For Clarins, China is a pioneering digital market  

Clarins China

Family-owned brand Clarins is the French leader in skincare. And yet, they chose China, where they are just a foreign brand like any other, to implement a “cross-channel organization” with a view to disseminate digital technologies throughout all their sales and marketing networks. At China Connect, the annual European conference on digital trends in China (held on April 5-6 in Paris), Julien Chiavassa, Digital and E-Commerce Director for the Asian Pacific region at Clarins, presented the various steps involved in this model change. He highlighted the role of WeChat, the mobile-only instant messaging application used by 500 million Chinese people.


In China, you still mainly sell your products through department stores and spas. Why do you focus on digital technologies ? 

 Julien Chiavassa – Our online sales represent 15% of our total sales in China. This share is higher than the global average, which shows how advanced China is in the digital field, and in particular in the mobile field. Chinese consumers breathe through their mobile phones. And even if we still sell a lot via physical stores, the influence of digital platforms is getting stronger and stronger, as it impacts our offline activity more and more every day. Almost two thirds of our sales in physical stores are influenced by our digital points of impact. Our sales teams in-store and in e-commerce used to work separately, so we did not have any visibility or centralized database on our customers. Now, we want to get rid of this compartmentalization and send a coherent message through our distribution channels. We focus on the online content to develop the click and collect system, enrich the digital experience in-store, and make it more emotional. We aim at making the offline to online transition natural, because transactions are increasingly made online. Better knowing our customers helps us merge our online and offline loyalty programmes and improve our services.

How did you centralize your data from the various distribution channels upstream ?

Clarins China
Source : Clarins official WeChat account

Julien Chiavassa – Parallel to our physical network, our online sales in China are achieved by Tmall, the trading platform developed by the Alibaba group via Taobao (two thirds of our sales), our own Chinese Clarins website, (a quarter of our sales), and other retailers online. Our main challenge was to gather all our sales networks, making sure our system could handle all these different data. Then, everything changed with WeChat, the instant messaging application, which has become an aggregator, the essential contact point in China for anyone intending to do some brand communication, CRM, and loyalty programmes. In terms of marketing campaigns, we bank less on our website, and more on our official WeChat account. Once customers have been added to our database, we ask them to follow our official WeChat account, which provides us accurate knowledge of our recruiting platforms.
Right now, we can learn how many customers are really present on all our networks. We can also determine how often new consumers are recruited by each network – Tmall is the best performing. And today in China, we can apply the same communication cycle to every new consumer, whatever their original channel.

Most of your turnover is achieved in Europe. Why have you chosen China to implement this cross-channel organization ?

Julien Chiavassa – China is the first market where we can develop our organization, due to its ecosystem. This market is really immersed in the digital world, mainly via mobile devices. The share of our media investments dedicated to digital technologies will have risen from 15% to 65% in two years in the Asian Pacific region. And it will have reached 100% in China. Given its specificities as an online environment – many Western websites are blocked – China offers the opportunity to adopt a local start-up approach, which actually makes things easier for us, as there is no need to adapt to this market if one already had a global installation. Besides, Chinese people are very enthusiastic, and our teams really committed. On top of that, our customers are always ahead of us : we keep trying to fill the gap between their expectations and what we offer them. As for the worldwide extension of this model, WeChat is the most popular messaging application in the Asian-Pacific region. We also plan to use WhatsApp in Japan and KakaoTalk in South Korea.

In terms of content, what do you feature on your WeChat account ?

Julien Chiavassa – In addition to brand and product information, we are trying to reach a certain balance with a lifestyle, less self-centred approach. And we endeavour to create an innovative content in coherence with the specific WeChat format, as it is very different from Facebook. We also work a lot on how to build a relationship with Chinese tourists abroad.