Aroma Xie, Co-founder and Marketing Director of Ontimeshow

Aroma is a seasoned fashion editor previously at Vogue China and Modern Weekly where she interviewed over 50 international designers including Vivian Westwood, Diane von Furstenberg, Thom Browne, and Jason Wu. She is one of the co-founders of Ontimeshow, a fashion commerce platform and business hub allowing industry professionals to connect with design talent. Located at Shanghai's West Bund, Ontimeshow runs six exhibition halls, hosting over 300 designer brands and over 15000 visitors each season.

Jidi: Let’s start with the question on everyone’s minds, what is impact of the pandemic on the fashion industry?

Aroma: C-19 has definitely affected the fashion industry a lot. Some labels decided to cancel the upcoming season all together, as factories were shut amidst lockdown production cycles were heavily disrupted. Even after re-opening many small batch orders have been bumped, as factory run at limited capacity and prefer high volume orders. Meanwhile the industry is trying to redefine the shape and role of fashion weeks, looking towards digital solutions and curating virtual shows.    

Jidi: How has C-19 affected your business?

Aroma: Our usual Ontimeshow trade fair is hosted at Shanghai’s West Bund covering 25000 square meter, last year we had 315 brands participating. This year we had to move our showroom into TX mall and only had a little over 80 brands, as labels from overseas couldn’t travel in. But the buyers who did show up had a clear mission and made more deals. We also accelerated the launched of our online trading platform ‘Ontimeorder’ to better facilitate the B2B ordering process, backed by data. Even though it was incepted way ahead of the pandemic it makes even more sense as an offering now.

Jidi: In China particularly, brands seemed to have embraced livestreaming as a way to go forward. Is it really the holy grail?

Aroma: There are surely interesting developments and opportunities in the livestreaming model. But it’s not a silver bullet for neither brand nor sales. Some of my general observations are, lower priced items sell better, this applies to even high volume KOLs as part of their appeal is being able to get you a great deal. Of course, if the brand is more established people are willing to pay more but it’s difficult for high-end boutique labels fully utilize livestreaming to drive sales if they don’t want to undercut themselves. What may come as a surprise to some, is that interest and high viewership numbers don’t always convert into orders. One of the designer brands I’m close to, pulled in over 4 million viewers to their stream but the number of orders stayed in the single digits.

Jidi: Do you have any advice for those who want to test the livestreaming waters?

Aroma: Brands can’t always keep up with the potential boom in orders successful livestream sessions create. Some don’t have enough inventory or others not enough resources for customer support. As livestreaming is high energy and thrives on impulse purchase, you want to avoid giving customers have a bad experience as the chatter can easily turn into negative PR. On top of that, you have to remember that a significant proportion of all the orders get returned and request for refund. So if you decide to increase inventory to facilitate flash sales, you should also come up with a plan for the returned orders, especially if you run a smaller operation.

Jidi: Aside from price wars and limited editions, what other creative ways for fashion brands to engage with their audiences?

Aroma: I’ve seen designer brands that are utilizing platforms as Xiaohongshu to gauge interest in new collections and do early product seeding. Ahead of each season they produce samples in limited quantities and send those to KOLs to style and share on social media. Then they track the engagement and scope which pieces have the most potential. This helps them hype the new collection and build momentum pre-launch. At the same time the data supports their sales team to secure more orders from buyers, as they already have a real proof of interest. Lastly, running these type of pilots helps avoid over production of items that are not going to sell well.    

Jidi: There seem to be so many potential moments and touchpoints leverage, the question that I think many are breaking their heads over is how to manage them all?

Aroma: I’m not sure if theirs is a one-stop solution but I do think that the tools available are becoming more sophisticated. Take for example the WeChat CRM, it helps track customer purchasing habits, frequencies and sets prompts for ideal engagement cycles. Some of the brands we work with are putting efforts into segments who purchase at high frequencies or community-based marketing and they’ve found the WeChat CRM to be very helpful.

Jidi: Most of the current conversations focus on the possibilities of digital, is there still a place for physical retail in the future?

Aroma: For fashion I don’t believe physical retail will become obsolete any time soon, but the role they play is shifting. Especially gen-z doesn’t utilize physical stores as a primary purchase-destination – that’s what ecommerce is for. They care much more about the store design, creative ways of brand expression in physical experiences or additional services that can only be enjoyed in person. Strolling through streets or malls with interesting retail and f&b will always be a popular activity, but the value is moving much more towards discovery, surprises and accumulating social currency. The concept of having physical stores to facilitate transactions between sellers and buyers feels very outdated.