What has actually happened with animal testing requirements? 

2 minute read

By Jonathan Travers-Smith


Up until recently with a few exceptions China required animal testing on all imported cosmetics on arrival in country.

New measures now indicate that as of May 1st 2021 exemptions will be granted for manufacturers that provide a 'Good Manufacturing Practices' certificate, issued by government regulatory departments. This will mean the removal of compulsory animal testing for those that comply and will no doubt lead to a flood of additional brands looking to build meaningful market share in China.

France will be the first EU country to qualify for the above exemptions due to the development of a dedicated platform by the French government that enables French beauty makers to obtain relevant certification. Dependent on the success of these measures other countries may soon be able to follow suit.

Check out Hot Pot’s summary timeline below of the key changes to legislation, feel free to save, share and Get in touch for a discussion on how these changes may impact your brand. 


Animal testing regulation timeline China

Chinese New Year 2021

The Ox brings Opportunity in China

A letter from our CEO

6 minute read

By Jonathan Travers-Smith


As we enter the Lunar New Year period, I wanted to share reflections on the last 12 months for Hot Pot China, as well as a short look ahead to the Year of the Ox.

While 2020 was a challenging year on many fronts, the pandemic accelerated a raft of advancements for brands and retailers in China. I was personally struck by how China’s already advanced digital ecosystem was perfectly placed to weather the storm of physical retail closures. 

March saw retail assistants turning into grassroots live-streamers via their personal WeChat accounts, allowing shoppers the ability to have a near in-store experience for entire malls from the comfort of their own smart phones. While the underlying platforms and tech solutions were already in play in China, O2O initiatives took a huge leap forward in terms of adoption. Check out our short video here covering this trend.

In November, Singles Day 11.11 saw Alibaba’s platforms alone racking up $74bn in GMV, almost doubling the 2019 number despite the coronavirus headwinds.  We also saw greater emphasis being placed on commercial festivals outside of 11.11 with more brands understanding opportunities around 6.18, 5.20 and the full gamut of China’s commercial calendar.

Our business 

As a business, our key sectors of retail, beauty and fitness/sports continued to grow significantly and Q4 2020 represented Hot Pot’s best ever quarter for new client wins, which we will be announcing via our channels in the coming weeks - join us on LinkedIn for realtime updates.

In late 2020 we saw more clients than ever looking to launch, relaunch or optimise in China.

There was a true realisation among senior decision makers that home markets can be fragile and China presents a very real and sustainably profitable market, if approached strategically, but with humility and respect. 

A case for insights 

This has led to Hot Pot developing new solutions across our suite of strategy products, including bringing forward the rollout of a dedicated China insights platform. A product that was developed after listening to and understanding our client’s needs, chief among which was the clear need to engage with and understand targeted groups of consumers across diverse locations and demographics in China. 

While maintaining our executional campaign work delivering brand and commercial growth for the likes of La Perla, Olivia Burton and Selfridges, we are hugely encouraged by the increased allocation of client spend to deep insights, as this underpins all work done in market by our team. This is also a core principle of our company vision:

Delivering long term value not just in China, but with a deep understanding of today’s Chinese consumer. 

In play with a set of foundation clients already, we are delighted to be launching our comprehensive insights solution to a wider audience at the end of Q1. 

Our team 

We have also been busy hiring in London and Shanghai, bringing on board deep brand expertise in the form of Jessie Allen, our China Director leading the accelerated build of our Shanghai team. Additionally Fan Tu, a seasoned account manager with online and offline experience in our Shanghai hub, helping us to service our client base on the ground in China. We’re also delighted to welcome Sally-Anne Amakye to the Hot Pot team, leading the charge on Hot Pot’s own marketing and thought leadership initiatives.

As we look to the other side of the Lunar New Year I am personally excited to be working further on our team growth, company culture and developing the unique cohesion and seamlessness between our London and Shanghai operations. 

A look ahead

At Hot Pot we aim to leave every interaction having created value, so this in mind I wanted to end on a short set of trends and predictions from the strategy team for the China marketing landscape in 2021.

1. Private/brand owned traffic will move from “interesting” to “critical”. The rising costs of e-commerce traffic will mean that brands have to be able to activate their own audiences through WeChat groups and other owned communities. 

2. Lower tier city growth and brand expansion will accelerate. The majority of economic growth is now being seen outside of Tier 1 and 2 cities. Top brands have already begun to open physical retail and hold major brand launch events in lower tier markets with high spending power.

3. More Luxury purchases are made in-market. International travel was a huge driver of major luxury purchases for Chinese consumers. With the current uncertainty around international travel, domestic luxury purchases are increasing and this trend looks set to continue. Brands will need to focus on accelerating price parity within China to tap into this and make up for the loss of revenue typically made from travelling Chinese consumers.

4. Alibaba’s ambition on luxury. Tmall, one of China's largest online marketplace, welcomed two big luxury names in 2020: Porsche and Hermes. No doubt there will be more and more luxury companies who now view Alibaba’s properties as legitimate destinations for selling luxury products and communicating global brand propositions in a nuanced way.

5. The continued rise of Xiaohongshu. Grassroots influence has been the secret behind Xiaohongshu’s huge success and for us is now China’s most important social platform. Countless authentic product reviews generated by real users have direct and immediate influence on purchase decisions. Having a voice on this platform is now a must for brands looking to succeed in China.

Wishing all of the Hot Pot China clients, partners and followers a healthy and prosperous Year of the Ox.

Jonathan Travers-Smith, Founder and CEO


Get in touch for a discussion of how the above trends will impact your brand in the Year of the Ox. 

Additionally, for an early run through of the upcoming Hot Pot China Insights Hub, please drop a note to nihao@hotpotchina.com and a member of the team will be in touch.

Chinese New Year 2021

How To Screw Up Singles Day

How To Screw Up Singles Day

6 minute read

By Adam Sandzer, Hot Pot Strategy Director


Much is written every year about the success of Alibaba’s flagship festival Singles’ Day on November 11. Marketers are bombarded with huge GMV numbers, and countless overwhelming success stories of brands selling huge volumes in a tiny sales window. 

