Chinese shopping and media consumption habits are very different to the rest of the world, says BAV Group’s David Roth, and UK retailers can learn plenty from the innovative ways in which businesses present and communicate

If brands really want to see the future of technology, of retail, of the combination of on-and-offline, then China is the place to look at now. 

Seven or eight years ago, if somebody asked you where to go to see the latest retail and tech innovations, you would have told them to go to New York, Atlanta and Silicon Valley to get a pretty good perspective. Now you would tell them simply to look at China.

Innovation drivers

I believe there are three important factors that drive innovation in China. 

First, there is a really good understanding of the fact that what happens online and what happens offline are not two parallel tracks; they are intrinsically related to each other. 

Second, Chinese consumers are the most connected and the most digital of any consumers across the world.

Finally, the work done by Alibaba and others in ensuring the entire supply chain is being digitised enables much tighter integration and the creation of consumer propositions that would be impossible to do if the digital data across that supply chain was not available.

‘China speed’

One of the things that also fascinates about China is how quickly things change and develop – I call it ‘China speed’. 

When you look at the evolution of 11.11, Alibaba’s global shopping festival, you see the speed in action.  

Having started with a focus on discounts, 11.11 has become a unique opportunity for brands to embrace the latest in retail innovation, unveil new products, showcase their latest offerings and cultivate lasting relationships with consumers. 

11.11 is now a vehicle for rewarding customer loyalty and creating customer loyalty. It has an amazing excitement and energy to it compared to Black Friday, which is perceived by many companies as a way of discounting heavily and getting shot of products they might have had in their stock rooms for a couple of years.

How to succeed

My advice for international brands hoping to succeed in China is to continue to innovate in terms of products, marketing and content.  

Be vociferous about the use of content and the importance of refreshing it as frequently as possible to create and maintain awareness. 

I also cannot overestimate the importance of differentiation. It is one thing to be in China, but it is another thing to be known in China. 

Brands need a differentiated position so Chinese consumers can understand what is different about them. 

It might be your environmental credentials, as Chinese consumers are looking to purchase brands that care about the planet, it could be the efficacy of the product; it could be who uses that product. But it is important to make sure the differentiation is relevant and that it is continuously communicated.

If you do all of those combinations of things, your chance for success in China is significantly greater – both during the golden quarter and beyond.

David Roth is chief executive of The Store – WPP and chair of BAV Group


Roth is an expert in branding and consumer change in China, a leading authority on digital and artificial intelligence in retail. He has authored books and studies including The Thoughts of Chairmen Now: Wisdom and Insights from China’s Business Leaders, Dates with Destiny – Understanding China’s Shopping Festivals, and A History of Retail in 100 Objects.

Roth is a non-executive director of VSBLTY Groupe Technologies Corp and a board member of CBBC.