Shein, a fast fashion specialist who understood everything in Gen Z

The collections at very low prices and a well-thought-out marketing strategy have enabled the Chinese pure player to overtake historical players such as H&M and Zara.

Forget H&M and Zara, they only have one for Shein! This pure internet player from China is now No. 1 in fast fashion, whether in the United States, where it has become the leader in the fashion segment according to an Earnest Reasarch report published last June, or in France, where the market share now exceeds that of the two historical players in the sector. Shein is now the 6and largest fashion e-retailer in France, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel. The group had a market share of 2.6% in June 2021, compared to 2.4% for H&M and 1.3% for Zara. The achievement is all the more impressive since two years ago, “the site barely rose in the Kantar Worldpanel rankings,” said Hélène Janicaud, head of the organization’s Fashion BU. It is not without reason that the market share in June 2019 was 0.5%, that of H&M 2.9% and that of Zara 1.1%. The evolution of Shein’s web audience illustrates this blazing fast popularity. Shein now has ten times more audience than H&M and five times more than Zara. In June 2021 there were 10 million unique visitors, two years earlier there were only 3.8 million.

T-shirts from 2 euros, dresses from 3 euros and jackets from less than 10 euros… Shein’s promise is first of all the price, which is significantly lower than that of its competitors. The average price of a product purchased from Shein at the end of June 2021 was 7.5 euros, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel, compared to 10.2 euros for H&M and 22.7 euros for Zara. Something that hits the mark with 15-24 year olds, who may say they are concerned about the environmental impact of brands, but whose primary motivation remains to find the best price. “The first thing that pushes teens to Shein is the fact that they can have a lot more clothes than competitors, for the same budget,” summarizes Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois, strategy director at We Are Social. This is all the more important as many of these teens are eager to stage their purchases, barely done. We speak in the language of Youtubers of the trek, that is, posting a video in which we reveal recently purchased items. And the more there is to see, the more content there is to offer.

“By democratizing the trait, Shein is responding to the fantasies of an entire section of this generation who aspire to resemble Kyie Jenner or Caroline Receveur”

On TikTok, a hashtag like #sheinhaul generated nearly 3.5 billion views while #hmhaul barely reached 84 million views. Because thanks to Shein, the practice of the pull, which has made the popularity of many fashion bloggers, is no longer the prerogative of an elite. “By democratizing this format, Shein is tapping into the fantasies of a whole section of this generation who aspire to resemble Kylie Jenner or Caroline Receveur,” analyzes Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois. A population that also has the shyness of choice. Shein, who manages the entire production chain, puts nearly 2,000 new products online every day… while its competitors struggle to exceed 100 every two or three weeks. Already under attack for plagiarism, the brand does not hesitate to dive into the new collections of luxury giants to offer much more accessible versions. For example, you’ll find a “made in Shein” version of Prada combat boots, selling for more than €1,000 from the Italian and for less than €30 from the Chinese. “It’s enough that Kylie Jenner wears an upside-down bikini one day, so we find the same Shein version the next week,” Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois illustrates.

Shein’s entire marketing strategy is surfing the fantasies of these wannabe influencers flooding the brand with codes and discounts that are easy to get…and share. “It’s super rewarding for these micro-influencers to receive a special promo code,” notes Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois. In the absence of immediate compensation, the result is a dubbing sensation that will be enough to turn this entire audience into zealous ambassadors. We’re flirting with the limits of legality when the latter doesn’t mention that they got their discount code thanks to Shein, but it works. The popularity of #sheincoupon or #sheinreduc on social networks like TikTok or Instagram is testament to this sophisticated micro-influence strategy.

“We flatter the egos of customers who have up to a few thousand subscribers by giving them visibility among the 700,000+ people who follow the brand on TikTok”

A strategy that also uses Shein’s official account to share most of the posts mentioning the brand. We speak in Instagram language of “hashtag to be featured”. “We flatter the ego of customers with up to a few thousand subscribers by giving them visibility among the more than 700,000 people who follow the brand on TikTok,” illustrates Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois. Nothing very creative, but terribly effective. This rather minimalistic community management strategy mainly allows the brand to be hyperactive on social networks, with a publication frequency of 5 to 10 posts per day (with e-commerce links to the respective products). This also allows Shein to be one of the few fast fashion brands with a hyper-local community management strategy. Thus, the brand rejects its Instagram accounts by market (France, Spain, Italy, etc.), where its competitors have grouped all their speeches in a global account.

Last ship of the Shein armada, the e-commerce site. Everything is done to reward customer loyalty. You will earn new statuses and benefits as you reach certain levels of orders and amounts spent. Customers who have placed one order can receive a discount voucher, customers who have placed at least two orders can take advantage of benefits such as a free delivery voucher and access to pop-up stores. And customers who have placed more than five orders can access exclusive promotions such as expedited refunds or a dedicated hotline, and even a magazine called Sheinista.

Promotions for everyone. © Screenshot Shein

“Shein is also a hyper-innovative platform, capitalizing on gamification and setting up quests within the site, to create engagement,” notes Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois. A logic of gamification that also promotes the discussion around the brand, as evidenced by all the videos shared by customers explaining how to move up the ranks, how to take advantage of free baskets or, for a privileged group, how to access get up to a free trial of clothing program. “There are many videos with clickbait titles such as ‘Find out how to win a Shein code’ on Youtube,” confirms Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois. So much (almost) free advertising for the brand.

The mechanism is efficient enough to limit the platform’s investment in content. “We see a lot of random translations or spelling mistakes on the French site, suggesting it was a robot translating on the fly,” notes Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois. Not enough to formalize a clientele that continues to respond. “Half of Shein’s customers are now 15-24 years old, which is three times more than the rest of the market,” notes Hélène Janicaud. Its tariff dumping has enabled the Chinese giant to find a preferred place for a population neglected by the historical players. “There was a real lack of supply for this adolescent population,” confirms Hélène Janicaud. And it pays off… Shein reportedly made nearly $10 billion in revenue in 2020 and was valued at $47 billion last June.

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