delivery reliable and quick. The partnership with Thailand’s largest retail conglomerate Central Group indicates JD.com is attempting to replicate its value proposition in China in Southeast Asia: a high quality ecommerce experience for authentic goods.

“If you promise people to deliver same day, people will more likely buy. Our people will literally cross rivers and climb mountains to get the package to the end customer.” – Louis Li, former Deputy GM of JD Worldwide

It seems Chinese players Alibaba and JD.com are looking to establish its number one and number two statuses in Southeast Asia ecommerce, respectively. Alibaba known for its hit-or-miss products at cheap prices and JD.com for the authentic goods and reliable customer experience.

And now that JD.com has planted its flag in Thailand, Alibaba/Lazada isn’t going to sit back casually – hence, (re)introducing LazMall.

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Consumer newsletter by Lazada Thailand

What is LazMall?

Very simply, it is a replica of the widely successful Tmall in China – a platform for official brands. In Lazada’s own words:

‘LazMall is an exclusive channel featuring items sold by leading international and local brands.’

“At LazMall, we aim to offer an online shopping experience of the highest-quality to garner the trust of our customers and provide the convenience they long for. LazMall will provide customers with the following promises: 100% authenticity and 15-day easy returns.”

There also appears to a number of benefits by becoming a LazMall seller:

• LazMall badge on all your products throughout the customer journey; see LazMall Indonesia
• Enjoy higher visibility on homepage and higher search ranking
• Exclusive access to dedicated LazMall campaigns
• Dedicated customer service team for LazMall customers

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Brand dashing to marketplace

Not quite.

Brands commonly will teeter with the idea of a brand.com and/or marketplace and the answer we always give is “a marketplace strategy is important in Southeast Asia as part of a bigger digital strategy, but it shouldn’t be the only online effort by a company.”

While LazMall aims to create a safe space for brands to promote themselves online by setting strict authenticity procedures and greater visibility over unofficial sellers, activity the US and China have taught us the brand relationship with a marketplace is a tricky one and from it emerges a power struggle.

A well-known American brand saw its Tmall sales plummet 10% to 20% for 2017.

“Based on our sales record, we should have been in a prominent position, but we were at the bottom of the page,” said the brand’s ecommerce director, who spoke anonymously to the Bangkok Post for fear of further retaliation. “That’s a clear manipulation of traffic. That’s a clear punishment.”

Executives soon learn that what Alibaba gives, it can also take away.

How did the marketplace gain so much power?

A few factors. First, all that money business tech sites complained about marketplaces burning was to grab market share and market share translates into influence. If you’re not present on marketplace or selling on your own website, you’re losing an important revenue channel.

As reported by the New York Times about Amazon, Lazada also has an advantage over traditional retailers and its own merchants that no one else has: knowledge and access to data from its platform. 70% of Amazon’s word searches are for generic terms such as “running shoes” or “games”, meaning Amazon can choose what to display in search results. Will it be Nike or Adidas shoes? Well, it probably depends on who is being a better merchant to the marketplace – driving traffic, exclusive promos, etc.

We can expect something similar to take place in Southeast Asia but this doesn’t necessarily mean brands are guaranteed to lose out.

KitchenAid recently launched with us and their revenue was two times than targets,’ – Lazada Singapore Category Manager

The rise of digital has forced brands used to having 100% control learn how to barter for maximum visibility. The birth of a brand to marketplace relationship is also why ecommerce enablers are popping up everywhere in Southeast Asia to mediate the wants and needs of both.

“[Enablers] allow me to focus on my core business capability and rest assured online segment is still moving along” – eIQ Community Member, Ecommerce Enabler survey

Your move brands.

Want to learn more about participating in LazMall? Contact us at hello@ecommerceIQ.asia