Faced with this tidal wave of positivity, surely as long as a brand can get live in time, it’s a guaranteed cash cow?

Not necessarily. Below the Hot Pot team examine six strategies that will guarantee to have you screwing up Singles’ Day in a big way (as well as how to get it right).


1) Blindly discount your full range and pin all your revenue hopes on Singles’ Day

How to screw it up:

From new market entrants to mature market leaders, too many brands are relying on 11.11 to realise short-term revenue objectives for China. 

Given the scale and ever-increasing hype, launching your brand in China in time for 11.11 looks irresistible. It is a dangerous play. Without brand power, and in order to drive traffic and conversion, you will be sucked into high channel investment and aggressive discounting. This undermines your profitability and crucially, your credibility before you’ve even started the race. 

It seems that even giants like L’Oreal, rightly praised for its excellent 2019 campaign, have become very reliant on 11.11 for achieving their annual sales objectives. The huge spike around November is all too common and as it’s so late in the year, the propensity to mark-down, even hero and best-selling products, becomes all too tempting. For brands with offline business, this can also cause issues if product assortment is not segmented. The ultimate outcome is long term degradation of your brand.

How to get it right:

For new market entrants, give yourself a runway to build a level of brand awareness before 11.11. Consider the preceding peak summer months, Qixi and Mid-Autumn festival and then when 11.11 comes around avoid aggressive discounting by presenting a valuable proposition beyond price that is credible and sustainable.

Similarly for the more mature brands - what are you doing the rest of the year? You need to do everything to flatten the annual sales curve and reduce the sales spikes. Consider investment in a Superbrand Day or participation in a category day and don’t dismiss the less glamorous events that allow you to reflect your brand in a more relevant way.


2) Measure Singles’ Day success purely by amazing GMV numbers

How to screw it up

If your brand is assessing 11.11 performance chiefly by GMV, it’s worth a pause to reflect. 

Two key metrics that are consistently relayed in the small print of a report or conveniently left out all together are the average discount rate and return rate on Singles’ Day.

Most brands sell at 40-50% off full price on 11.11 and that’s part of the game, but what does that do for your margin? Fact - almost all brands lose money on 11.11. 

Additionally, many brands experience a up to 50-60% return rate on products sold during 11.11, especially on apparel. With no risk to consumers and a favourable returns process, shoppers happily buy multiple sizes or simply as a way of trying (and returning) a new product. 

Reporting on stand out GMV as a sole metric can lead to poor investment choices going forward.

How to get it right

Looking at margin and sales after returns is reality. Make this clear to your local team and eCommerce partner or TP from the outset and ensure you have access and visibility to the right numbers. This will allow you to truly assess performance and make the right investment decisions going forward.


3) Just say YES (to everything)

How to screw it up

In the run up to 11.11, when you’re staring down the barrel of the peak festive trading season globally, why not simply delight all your UK and US marketing colleagues by demanding that they work round the clock to meet the voracious demands of the Alibaba/JD marketing machine? 

Imagine the glee when in early October, you ask for a new localised China key visual, 50 new product image assets, a livestream from a dedicated studio and a localised hero product video featuring your main celebrity ambassador in L.A. spouting a couple of lines in poorly-rehearsed Mandarin.

How to get it right

Tmall/Alibaba will be demanding and it’s in their interest to have each Singles’ Day look bigger and bolder than the last through stand out creative, livestreams and celebrity endorsements. For brands that can commit the resources there is certainly value in producing as much marketing eye candy as possible in return for an increased amount of “free” traffic from the platform. However, for small brands or 11.11 first-timers, we advise a focus on the basics, understanding what time and resource commitment is actually going to move the needle on sales, then “just say no” to everything else.


4) It’s all about Tmall

How to screw it up

“Singles Day is an Alibaba Festival. Alibaba founded 11.11,so Tmall and Taobao is where it’s at. Let’s park efforts on all other platforms for the month.”

How to get it right

Today 11.11 has grown way beyond its parent company Alibaba’s vision to become the all-encompassing commercial season to end all others. JD.com, Kaola, Pinduoduo and countless other channels (many with no investment from the Jack Ma mothership) place just as much emphasis on the 11.11 season as Tmall/Taobao themselves.

It’s worth thinking about your conversion channels online and offline, and considering where to place your emphasis in order to achieve the greatest impact. 


5) It’s in November, right?

How to screw it up

“So the team are all pretty busy from August through to December, so having 3 weeks’ lead time to nail November 11th should be fine.”


If you have not been actively selling to Singles’ Day shoppers throughout the month of October then you have already missed the boat.

How to get it right

To have any chance of getting cut through, you will need to put together a solid plan and pitch for your Tmall Partner (TP) and Tmall themselves waaaay before 11.11. 

In most cases, Hot Pot is working with brands over the early summer to get concrete battle plans across to Tmall during July. This leaves enough time to get feedback/approval and align resources.

  • July: plans submitted to Tmall
  • September - ramping up 11.11 marketing efforts
  • Oct 21st: buying begins and shoppers add to baskets
  • 00.01am Beijing time on November 11th: Game over - consumers simply click to check out.


6) Choose 11.11 to launch your brand in China

How to screw it up

Most global brand executives now know about Singles Day. The biggest eCommerce festival in the world, the numbers look irresistible. So goes an increasingly common and often fatal decision for new China market entrants -  let’s quickly grab a slice of that pie and rush to launch our brand in time for 11.11. 

Would you launch your precious brand on Amazon Prime Day? Would you launch it in a Department store where everything is 50% off? Unless you already have significant brand power, the event remains highly discount driven. You will likely lose a lot of money as well as brand credibility and this will be tough and expensive to re-capture. 

