Interview with Annemiek Ballesty, Vice President, Greater China & Travel Retail at Fossil Group, Inc

"I love China...."

Retail Gazette caught up with Annemiek Ballesty at the Retail Congress APAC in Hong Kong. She’s Fossil Group’s Vice President for Greater China & Travel Retail in Asia Pacific.

We talked about Fossil’s strategy in Greater China, with the inevitable focus on its online strategy.

Annemiek has worked at Fossil for 15 years with more than half that time in Shanghai or Hong Kong. She’s originally from The Netherlands and spent half her childhood there and the other half in the UK.

It’s easy to mistake her for being a born and bred Aussie, given her accent, but she laughs it off, saying she only moved to Australia as an adult and many Australians accused her of still having an English accent.

Annemiek spoke at the Retail Congress APAC in Hong Kong during a forum session called “The Next Big Thing; Driving Sales Through Marketplaces”, where she put on an impressive show of her deep knowledge and easy authority.

She relishes in her job and her company. “I really enjoy running countries,” she tells Retail Gazette, and clearly adores her geographical area of responsibility.

“I love China. It’s like the Wild East. It’s growing so rapidly… it’s so advanced”.

Fossil expects online sales to over a quarter of all Greater China’s revenues this year and these sales are powered through marketplaces, Tmall being the number 1.

Tmall, for those who don’t know this online retail giant, is a Chinese-language online marketplace, owned by Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group and founded in 2008.

Fossil found that the Chinese prefer buying products through online marketplaces than through a company’s individual website. Annemiek believes this may be to do with a wariness over fake websites. What’s important with a Chinese marketplace is to have an approved store on the site, as this gives “a tick of authority”.

One of the keys to online marketplaces is “adjacency” – the need for a brand’s online store to be close to other, similar online stores. Fossil’s brands such as Emporio Armani watches are luxury items, so Fossil needs to make sure that it is positioned correctly in searches and on the consumer’s screen.

Annemiek had commented at the session on marketplaces that the Chinese asked a lot of questions online and expected an answer within 10 seconds. If that wasn’t forthcoming, the Chinese consumer moved away. I asked her to comment further on this and she replied that online customer care in China needed to be highly sophisticated as expectations are incredibly high.

She also noted that “key opinion leaders” are exceptionally important in China. Fossil had recently hosted a Taiwanese-Hong Kong actress and KOL Annie Liu in the Hong Kong branch and then live-streamed this to their Tmall online store. Tmall likes this kind of content which helps Fossil’s relationship with them and, most importantly, the Chinese consumers loved it.

With all the talk of online marketplaces, it’s tempting to forget that over 70 per cent of Fossil’s Greater China’s sales are still in-store. Fossil Group’s brands can be found in over a 1000 physical points of sale throughout China.

Given the level of online Chinese engagement and how expensive China is to do business in, however, Annemiek’s belief is that ecommerce remains the biggest growth area and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

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