China Mobile estimates that it will spend almost $7 billion this year to finally complete development of its 4G iPhone-compatible technology. That’s more than a third of the telecommunications company’s entire 2012 spend. The two motivating factors for China Mobile are: (1) playing innovation catch-up to the country’s second and third largest players in the mobile phone business, China Telecom and China Unicom, both of which already have iPhone-friendly operating systems. And (2): further establishing itself as China’s mobile giant by tapping into the country’s increasingly Apple-hungry consumers. At present, Android controls 90 percent of the Chinese smartphone market, which is in large part due to the fact that China Mobile, with 715 million subscribers, currently doesn’t offer the phone to any of its customers.
Despite its lion’s share of China’s giant mobile consumer market, global fashion brands don’t cater to Android the way they should be. In our recently-released China Fashion supplement, data collection revealed that just three have Android apps on Google Play, just one (Dolce & Gabbana’s) has placement in a Chinese Android store, and none are available in Chinese. For the much smaller 10 percent of the market with iOS phones, however, fashion brands do much better: almost half of the 27 brands in our study have iPhone apps on the Chinese version of iTunes (though just four are available in Chinese). Surprisingly, none of the fashion brands we assessed currently have a Chinese-language iPad app available for download.
In China as much if not more than here in the U.S., mobile phones are the primary and preferred device for browsing, researching and buying online. In terms of mobile site sophistication, however, fashion brands are woefully behind the curve with just 22 percent offering a mobile-0ptimized experience and 52 percent that are completely inaccessible on a mobile device (see the chart above for a more detailed breakdown). In the first half of 2012, 37.5 million Chinese used smartphones to purchase items, and the country’s mobile shopping market grew by an astonishing 488 percent YOY to $1.9 billion–4.3 percent of total online sales. Not surprisingly, the supply just doesn’t match the demand, as just three fashion brands accommodate mobile e-commerce. The top-ranked brand in our study, Burberry, is the only brand that offers end-to-end mobile-commerce to Chinese consumers. With the affluence and desire for luxury goods at play in the Chinese market, there is no question that brands are losing a great deal of money by not following China Mobile’s lead and giving the Chinese people the tools they need to buy what they really want.