How to get it right

11.11 can be lucrative but give yourself a runway. It’s much more effective to start building up brand awareness and equity in the preceding summer and during Qixi and Mid-Autumn Festival. And even then, if you are participating in Singles Day, you must try to ensure the brand proposition is presented in a sustainable way that drives long-term affinity with Chinese consumers.


In Summary

China’s myriad commercial festivals run throughout the year, and while Singles’ Day is undoubtedly a huge opportunity, it needs to be handled with a clear, benchmarked and goals-driven approach that goes beyond pure upfront sales volume.  

Done well it can deliver reach, recruit new consumers, build brand equity and deliver profitable sales. 

Done poorly it will destroy value, damage future sales, and consign less wary brands to a future trying to claw back to profitability for years ahead.

To help plan your approach to China’s main commercial festivals and ensure you’re in the right group, get in touch with Hot Pot’s team of commercially-minded strategists for an initial discussion. 


Contact Hot Pot China and talk to us about how to implement and leverage the above strategies to increase revenues in China.

Lucky in Love? The Best and Worst of the 2020 Qixi Brand Campaigns

Lucky in Love? The Best and Worst of the 2020 Qixi Brand Campaigns

5 minute read

By Paul Hickey, Hot Pot Strategist


Each year, international brands are placing more emphasis on building value in China. Given the current global economic situation, many brands are going “all-in” to ensure the greatest return from Chinese consumers.

Qixi is arguably the biggest Chinese Valentine’s Day (yes, there is more than one of them in China). This Qixi saw more international brands than ever before participate in the local festival.

The results were mixed. From product flops to standout campaigns, we break down some of the successful and not-so-successful campaigns from Qixi 2020.



Typically a favourite of Chinese consumers, Balenciaga’s Qixi campaign fell foul of the online masses. The brand debuted 4 variations of its popular Hourglass bag featuring the text ‘you love me’, ‘I love me’, ‘I love you’ and ‘he loves me’. The visuals for the campaign were decidedly early 2000’s, attempting to evoke a connection with China’s Gen Z who have recently tapped into the early 00’s aesthetic.

Many online comments indicated that the campaign looked strange and that the product itself was not compelling enough to justify its creation. Whilst the brand was trying to tap into a growing resurgence of early 00’s visuals, the campaign likely pushed it a little too far. Chinese consumers are putting more scrutiny on exactly how international brands are targeting them and Qixi is a key part of the China marketing calendar. It’s important that brands trial and sense check campaigns before going live.



Prada celebrated Qixi 2020 by releasing a collection of men's, women's and kids' items featured in a video retelling of the Qixi story. The campaign was focused on the ‘mysterious power of love’ and consumers could purchase the exclusive products through Prada’s own .cn website, as well as its WeChat mini program.

For romantic festivals, brands will often focus heavily on driving female consumption, but Prada seized the opportunity to create a collection that included men, women and children. The retelling of the Qixi story was abstract and had an alluring artistic feel, while steering well clear of any culturally sensitive areas.




For Qixi 2020, Cartier went with the theme ‘How far would you go for love?’. The brand created a video that featured lots of different types of relationships, from friends to couples, each wearing a Cartier ring. 

Throughout the video, 2 men can be seen riding bicycles through an urban environment. Given the context of the video and romantic nature of Qixi, the assumption of many was that it was a gay couple. While homosexuality is legal in China, there is still a level of social stigma around the topic, and as such being explicit as to the pair's sexuality would represent bold move from a brand like Cartier in China.

However, when Chinese netizens visited the Cartier Tmall store, the image of the 2 men had been given a caption that named them as father and son. Many netizens were quick to comment that the men looked similar in age and the campaign text was quickly changed to say ‘father and son are like brothers’.

This aspect of the campaign has been heavily discussed on social media with many indicating that a positioning as father and son was surprising.

Whilst the campaign did indicate a progressive move towards a celebration of all different kinds of love, the execution clearly lacked clarity and as a result it generated unexpected debate and diluted the intended impact.  Cartier appear to have had different intentions when creative the video (father & son) that had to be rapidly adapted once the campaign met with a social audience (brothers). The change looks odd and ill considered.


La Perla

One from the Hot Pot China team.

For Qixi 2020, La Perla and Hot Pot focused on the dream-like aspect of the traditional Qixi story and reimagined the legendary heavenly bridge in the story as a rainbow. We collaborated with the renowned illustrator Julia Long to bring the visual aspect to life through a series of illustrations that mixed the rainbow colours of La Perla’s hero pieces with dream-like scenarios.


The brand utilised the imagery across social channels and developed campaign-centric packaging featuring the illustrations. One influencer represented each colour of the rainbow collection through their content and showcased that product alongside the campaign messaging. 

La Perla was able to showcase existing collections in a new light by featuring the product in hand-crafted illustrations and creating special edition packaging for Qixi. This elevation and association with art allows the product to play out in an elevated context to drive desire, engagement and commercial success.


Key Takeaway:

When it comes to creating campaigns for key Chinese festivals, brands need to ensure that their messaging is clear and appropriate for the market. When brands get it right, they can elevate the brand in China, generating both a short-term sales uplift and long-term brand affinity.

However, if they get it wrong, it can lead to a short-term negative backlash with longer term repercussions across sales, consumer perception, and brand equity. While not a Qixi Campaign, the recent Jo Malone / John Boyega incident highlights the hugely detrimental ramifications for a brand when a local campaign gets it wrong, very wrong.

It has always been best practice for China campaign planning and creative to be shaped by a relevant combination of local thinking as well as global brand planning. In all cases China creative needs to be sense-checked by the brand team, external partners and the team on the ground. Missing any one of these elements risks costly potential backlash.


Get in touch with us to find out how savvy strategic planning, campaign management and in-market support can help you make the most of the enhanced China opportunity.

