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Retailers to launch British department store online in China

Former executives from Burberry, Marks & Spencer and Jonathan Saunders are launching an online department store for British retailers in China in September.

The Jack Russell Emporium, which will run on China’s second biggest online platform, is targeting retailers at the “middle to better” end of the high street like Hackett, Jigsaw and Reiss, as well as royal warrant holders, in order to tap into China’s emerging middle class.

Jamie Powell, former interim managing director at Jonathan Saunders and commercial director of Jack Russell Emporium, told Drapers: “That emerging market has disposable income for the first time; they are cultured and may have travelled to the UK once or twice so they don’t want domestic product, but they cannot afford luxury brands like Burberry and Louis Vuitton.”

Jack Russell Emporium will be a “one-stop shop” for retailers, providing all marketing and logistics from its head office in London and warehouse in Rutland in the East Midlands.

The business will launch with 10 yet-to-be-named retailers next month. It expects to have 25 by the end of the year and 100 by the end of 2016.

The investment group behind the business includes former bosses of Burberry, M&S and Land Rover, although the firm declined to name them at this point.

Creative director of Jack Russell Emporium Adrian Potts, who is the owner of British menswear brand Jack Russell, said the board’s knowledge of the Chinese market will be key in the success of the venture.

“It is a retail solution and you need retailers to sell it,” he argued. “Between us we have a lot of experience in China and we understand the market, which is crucial. It’s about engaging the Chinese market, listening to what they want and providing the right products.”

James Doyan, managing director of London ecommerce consultancy Athito, said the biggest factor UK retailers need to get right when branching into China is the size and fit of the clothing.

“Fit is fundamental. The Chinese customer is a completely different shape and size to European shoppers so retailers cannot think they can just send UK products to China and it will work. Big high street names over here mean nothing in China, so brands can’t rely on that. The product has to be different and tailored to the Chinese market.”

Laura Faulkner, director of consumer, retail and e-exporting at UK Trade & Investment, said government initiatives such as the E-Exporting Programme can help retailers tread the stormy waters of Chinese ecommerce by matching UK companies with digital trade advisers who provide “face-to-face support to UK export-ready businesses wanting to grow through online channels”.

Bianca Mercer, senior ecommerce consultant at Practicology, said China is an increasingly popular market for UK retailers: “China overtook the US as the largest global economy in December 2014 and is destined to remain an engine of global growth for the next decade.

“Understanding how to enter this large and complex market has become critical for a lot of British brands and more are entering or planning to enter the Chinese market now than 12 months ago.” launched a platform for merchants across the globe to sell goods directly to consumers in April, in a direct challenge to Tmall, which owns 57.36% of the business-to-customer share in China.

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