A listed company for adult and children’s garments, Semir Group has grown to become a leading player in the Chinese fashion and lifestyle market. With the boom of e-commerce, Semir has pursued innovative ways to enhance its customer experience, bolstering its position as a premier omnichannel retailer. Retail in Asia speaks with Nicole Zhou, Vice General Manager of International Business Unit at Semir Group, to find out more about their e-commerce strategy.
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RiA: Tell us a bit about Semir’s history with e-commerce.
Zhou: The pandemic has drastically shifted consumer traffic to digital channels. In order to adapt, we have significantly invested in digital technology to become a fashion and lifestyle destination across all channels. In 2022, the group recorded CNY 2.68 billion (US$398.3 million) in omnichannel sales. We unified content for different promotional activities, sharing on social media platforms to increase traffic to e-commerce shops. By establishing a well-structured e-commerce strategy, we delivered new digital services to customers faster, and enabled them to shop anytime, anywhere they choose.
RiA: How important is e-commerce to your business—is it more than just a revenue stream?
Zhou: E-commerce is a great way for us to take the brand from a traditional brick-and-mortar store to an innovative branding model. By offering great products 24 hours a day, along with online customer service and social content, e-commerce can broaden our range of services for sales and ultimately expand our business. E-commerce offers us a whole range of opportunities, from marketing and increasing our product range, to generating increased sales through optimisation.
Source: Semir Group
RiA: How do you keep up with the fast-evolving e-commerce market?
Zhou: What customers buy and how they buy online differ significantly from their in-store shopping behaviour. The key to rapid online growth may be to develop merchandising strategies tailored to online shopping preferences and experiences, rather than simply recreating stores.
Central to our success in building a diversified digital scene is providing a consistent customer experience. This means we need to provide the same experience across the brand’s various platforms, and enhance brand goodwill through complete digital capabilities, such as intelligent store management, shopping guides, sales channels and marketing.
RiA: What are the benefits of moving an offline store online? What trends should brands look out for in the next few years?
Zhou: Taking our business online means our consumers can access the brand anytime, day and night. Through our e-commerce platforms, they can place orders at their convenience, and troubleshoot issues faster, either by reading frequently asked questions (FAQs) or reaching customer service.
The pandemic has definitely impacted shopping behaviour, with more people moving between channels. Online and offline activities are now highly connected at the decision-making stage, so most shopping journeys have more than one stop. Younger generations are driving up e-commerce sales on mobile devices, and shoppers are increasingly using smartphones to make purchases via apps. So it is natural for the brand to shift resources online.
RiA: Margin generation is traditionally challenging. How do you achieve better margins for your e-commerce offerings?
Zhou: There are three parts to getting better margins in our e-commerce business. First, we diversify our shopping channels. Semir has set up a multi-channel selling strategy to draw more traffic to our online store. Second, we identify best-fit customer acquisition channels. With a mix of digital and physical retail channels in play, it’s important to identify appropriate channels for each product type and cultivate agility to switch spending from one channel to another as needed. This can help us lower the cost per acquisition, and increase e-commerce profitability.
The third part is achieving sustained growth through customer retention strategies. Customer retention is the ultimate growth strategy. Personalisation efforts coupled with machine learning capabilities help increase conversions. We gather meaningful insights by examining the choices and preferences of our existing customers, which can help increase customer retention rates as well as reorder value. Search history and previous purchases can provide valuable information about potential upselling and cross-selling opportunities. And by focusing on the right data points, the brand can spot trends, anticipate future needs, and optimise the supply chain.
RiA: How can digital experiences translate into revenue? What social media tools do you rely on?
Zhou: E-commerce profitability is driven directly by digital experience. The quality of the experience directly impacts a customer’s likelihood of returning to purchase again and, in so doing, becoming profitable. This is all the more important because there has emerged a clear preference for buying online and on social media platforms. By creating content and collaborating with social media influencers, the brand can also strengthen the communication power and create a more intimate relationship with consumers.
In addition to social media engagement, Semir also links online and offline marketing to achieve consistency. Both our brands, Semir and balabala, have built digital stores by livestreaming in store. By setting up this omnichannel sales platform, we shorten the consumption journey and improve brand awareness and product sales.
RiA: How can livestreaming drive in-store traffic?
Zhou: Livestreaming has changed the way people consume content, as users shift to video-first social experiences. Through livestream, consumers get a firsthand look at our products and have their questions answered in real time, while broadcasters provide recommendations. This enhanced visibility and engagement is complemented by stream-exclusive, limited-time offers and discounts, creating a hot-selling loop that accelerates the conversion from “I want” to the all-important “I buy”. Providing consumers with real-time interaction has made the online shopping experience much more immersive.
RiA: As a global business, how do you translate your experiences in Mainland China to your overseas markets?
Zhou: We have noted a significant uptake of digital consumers, exacerbated by Covid. We strive to expand our online presence through both the number of e-commerce platforms and other channels in domestic markets. Overseas, we have three official e-commerce platforms: balabala.com.hk, global.balabala.com, and semirshop.com. Apart from these official sites, we fortified our digital presence to encompass other channels in online marketplaces, such as HKTVmall in Hong Kong. These brands have had exponential growth, both for our brick-and-mortar stores and online sites in the overseas markets.
We see e-commerce as complementary to brick-and-mortar. I think customers still appreciate the social and sensory aspects of shopping in physical stores, but at the same time they enjoy the convenience of shopping online. It is important for us to ensure that we are covered both online and offline.
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RiA: What challenges and opportunities do you see for 2023?
Zhou: In 2023, we face the same challenges as other brands, which is how to rise to customer expectations. Consumers want a simple, convenient shopping experience that is both personalised and engaging, and the best way to accomplish this goal is through indirect research and direct communication. We must understand buyers’ biggest pain points and design solutions based on their feedback. Maintaining consistency across channels is also a common challenge. With the continuous development of e-commerce and technology, we can understand our target audience and how they make decisions to make sure they can shop with ease across channels without experiencing hiccups or inconsistencies. Despite the challenging climate, there are still pockets of opportunity. The key is to act fast in responding to market sentiment. We need to place adequate focus on online channels while ensuring that we continue to train staff and develop exciting product offerings. We believe that while there are many retailers that are exiting the market, brands who can weather this storm will emerge stronger and better equipped for the future.
To learn more about Semir Group brands, visit its official pages: