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What is Xiaohongshu and how can it help your brand in China?

by Pearl Zhu
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Backed by Alibaba and Tencent, social e-commerce platform Xiaohongshu is known for its community of well-informed consumers and can be a boon for small consumer brands looking to generate word of mouth in China, writes Robynne Tindall

When it comes to fashion and beauty in China, there is one platform that savvy shoppers know to turn to: Xiaohongshu. Sometimes compared to Instagram, Xiaohongshu is more akin to a blend of Pinterest, Amazon and TripAdvisor, but is also totally unique. Also known as Red in English, it started out life in 2013 as an online overseas travel guide for Chinese shoppers. Founders Miranda Qu and Charlwin Mao later discovered that the platform was also popular with people in China with no plans to travel, and it expanded to become a comprehensive user-generated review and experience platform. It launched a cross-border e-commerce platform in 2014.

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Today, Xiaohongshu incorporates a range of functions, including text and image posts, videos, live streaming, and an e-commerce store. As of 2020, it had around 300 million registered users and 100 million monthly active users, making it one of China’s smaller social platforms but one with a highly engaged user base. The majority of Xiaohongshu users are young (most born post-1990), middle-class women living in first and second-tier cities. The most popular topics are cosmetics and skincare, fashion, and travel and food.

This makes Xiaohongshu the ideal platform for British fashion and beauty brands targeting trend-conscious, affluent consumers. Chinese consumers are very review conscious and prefer to do research online before they make a purchase, particularly from a brand they haven’t purchased from before. Xiaohongshu’s user-generated review content has a reputation for authenticity, and the word of mouth generated can have a strong effect on brand awareness and even sales. Xiaohongshu’s conversion rate is as high as 8%, compared to 2-3% on other e-commerce platforms. 

This makes Xiaohongshu the ideal platform for British fashion and beauty brands targeting trend-conscious, affluent consumers.

Korean brand Innisfree’s home page on Xiaohongshu

There are three ways that brands can use Xiaohongshu: set up an official account, open a branded e-commerce store or work with influencers to promote their products. Official brand accounts can create posts and videos just like regular accounts, and interact with other users via likes and comments. Informative, detailed posts with plenty of images (each post contains up to nine images) generally perform well, as do images with a more organic, rawstyle as opposed to slick, heavily branded content. A brand’s account home page also displays posts that other users have tagged them in (via the “Engage” tab in the above screenshot), closing the gap between branded content and user-generated content.

Brands can open e-commerce stores directly with Xiaohongshu, which also link directly to their home page (the “Goods” tab shown in the above screenshot). Linking to an in-platform store directly from a post helps to alleviate concerns about counterfeit goods, which are prevalent in China’s e-commerce industry. The platform offers support in terms of logistics, customer service and data insights.  Xiaohongshu also operates its own stores, such as Fulishe, which are authorised to sell products from third-party brands.

Many brands choose to work with Xiaohongshu due to its large number of popular, trusted KOLs. Xiaohongshu has strict rules for promotional content, so in the eyes of many users, the posts KOLs and celebrities share are considered to be genuine recommendations rather than “fake” co-branding. An example of a popular Xiaohongshu KOL is Austin Li, more widely known as Kouhongge (Lipstick Brother), who has more than 3 million followers on the platform.

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Brands can also consider seeding their products to Xiaohongshu’s many micro-influencers or key opinion creators. Similar to micro-influencers on Western social media platforms like Instagram, these users may have fewer followers, but they often boast higher engagement rates and the content they create is more organic. The lower cost of investment in these kinds of influencers can also be beneficial for smaller brands or companies looking to first test the market in China.

Whether companies choose to use it for branding, e-commerce or both, Xiaohongshu can be a useful tool for UK companies as part of a wider online marketing strategy. Spending time reviewing the content on the “explore” page can offer key insights into consumer preferences and the latest trends.

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