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Flash sales site in China looks for a luxury boost from a rare Maserati

Marco is an advisor for technology funds on China entry strategies. He writes on technology and China in his blog. He’s the author of the forthcoming book “East-Commerce: How to sell in China’s online market.”

luxury ecommerce sales in China include a rare Maserati

Chinese luxury flash sales website Glamour Sales has teamed up with Italian auto-maker Maserati to sell a special edition car online. The Maserati Gran Cabrio Fendi limited-edition roadster is up for sale on the site for RMB 3 million, which is US$486,000. It’s a departure from the estore’s usual blend of high-end clothing, watches, handbags, and home decorations and furnishings.

How can such an expensive car be sold on the internet? “We launched a one week campaign and we have already received more then 20 applications,” says Thibault Villet, the CEO of Shanghai-based Glamour Sales. The car is sold on the site at a special price, says Christian Gobber, managing director of Maserati China.

Of the 50 Fendi edition Maserati roadsters that were created and presented at the 2012 Beijing Auto Show, 10 were reserved for China. One – and only one – was put aside for Glamour Sales, which has 4.1 million registered members. Through a lucky draw, members interested in buying the rare Maserati can win an RMB 200,000 voucher (US$32,000) and the chance to buy the car through the website at the discounted price – down from the usual US$516,000. (Update: added in detail about the pricing).

“The idea of selling a car online was always in the back of my head. We started five years ago in Japan selling five Peugeot cabriolets online. We sold four. The Maserati campaign was the perfect match for the luxury spirit of Glamour Sales,” says Villet.

See: China’s luxury ecommerce market worth $27 billion in 2013

Digital luxury

Even though the Maserati model is unobtainable for most, it was a good way for the site to engage potential new users, Villet explains. “A special campaign for WeChat was created; people shared and sent the link of the campaign to their friends. It generated tremendous buzz.” WeChat’s is China’s top messaging app with nearly 400 million active users.

Unlike the well-heeled of Europe and the United States, Chinese with the financial means to buy luxury products are comfortable doing so via social apps – such as WeChat or Weibo – which they use every day, for both personal and increasingly professional correspondence and communications. Online and offline purchases are interconnected in this ecommerce ecosystem in a way they seem not to be the case in Western markets.

The experience of buying luxury products in China can be quite different from the experience in the West. In both Europe and the United States, luxury products associate their brand image with VIP events or particular sports, like golf or sailing. In a way, buying a luxury car means joining a club, sharing the same vision of fellow owners, and indulging in the experience of the purchase. The price might not always play an important role. In China, no matter how expensive or exclusive the item, promotions are still a very important driver to generate sales. Buying high-end luxury goods on flash-sales platforms is therefore not only not particularly unusual, but is increasingly becoming mainstream. Convenience – both of access to goods, and in respect of the sales transaction – also plays an important role in China’s ecommerce culture.

In the near future it’s likely we will see even more luxury goods, including things like customized luxury holiday packages, sold online in China. On top of that, purchasing online through a mobile app might even give you a status that will also be visible – even when you’re not driving the car. The virtual club might in this way become as important at the physical one.

Editing by Steven Millward

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