What Pandemic? 3 Ways to Remain Relevant with Chinese Travellers in 2020

What Pandemic? 3 Ways to Remain Relevant with Chinese Travellers in 2020

4 minute read

By Paul Hickey, Hot Pot Strategist


2020 has been a tough year for a number of reasons and no one could have predicted the long-lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. As markets around the world went into lockdown, brands felt the immediate impact of store closings and a dramatic drop in international travel. However, as home markets around the world begin to open, many brands are seeing that sales still haven’t returned to pre-Covid levels.

A primary factor for many brands, particularly in the travel and luxury sectors, is the absence of Chinese tourists, who are opting to stay in China and not spend their money abroad. Even as international travel restrictions have eased, domestic China travel is a continuing trend. 

More Chinese travellers are staying closer to home, looking at driving tours or destinations reachable by train. Those willing to travel by plane have fixed their sights on the tropical island of Sanya or the province of Yunnan. 

International travel definitely remains on the agenda for Chinese consumers but safety is their number one priority. Reports indicate that young travellers and those without children are likely to be the first to travel outside of mainland China. 

Given these hesitations to travel and therefore to spend abroad, how can brands ensure they remain relevant to Chinese consumers?

"Get Closer" Through Digital Experiences

Chinese travellers look set to follow the ‘revenge spend’ trend with ‘revenge travel’. Destination choices are likely to be driven by how countries responded to the pandemic and how ‘safe’ they are deemed. Perception about a country’s safety seems to have a strong correlation with the reopening of schools and government announcements about the pandemic.

There are many ways to connect with consumers to ensure that you remain top of mind when travel opens up again. This summer, the Hot Pot China team helped Covent Garden to remain connected with Chinese travellers, even though they were unable to visit. Through an H5 microsite that is available on both WeChat and Weibo, users could create their own personalised postcard and anyone who entered their details had the chance to win gifts from tenant brands such as Charlotte Tilbury and Godiva.

The site featured beautiful hand-drawn illustrations by a Chinese illustrator - giving a creative and culturally relevant angle to the digital assets.

Your brand or destination can remain relevant with Chinese consumers by allowing consumers to connect in meaningful ways through digital platforms.

Covent Garden's Interactive H5 Site, developed with a London-based Chinese illustrator

Agile Store Selection

As domestic travel has boomed, hotspots in China have emerged. Shanghai and Beijing have remained popular but other destinations have also come to the fore. Chongqing, Sichuan, Zhejiang and Jiangsu have boomed in popularity. Yunnan has seen a huge increase in interest given its reputation for clean, fresh air and lots of outdoor activities. 

Sanya has also remained a popular destination and this has seen a bumper year for its duty free stores. Between July 1 and August 18, sales across all duty free stores in Sanya exceeded RMB 5 billion ($720 million), a YoY increase of 250%. Brands should assess and be able to move quickly in determining which locations in China are most suitable for opening new stores or even pop-up retail locations.

Haitang Bay Duty Free Shopping Center, Sanya, Hainan Province, China

Focus on Communities

Chinese communities outside of mainland China still represent a large opportunity for non-China based businesses. It’s important to remain in active communication with these audiences through local channels. 

Beyond that, brands should focus on building communities with which they can have closer connections, not only to drive potential revenue, but also to learn and understand how they can adapt their business to attract more potential consumers. Chinese students are a practical example, given that many still remain in locations around the world and have not been financially impacted by the pandemic.


In Conclusion…  

This year has been challenging for many reasons, and business must remain agile in their approach to reach core audiences, even if they need to find new ways to stay connected with those consumers.

To reach Chinese consumers that are increasingly stay in China and travelling domestically, brands can:

  • Employ digital experience on relevant platforms to create virtual yet meaningful connections with consumers and remain top of mind
  • Consider pop-ups or new stores in locations in mainland China that are seeing increased footfall with target Chinese consumers
  • Focus on local communities, both as a potential revenue source and to gain valuable insights into how to adapt and remain relevant in 2020 and beyond


At Hot Pot China we partner with forward-thinking brands on their China activity. We guide our clients in maximising ROI from their short, medium and long-term marketing activity in China, as well as executing the same in-market.

Contact Hot Pot China to discuss how our team of China specialists can help realise greater value in your brand, digital and eCommerce initiatives.

The Ultimate Guide to Selecting a Tmall Partner

The Ultimate Guide to Selecting a Tmall Partner

5 minute read

By Adam Sandzer, Hot Pot Strategy Director & Michael Paradiso, Hot Pot Client Director


Double 11 (Singles Day) is quickly approaching and brands are already developing their marketing, merchandising and promotional plans for one of China’s premiere online shopping festivals.

This year, over 200,000 brands and more than 500 million users are expected to participate in this year’s festival, which is 100 million users more than last year. Alibaba expects to see their full day sales surpass last year’s record of 268.4 billion yuan (USD $38 billion), when their platforms had an average of 544,000 transactions per second.

As many markets face pullbacks due to the global pandemic, eCommerce in China is still booming, led by eCommerce giants, Tmall, Taobao and Jingdong (JD.com).

Alibaba is encouraging foreign brands to join its platforms, with plans to add 20,000 new brands between 2019 and 2022. 

For many foreign brands that are new to China or looking to expand in China, they have likely considered Tmall or JD.com and therefore been faced with how to select the right TP.


What is a TP?

A TP, which is short for “Tmall Partner” or “Taobao Partner”, is a specialised and certified eCommerce operator that offers brands a one-stop solution to manage their entire eCommerce operations, to sell to Chinese consumers online.

In short, your brand will need to work with a TP if you want to sell on one of the major ecommerce platforms in China.

Brands should only work with certified TPs that are recommended by the marketplaces, since these partners will have sufficient knowledge and relationships with the marketplaces to maximise the stores’ performance. 

A TP will provide a range of functions, such as:

  • Set up, design, and maintenance of the online store
  • Merchandising, price, promotion, and marketing planning
  • IT integration between the virtual store and the brand’s IT systems
  • Operation of the online store, including order management, payments, etc
  • Warehouse and fulfilment
  • Customer service (pre-sales & after-sales)
  • Digital performance marketing within the marketplace 
  • Management of live streaming and KOLs within the marketplace ecosystem
  • Handling of returns, cancellations, and complaints
  • Weekly, monthly, and quarterly reporting & planning


Should I open a store on Tmall?

