This article originally ran on Alizila on May 6, 2021.

Stride Rite, the iconic children’s shoe brand with a strong foothold in America’s brick-and-mortar space, has stepped up its digital expansion in China with Alibaba Group’s B2C online marketplace Tmall.

WPIC launched Stride Rite’s flagship store on the e-commerce platform last November, and has been working with the 102-year-old brand to position it as a firm favourite with China’s millennial parents and their generation alpha children.

stride rite

Stride Rite first entered China nearly a decade ago through department stores and local shops. But as the market has become increasingly digital and younger over the years, the brand decided to take a digital-first approach and pivoted its business in China entirely online.

“We looked at Alibaba and said, ‘We consider ourselves best in class. We have to go with the best in class.’ And that’s how we ended up partnering up with Tmall,” said Brian McManus, executive VP and general manager of children’s shoes at Stride Rite.

Over the past six months, the brand participated in China’s biggest shopping extravaganza, Alibaba’s 11.11, and is working with a third-party Tmall partner to bring its full line of products to Chinese consumers in interactive ways.

Best Foot Forward

While Covid-19 has caused unprecedented challenges for many companies, the pandemic has also created new opportunities for brands. For example, it has given rise to a large population of newly converted internet users. In China, these users accounted for a whopping 84.5 million people, according to the China Internet Network Information Center, representing massive e-commerce potential for businesses. And with offline disruptions and store closures, many like Stride Rite have decided to take the opportunity to focus on online sales and direct-to-consumer engagements.

“Brick and mortar is a hard space to be in today. We feel like the way to launch in China is to do it digitally and make sure that we’re putting our best foot forward,” McManus said.

Aside from the increased business opportunities, moving online also has many operational benefits for brands and sellers. For instance, revamping Stride Rite’s seasonal in-store aesthetics involves large-scale changes to its hundreds of physical locations across the U.S. However, with just a few clicks on Tmall, the brand can update its online storefront, adapt its products and designs and monitor real-time consumer feedback with unprecedented agility and efficiency.

“From product positioning, customer acquisition and campaign planning to logistics, livestreaming and more, Tmall provides a fantastic platform for Stride Rite to enter China’s dynamic market and will act as a foundational pillar of the brand’s growth across Greater China for years to come,” said Alex Palmer, VP of WPIC Marketing + Technologies, Stride Rite’s third-party service provider in China.

Connecting With Parents

Close to 2.74 million gen alphas – those born after 2010 to millennial parents– are born globally every week. China has the world’s second-largest population of gen alphas. Not only has this generation been born into the age of digitization and e-commerce, it’s already enjoying unprecedented material wealth, according to market research company Euromonitor.

For many brands, these gen alpha children and their parents represent a massive opportunity. According to the latest statistics from Tmall, the mother and children products category was one of the fastest growing in 2020. More than 300 million users currently shop for their children on Tmall and do not hold back when it comes to spending on the next generation. They pay close attention to their kids’ early development and often look for products with a combination of quality, design and technological innovation.

Stride Rite’s legacy of creating footwear that is functional and supportive of children’s first steps resonates well with consumers in China because “finding the right fit is universal,” McManus said. Additionally, the brand constantly revamps its shoes with fresh designs to keep up with today’s changing consumer preferences.

It took a couple of years for Stride Rite to turn its shoes from “need-based” to “want-based” purchases, McManus said. “But when we did that, then we had amazing stories to tell about technology, about the way our products function. But equally as important is how fashionable and fun our products are,” he added.

Helping Shoppers Find the Right Fit

Stride Rite is tapping into a slew of digital tools and technologies on Tmall to educate and engage with new customers in China who may not be familiar with the brand’s legacy.

“We’re watching our transactions on Tmall, and almost everybody that buys a pair of shoes would first want to talk to our customer service folks. They want to make sure that they’re getting a great product,” MacManus said.

To improve consumers’ online shopping experience, Stride Rite put together a toolkit to help parents quickly measure their kids’ feet so they can easily find the right pair of shoes. This simple step has significantly boosted the brand’s direct-to-consumer communication and effectively brought down their product-returns rate to under 10%.

Stride Rite has also leveraged real-time consumer feedback to inform its product selection and brand positioning in China. For example, the brand took into consideration the need to increase stock for wider sizes. It also retrenched its machine-washable products after learning that Chinese consumers preferred to hand wash their shoes to avoid having them mix with other laundry.

The company hopes its success on Tmall can pave the way for its further expansion in China and beyond.

“Stride Rite will become a global and lifestyle brand in the next hundred years. We’re going to be smart and roll it out slowly to make sure we don’t disappoint,” McManus said. “We want to make sure that every new product category we introduce lives up to the same Stride Rite promise. That’s why our relationship with Tmall is critical, because it’s not just about selling forward. It’s about introducing the brand, and over time, we’ll introduce a whole lifestyle aspect.”

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