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China's digitally savvy consumers may have created fertile ground for high-tech beauty and health brands, but it can be challenging for smaller businesses to stand out. British brand TensCare was able to find a foothold and fast-track its growth in this hypercompetitive market thanks to its partnership with Tmall Global, Alibaba Group's cross-border marketplace.
Two years after the Surrey-based electrotherapy device maker launched on Tmall Global, China has become its biggest trading market and represents over 30% of the company's business.
Fueling the growth are China's burgeoning, tech-savvy middle-class consumers and their growing appetites for imported beauty and wellness products. This demand has driven the popularity of TensCare's innovations, such as electric stimulators for pain relief or pelvic-floor exercisers that help new moms recover muscle strength after pregnancy.
Neil Wright, managing director of TensCare, said a major difference between Chinese consumers and those in their home region was that European customers tend to look at the brand's devices as need-driven "distress purchases", while consumers in China see them more as self-care products for restoring their health and fitness levels.
"Our audience in China is very young, with a real desire to look good, feel good and be active as soon as possible after childbirth," he said. TensCare's top-selling product in China is a muscle-stimulation device for body toning, called Perfect Beauty, with sales now growing at a faster pace than in any other part of the world.
TensCare is best known for its products for postpartum recovery and pain control. In recent years, the company has also spotted beauty as a fast-growing opportunity and began developing a new range of aesthetic-focused products, such as nail-cleaning laser devices and technologies aimed at slimming, facial-toning and minimizing wrinkles and cellulite.
But beauty was not top of mind for TensCare when it first launched on Tmall Global in November 2018. It was prepared to feature the bestsellers from its other markets, such as its labor pain-relief line.
Informed by its consumer analytics and insights into Chinese millennial moms, Tmall Global advised TensCare to instead spotlight its beauty devices, then an emerging category on the platform. The advice turned out to be spot-on, and TensCare soon accumulated a strong following among China's beauty-obsessed young moms.
Tmall Global's insights were also in line with broader trends. According to market research company Mintel, the beauty-device market saw rapid growth from 2017 to 2019, reaching an estimated market value of nearly RMB10 billion ($1.47 billion). Per Tmall Global's latest figures, sales of imported facial beauty devices on Tmall Global increased by 260% year on year between April and September while hair-removal and body-slimming devices both increased fourfold.
To make its high-tech devices more accessible, TensCare also works closely with influencers and uses social media and Alibaba's livestreaming tools to educate consumers on its products. The brand's Tmall Global store also serves as a content hub to engage consumers with everything from behind-the-scenes executive interviews to customer testimonials.
These decisions have paid off for TensCare, especially during shopping festivals, like Alibaba's 11.11 Global Shopping Festival. In its latest 11.11, the company saw sales more than double from the previous year. During the 6.18 Mid-Year Shopping Festival, its sales exceeded RMB10 million, up more than 185% year on year.
While most businesses faced disruptions during the coronavirus outbreak, TensCare said its e-commerce presence has put it in a better position to weather the storm, as consumers turned to online shopping amid lockdowns. And having experienced the initial impact of Covid-19 in China firsthand, the company was able to prepare for logistical challenges when the virus later hit Europe, as well as make a more-seamless shift to working from home.
It's since expanded its digital footprint and maintained growth on the back of rising demand for health and wellness products. "Healthcare, in times of distress or hardship, tends to be more resilient than other industries," said TensCare's Neil Wright.
TensCare's success in China has prompted it to look at exporting to more international markets, including North and South America, to build up its global presence and also balance its business.
For now, though, it's doubled down on the China market. Not only has it opened a dedicated office in the southern city of Shenzhen to provide 24-hour customer support, the brand is also recruiting more Mandarin-speaking trade specialists at its headquarters.
TensCare's growth in China is great not only for the company but for employees as well. That's because Wright bought the business three years ago and placed most of his shares into a trust, so all employees would share in the profit at the end of each year.
"There's a real sense of collective ownership for our success, where everybody is willing to do that little bit extra to make it happen," he said.
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