China is the world’s largest online retail market. Ecommerce sales in China last year reached USD $1.9 trillion -- more than three times larger than the online retail market in the US. Despite its size, ecommerce in China continues to grow at phenomenal rates year on year.

The king of online retail in China is Alibaba, with leading platforms Taobao and Tmall. Alibaba captures 55.9% of all online retail sales in China, followed by JD.com with 16.7% and Pinduoduo 7.3%.

That means that half of all ecommerce in China is controlled by one company, and the top 3 companies control 80% of all online retail sales. It's not surprising that brands turn to TPs to help get them onto Tmall and JD.com.

However, a brand-owned Tmall or JD store may not be right for every brand, especially when first entering China. 

Remember, there are other routes to market in China outside of using a TP and marketplaces like Tmall and JD.com. In general a full assessment of routes to market including WeChat commerce, D2C sites and social commerce options should be considered. Where possible, diversification is recommended and ensures not all data, traffic and revenue is reliant on a single TP/marketplace relationship. 

These marketplaces come with relatively high set up costs and monthly fees to TPs, plus commissions to the TP and marketplaces. Additionally, a percentage of sales should be allocated for marketing and sales promotions within the platform, and an additional percentage of sales should be put towards digital marketing across other core channels.

At Hot Pot we have taken on many clients at a pivotal point - when they have had a successful year 1 only to see the initial “free” traffic from the marketplaces dry up and the prohibitive cost of paid advertising/traffic packages squeeze margins to unsustainable levels. 

To minimise the risk of failure, brands need to ensure that they develop a holistic approach across a range of core channels, define a brand proposition to drive sufficient revenue to cover costs, and find the right partners to guide them on their journey.

Getting started with Tmall


Key Considerations for Selecting a TP

Selecting a TP can be a bit like shopping for a car. If you begin the process saying, “I need a car,” then there are an overwhelming amount of options and non-comparable benefits. Start by gathering a list of key requirements and criteria, to immediately narrow the search. Just like a car search, selecting a TP isn’t about identifying your favourite TP, but uncovering which TP best supports your needs and long-term objectives. You’re looking for a partner on your long-term China retail journey.



  • Route to Market: What is your brand’s ideal route to market? What are your core channels? For example, consider cross-border, brand owned, marketplaces (Tmall JD.com), specialist, etc. Then, understand the strengths and market approaches that various TPs and distributors offer. Continuing with the car analogy, a sports car is nice, but it doesn’t fit a family of five. Eliminate the TPs that have a different or unsuitable core focus.
  • TP Capabilities: A TP won’t be your only partner in China, but operationally they will be critical to your success within the marketplaces. Consider, where are they based? How strong is their relationship with Tmall? On what scale do they operate and are you able to visit to see the operations in action? What is their pricing model? What experience do they have within the category? How strong are they with O2O? How strong is their client service team? How well do their IT systems integrate with your platforms? What can they offer with logistics and warehousing solutions? Vitally, do they “get” your brand and will it be in good hands?
  • How attractive are you to the TP? As the buyer sourcing a vendor you may expect that the leverage lies with you. Often first-time China brands are surprised to find they are doing a lot of legwork to pitch their attractiveness to the TP. TPs will consider your brand globally, your brand presence in China, existing sales, and your proposed go-to-market strategy, inclusive of investment levels. They do this to assess how large the brand could be in China. Since they are paid based on commissions, they want to take on brands that will deliver the largest sales, with high growth potential resulting in the biggest upside for themselves. Is the TP across the table hungry to help you succeed, or will they be focused on ‘more important’ clients in their portfolio?
  • Ways of Working: One of the biggest mistakes that we see with brands in China is that they assume the TP/distributor will do everything, which often leads to partner friction, troubled communication, and missed opportunities. As you are searching for a TP, do you understand the allocation of responsibilities? What is their overall eCommerce strategy? Who controls brand assets and commercial policies, compared with overall eCommerce operations? How much input into the brand, the store image, and store maintenance will you have? Additionally many TPs will claim to offer holistic marketing solution outside of the Tmall/JD ecosystem, which is rarely a core focus and can lead to long-term destruction of the brand. It is vital to drill down on which areas your TP can credibly own.
  • Building a holistic model for success: Will you have the resources in place to manage the TP effectively? How will you provide assets? Are the assets localised for China? What commercial rules do you want to establish? How do you handle yearly and seasonal planning (product, promotions, media budget, training)? Do you have a partner who will look after your brand, content and digital marketing in China? Who owns China internally? And does China have support from all relevant business leaders? China is not a ‘set it and forget it’ market. It is critical to think about how the China business is integrated into all functional areas and important enough to all department heads.




In Conclusion:

There are ample opportunities to reach Chinese consumers through Tmall and JD via a TP, but these marketplaces are not the silver bullet they are sometimes pitched as, and hence are not for every brand. Brands must consider a holistic strategic approach to the market before committing to a particular China retail channel or channels.

When selecting a TP, information online can be sparse, so it's best to use your network and set up direct calls initial with TPs. If you’re unsure of where to start, speak with the Hot Pot team and we can suggest a selection of TPs by industry, size and specialism.

For companies with an existing TP or distributor, they should also evaluate whether they have the right partner long term. Often a 2-3 year kick off phase reveals valuable learnings on both sides and re-assessing based on those learnings is recommended. Conversely, sometimes a good partner is in place but guidance is needed on how best to reset ways of working and optimise the relationship. 


China can be challenging for new entrants and seasoned players alike. With no preferred platform affiliations, Hot Pot China can help develop an unbiased, holistic strategy that is focused on one thing only -- China success. We can guide on selection of the best long-term partners, ensure the brand is in safe hands and build structures that deliver sustainable growth with Chinese consumers. Get in touch with us to discuss how we can help you on your China journey.

