Digitisation: China’s Door Opener
Like many B2C players attracted to China’s booming consumer market, Swiss outdoor brand Mammut is betting big on China as a growth horizon for its premium products – and winning at it. Fiducia has supported the company’s setup and operations as it expands its regional footprint. APAC Managing Director Dr. Oliver Arndt, who leads Mammut’s subsidiaries in China, Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong, shared his take on why the Chinese market is as promising as ever, despite new challenges.
Do you think China’s doors have continued to open wider for foreign businesses?
We’ve always experienced China as a highly competitive yet welcoming and open society. Its advanced and digitised retail landscape is opening up tremendous possibilities for businesses to connect with end consumers. In terms of regulations, many developments have been positive for us: VAT reductions, lower import duties, and more importantly central government directives to develop outdoor sports. For our business, market opportunities have definitely expanded.
What makes you optimistic about the future of China as a growth market?
Chinese consumers are quickly evolving in a direction that’s in sync with brands like ours. They’re moving beyond brands as status symbols, and focusing instead on brand heritage, product requirements, sustainability, and becoming more health conscious. All of this matches our offering and core brand message: Mammut, Swiss, founded in 1862.
As the world’s front-runner in digital applications, China also offers space to innovate. Being a globally active brand, we constantly ask ourselves: how can we leverage the digital advantages that China offers and apply them worldwide?
What are the biggest barriers that foreign brands still face?
A market that embraces fast change is both an opportunity and a challenge. In terms of distribution, for instance, consumers increasingly expect variety in channel selection. Whereas in Japan and Korea the focus is still on traditional distribution channels, China is now the biggest omnichannel market. We’re adapting by investing heavily into online retail – Tmall, JD.com, Amazon, and soon WeChat – while also growing our overall presence through selected partners and our own physical stores.
Compared to rather established and more saturated markets like Japan, China’s untapped potential is still huge – but this also makes it more difficult to know from the outset whether a project will be successful or not. This is why we encourage our teams to make mistakes, but to make them early and learn from them. Cultivating this culture is necessary to turn China’s challenges into opportunities.
How can foreign brands unlock opportunities in China’s consumer market?
Digital-first: In today’s China, digitisation is the key door-opener. “Mammut Connect” is one of our latest initiatives. We are inserting near-field communication (NFC) chips to some of our products, enabling consumers to access various sorts of functions through their smartphone NFC readers, e.g. reading product information pre-purchase or receiving mountaineering routes once they’re on the go.
Customer-first: Modern Chinese consumers seek unique and innovative experiences. Last year we launched the Mammut Alpine School to take customers on expeditions with professional tour guides in Switzerland.
Local team: China requires unique business approaches and solutions, which a lot of foreign brands entering the markets have difficulties adapting to. In addition to our local team in Beijing, we therefore set up a regional office in Hong Kong to deepen our commitment to the Asian market.