Realising Value with China’s Digitally Engaged Football Fans

Realising Value with China's Digitally Engaged Football Fans

5 minute read

By Michael Paradiso, Hot Pot Client Director


Chinese football fans are the most digitally engaged in the world, and European football leagues and clubs have been creating experiences exclusively for them.

For years, the top European clubs have steadily been building a presence in China and battling for share of voice and mind. Yet in a market where no club has home field advantage, clubs have to engage fans in other ways, in an attempt to build loyalty.

In recent years, an increasing number of clubs have taken part in pre-season tournaments in China and hosted events in major cities throughout the country. However, the Covid-19 pandemic abruptly halted those events and forced clubs to innovate. 


The Size of the Prize

Why should football clubs - or any major sports team or league - focus on Chinese fans? In short, there is immediate untapped potential as well as significant long-term growth opportunities.

Although China is still a developing football market, it is nevertheless attractive to clubs and sports brands. There are 237 million Chinese who consider football to be their ‘favourite sport,’ and 308 million Chinese consumers watch football ‘at least once a week.’

Admittedly, Chinese football fans spend less than their European counterparts. Chinese fans spend on average £15 per year, compared with German fans who spend £160 (€178) annually on merchandise, tickets, and TV.

While the average spend per person is significantly lower, the potential size of the Chinese football market is about nine times greater than the German market, and the average spend per person is expected to grow as the number of affluent households in China rises. As a result consumers are increasingly trading up across key categories.


A Digitally Engaged Fan Base

Even more than fans in the UK and Brazil, Chinese football fans are the most digitally engaged fans in the world.

Chinese fans are the most active on social media, with 57% posting memes, video clips and images online, compared to an average of 40% across the other countries surveyed in The Modern Football Fan report from COPA90.

The Chinese fans are also the most active on forums and group chats, with 43% chatting regularly to other fans. By comparison, only 29% of US fans, 31% of UK fans and 38% of Brazilian fans are active on forums and group chats. 

Additionally, more than half of Chinese fans (52%) regularly play football-related computer games.


How to realise commercial returns on the investment

Leagues and Clubs must invest time and financial resources to build their brand and grow an engaged fan base in China. Many sports organisations have set up Chinese social media channels and have a basic fan acquisition strategy. They may even have a local team headquartered in China or more often, southeast Asia. Yet many clubs struggle to monetize that initial investment, largely because they lack a strategic plan for doing so.

The biggest mistake that we observe at Hot Pot is that clubs will acquire fans by the bucket-load and expect that high numbers of impressions leads directly to monetization. More often than not this is proven not to be the case due to shortcomings in a few key areas.

1) Firstly, clubs must develop a unique proposition for Chinese fans. While star players and the culture of the club’s home city can certainly be a draw, players get traded and many fans may never visit the city in question, so there needs to be a deeper, more meaningful connection. What are the core values and timeless themes of the club that are likely to resonate with Chinese fans on a deeper level?

2) Once established, clubs need to focus on targeted fan acquisition through engaging digital content. Align the content with the unique proposition. Focus more on the quality of fan compared with the quantity of fans. Quality fans will have greater loyalty, higher engagement and ultimately will spend more per person.

3) Drive loyalty through CRM segmentation and re-targeting. Build sub-communities and enable fans to share their knowledge and learn about their players and the club. 

Only once the brand and community has been properly established, should clubs turn the focus to monetization. 

One revenue source is to sell directly to fans. Engaged fans will want the latest authentic kit and will spend to take part in exclusive events (offline or digital). Merchandise accounts for 50% of all spending from Chinese football fans.

Another key revenue driver is for media rights. An engaged fan base gives teams and leagues greater leverage when negotiating media rights. One example is the current 3-year deal between the English Premier League and China’s PPTV. Signed through the 2021-2022 season, the deal is worth £564 million over three years. The agreement represents a 12x increase over the previous contract.

A final revenue source is by creating rights holder value. In exchange for higher fees, clubs give sponsors access to saleable assets on digital properties, exposure rights at events, brand rights in China, and player rights for influencer endorsements. A report revealed that two-thirds (65%) of Chinese football fans intend to buy products from a football club’s official sponsor.


The Impact of Covid-19

In response to cancelled events in China and postponed matches back home, clubs have had to find innovative ways to connect with fans. These are some of the best examples of how clubs engaged their fans, and likely attracted new fans in the process.

In April, Chelsea live-streamed a digital interactive show, dedicated for Chinese fans, on Weibo and Douyin, that had 7.5 million views and 2 million hashtag reads. 

The two-hour broadcast featured historical footage, special guests, a musical performance, influencers, giveaways, behind the scenes footage, and fan Q&As.

In May, when the Bundesliga season restarted, Dortmund hosted an offline fan event in Shanghai to view the Dortmund vs Schalke match. The two clubs also collaborated to live-stream the fan event, to allow others to digitally experience the match and the live fan atmosphere in China.

In Conclusion

Sports organisations of all sizes are increasingly tapping into Chinese digitally-savvy sports fans to grow their revenues and rights holder value. That said, these efforts take time and investment to properly monetize fans.

  • China has a sizeable and largely untapped base of digitally-engaged sports fans
  • Start by developing a unique proposition for the club / league
  • Focus on targeted fan acquisition - engaged, high-quality fans will have greater returns
  • Expand key revenue streams across fan revenue, media rights, and sponsor value


Contact Hot Pot China and talk to us about how to implement and leverage the above strategies to increase revenues in China.

'618' Netted £110 Billion in Sales. Did you miss out?

'618' Netted £110 Billion in Sales. Did you miss out?

4 minute read

By Adam Sandzer, Hot Pot Strategy Director


618 is China’s mid-year shopping festival. Although less well known than Singles Day (11.11), 618 is gaining popularity. This annual shopping festival starts on June 1st and ends on June 18th (hence the name 618).

This year, the two Chinese giants – Alibaba, including Taobao and Tmall, and JD.com reported unprecedented sales of £110 billion ($137 billion) during 618. Alibaba led the way with £79.41 billion in gross merchandise value, and JD.com reported £30.62 billion in total transaction volume, up 33.6% vs 2019.

Did your brand miss out on the opportunity?

The short answer is, it depends on your category, as it so often does in China.

Top categories included beauty products, fresh food, medical and health care products, kitchenware, mobile phones, home appliances, food & beverages, baby & maternal products, and home appliances. For brand owners in these categories, this is a must-win moment.

However, luxury and fashion brands were less active during the festival, focused on other events in the China marketing calendar.

Luxury brands are increasingly launching official presences on China marketplaces such as Tmall and JD.com. However, we see a high degree of caution and scepticism amongst luxury brand executives who have concerns around presentation and discounting and the negative impact on equity and value.

Naturally, the platforms themselves, desperate to elevate their own image and increase the average transaction value, have been pulling out all the stops to make it difficult to say no. We know that Tmall have doubled down on Luxury Pavilion with the launch of Luxury Soho, while JD.com have partnered with Farfetch and very clearly articulated their luxury focus. In place of discounts and coupons, the platforms have built a proposition around exclusive product availability, celebrity activations and gifts with purchase.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has abruptly paused brands selling to Chinese consumers travelling internationally and also limited domestic offline consumption. In this context, coupled with escalating global stock issues, participation in previously taboo events, like 618, has become much more acceptable and even attractive. It will be the same when Double 11 comes around later in the year.

The big question is then, how will luxury brands approach these traditionally promotion-driven events?

While luxury brands resisted these promotions as recently as Double 11 in 2019, this year’s 618 mid-year promotion has seen modest discounting on brand owned stores. It is reported that 178 luxury brands joined the promotion on Tmall Luxury Pavilion, including the likes of Ermenegildo Zegna, Cartier, Chanel, Prada, Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga. Some are offering deals or special prices, although it must be noted that the fabled slash lines are not universal. The discounts available on Farfetch are much more prominent and aggressive.

Given the current retail climate, platforms have been driving these festivals more than brands themselves. For brands, participating and discounting are more pragmatic and tactical plays than long-term strategy.

Indeed, the buzz from official channels outside the marketplaces such as WeChat, Weibo and Little Red Book is barely audible amidst the noise generated by the much more active and digitally savvy fast fashion, beauty and electronics brands.

In summary, 618 has not yet been afforded top tier campaign status by luxury brands. This is particularly clear when compared to recent 520 activations, where we saw brands such as Gucci put significant investment into creative content and celebrity endorsements. Many luxury clients are more focused on the aesthetically appealing Qixi (Chinese Valentine’s Day, August 25th) and have been for some time.

In a world where commerce and content are increasingly blurred and retail sales are increasingly shifting online, is there much difference between leveraging a high-volume marketplace platform to clear excess stock, in comparison with an offline outlet mall?

As 618 results pour in, luxury executives should consider this paradigm shift as they start to think about Double 11 and the broader role of China’s marketplace platforms.


Looking to understand which events in the China marketing calendar are must-wins for your brand?

Contact Hot Pot China to discuss how our team of China specialists can help realise greater value in your brand, digital and eCommerce initiatives.

Chinese Beauty Consumers Want Innovation, Education & Personalisation

Your Chinese Beauty Consumer Wants You to Innovate, Educate & Personalise

4 minute read

By Adam Sandzer, Hot Pot Strategy Director


There has been a growing sense of convergence between Chinese and Western consumer attitudes, preferences and behaviours. Undoubtedly, exposure to international brands and cultures has given rise to significant influence but at Hot Pot we believe it remains vital to focus on nuance and understand how to reach and appeal to your Chinese target audiences. 

Between Q2 2019 and Q1 2020, we looked at the similarities and differences between mid-income cosmetics and skincare buyers across London, Shanghai and Chengdu using targeted survey data (sourced from GWI). Below we share some of our key findings: 

Privacy is fundamental across Shanghai, Chengdu and London but status, altruism and image consciousness continue to have a much stronger influence on Chinese beauty consumers


Whilst Londoners value family and equality, beauty consumers in Shanghai and Chengdu are more focused on developing new skills and seizing opportunities in life


Search engines are number 1 across all 3 locations but Chinese beauty consumers are significantly more reliant on social media and mobile apps such as WeChat and Little Red Book when making purchase decisions


Innovation is the most important consideration for Chinese beauty consumers' perception of brand quality. They are also seeking youthfulness, trendiness, humour and exclusivity much more than their London counterparts.


Social responsibility and being eco-friendly are increasingly important considerations across all 3 cities. Chinese beauty consumers particularly seek brands that help them improve knowledge or skills, help them organise or simplify their life and offer customised or personalised products.


Evidently, there are important differences in preferences and behaviours that brands looking to market to Chinese consumers need to be aware of. The gap between Shanghai and Chengdu consumers is not as wide as that with London but there is nonetheless nuance that necessitates a tailored localised approach for regional campaigns. 

Most of the surveys were taken prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 and lockdown, from which most Chinese consumers have now emerged and returned to ‘normality’. However, from review of the specific Q1 2020 data it appears that the crisis has only served to accelerate existing trends and prevailing attitudes. In particular, there is a stronger belief that “life is the real luxury” and beauty brands that innovate and personalise as well as consciously enable consumers to elevate their status, develop new skills and organise themselves are the most likely to succeed.


Key takeaways:

  • It is vital to understand nuance in preferences and behaviour between consumers in your home market and China
  • Compared with UK consumers, Chinese beauty consumers are much more interested in brands that innovate, educate and personalise
  • Covid-19 has served to entrench and accelerate attitudes, preferences and behaviours rather than replace them


At Hot Pot China we partner with forward-thinking brands on their China activity. We guide our clients in maximising ROI from their short, medium and long-term marketing activity with Chinese consumers, both in China and in domestic markets.

Contact Hot Pot China here to discuss how our team of China specialists can help realise greater value for your brand, digital and eCommerce initiatives.

Uncovering the Truth about Live Streaming in China

Uncovering the Truth about Live Streaming in China

5 minute read

By Paul Hickey, Hot Pot Strategist


Live streaming is the ‘in’ thing right now in China. Many have heard the astronomical sales figures that live streamers, like Li Jiaqi, brought in for brands on Single’s Day in 2019.

Tmall is cashing in on the explosion in live streaming popularity by encouraging brands to utilise in-platform live streaming to drive traffic to products. This growth in live streaming has led multiple other platforms, including WeChat, Douyin and Little Red Book, to develop their own live streaming capabilities. 

While many see the opportunity in live streaming as a quick way to garner massive sales, it’s important to understand what opportunities there are for your brand and what role, if any, live streaming could play. While many brands have seen success, there are other brands that have fallen foul of not following some basic principles and in turn, received backlash from Chinese consumers. Additionally, there have been recent rumblings that many brands are seeing inflated sales figures during a live stream, only to then have a huge quantity of returns, potentially negating the benefits of streaming.

If you're considering live streaming for your brand in China, here are a few fundamental principles that you need to follow, to avoid costly mistakes and common pitfalls.


Establish Why You’re Live Streaming

Given that live streaming has been given so much press, many are looking at live streaming as a quick way to drive sales. However, it’s important to understand that live streaming serves multiple purposes and different categories perform differently on live streaming platforms.

Typically, FMCG, skincare, makeup, snacks, and wine and spirits have all seen strong sales through live streaming. Luxury, however, has seen live streaming be more effective as a branding and awareness channel.

It’s important that you understand why you’re live streaming. If you are looking to sell, then you should take a look at creating bundles or giving a great deal on individual products that aren’t your hero product. Pushing a hero product at a discounted price as part of a live stream can have a detrimental impact on brand image.


Know your Brand 

There’s an old adage - ‘know who you are and deliver it at all times’ - and nowhere is this more crucial than in China. Live streaming may look like a simple endeavour but there are many parts that make up a successful live stream.

One brand that failed to deliver on its own brand proposition was Louis Vuitton. The brand hosted an hour-long live stream session on Little Red Book to launch its summer collection, garnering over 152,000 views. However, there was much discussion around whether the live stream actually matched up to Louis Vuitton’s luxury credentials.

Viewers noted that the set up felt far too simple for a luxury brand and that in turn made the products seem unappealing. Many consumers also took umbrage with the choice of host, commenting that once again, she did not match the luxury proposition of LV. It’s essential that when looking to live stream, a brand understands their own proposition and develops a live stream proposition to match.



The basics are no longer enough. Live streaming is incredibly popular right now and therefore, brands are investing more and more to create a compelling proposition and attract people to watch their live stream instead of competitors.

One area that has seen tremendous growth is the use of sophisticated studio setups. Chelsea FC launched a live stream show on Weibo and Douyin. The Premier League club delivered a two-hour broadcast in a professional China production studio, reviewing Chelsea's 2004-2005 Premier League championship season. The broadcast featured frontline reporters sharing their experience from Stamford Bridge and fans reminiscing about the team winning the championship.

The show garnered 7.5 million total views, the topic "Stamford Bridge Rising'' had 2 million reads and 1 million interactions. 


In addition to investing in a professional set design, another major investment is in the person you choose to host the live stream. Brands have a number of options here. If embarking on a regular live stream (weekly, monthly), then it may be worth investing in internal talent and driving awareness through different channels. However, many brands look at working with influencers and celebrities in order to drive traffic from their fanbase to their brand.

Picking the right person is essential and can differ greatly depending on the objective of your live stream. Recently, Yanghao Luo, entrepreneur and one of China’s original internet celebrities, conducted a live stream that attracted 48 million viewers. Throughout the course of this live stream, he sold over £15.5 million of goods. This success was built on Luo’s reputation having founded his own smartphone brand as we;; as trust built through his work as a teacher. Tapping into this kind of meaningful and trustworthy influence can create big wins for a brand.



As live streaming becomes more sophisticated, platforms are looking at working with brands to establish regularity in live streaming that brings consumers back to the platform on a more frequent basis. For example, Tmall is incentivising brands by giving them prominent positions and encouraging traffic.

This regularity was significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic with brands broadening their live streaming strategies from a purely sales-driven approach to include branding and engagement.

Lululemon offered dozens of daily live yoga classes and created a list of trainers offering online classes on its WeChat and Douyin accounts. The classes were on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night to provide free, regular training sessions which can be booked in advance. Using live streaming to engage consumers and bring them into a brand ecosystem, regardless of platform, is a great way for brands to achieve multiple objectives with one activity.


Do What You Can, As Well As You Can

Live streaming is already established and advanced in China, so consumer expectations are also high. They expect live streams to be a seamless experience that is in line with their perception of your brand. That isn’t to say you have to invest in elaborate sets or celebrities but you do need to ensure what you can do is done very well.

One of China’s top live streamers, Austin Li - also known as the Lipstick King - recently ran into trouble during a live stream with virtual singer Luo Tianyi. Luo Tianyi was supposed to perform a song, but the audience only saw Luo Tianyi dancing without any sound due to a technical failure. It was criticized by consumers as being a “gimmick without good preparation.”


In Conclusion...

  • Live streaming is a great way to achieve a number of objectives, including sales, branding, awareness and engagement
  • Plan ahead as much as possible and stick to these essential rules when developing a live stream program
  • Running into live streaming expecting to sell millions of RMB in product without preparation or due diligence will likely end in disaster
  • Monitor the full impact of the ROI, including returns for items where the commission has already been paid to an influencer. Like all marketing activities in China, live streaming must be rooted in commercial goals and be integrated into a broader digital marketing approach.


Get in touch with us to find out how savvy strategic planning, campaign management and in-market support can help you make the most of the enhanced China opportunity.