China business update

A New Business Normal in China

Amy Yang, LS&Co. China
Levi Strauss & Co.
May 14, 2020

The world continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic at different speeds. Many regions are coming out of months of sheltering in place, stepping into a new normal. China is one such country where our stores have recently reopened and are adjusting to different business environment.

We spoke with Amy Yang, managing director for Greater China, about what business looks like today for employees and consumers.

Where have stores reopened? Are they operating on a different schedule and staff level right now?

All owned and operated stores in China are now open, with a small percentage working at shorter hours. Staff level is back to before COVID-19 hit.

We celebrated the return to business by devoting the façades of our beacon stores in Wuhan to express the voices of the people of Wuhan.  We collected thousands of posts from Wuhan residents and the first message, “Thank you, we are back” received overwhelming support and generated 1.2 billion media impressions.

The safety and wellbeing of our employees and consumers continues to be our priority. Stores are open with an increase in sanitization measures, including temperature checks for employees and consumers coming into the stores, and everyone must be wearing masks. High-touch areas like the check-out counters and door knobs are all disinfected several times a day. There is also hand sanitizer available for all employees and customers to use.

What are you seeing with consumers?

With most of our brick-and mortar-stores now re-opened, we are quite happy to learn that consumers still have a strong appetite for brands they trust, product stories they can connect with and stores where they can enjoy their shopping experience. One thing we have noticed is that the younger consumers are coming back to the stores quicker, as they are looking for brands to provide them with some fun and freshness through new products. We also noticed that consumers are increasing conscious of safety and price as well as value after the crisis, and promotions are now the new normal.

Our retail staff took the opportunity during the downtime to attend online trainings and upgrade their retail and product knowledge. So, while the pandemic has created truly unprecedented challenges for our businesses, it has also brought us closer together. 

How have things changed in the stores and business overall e.g., has customer service changed at all, are we engaging with them in different ways than before?

Employees and consumers are now paying more attention to their health and we have adjusted to this. We have enhanced our efforts to ensure employees feel safe to return to work and that customers feel the same. Whether it’s the provision of masks, instituting temperature checks or increasing the frequency of cleaning, we are making sure that we continue to place the safety and wellbeing of our people and consumers at the forefront.

Based on our observations, consumers are avoiding peak hours to come into stores, and they come with a purpose.  They are demonstrating a strong intension to keep distance with store staff during shopping, with much less talking and communications.  And they are spending less time in stores with less time spent trying on clothes and requesting disinfection before using fitting rooms.

But every crisis has its own opportunities. Consumers are now spending even longer time online.

When the stores were closed in China, our retail team demonstrated creativity during the crisis and continued to find ways to engage with consumers online. The team became ‘brand ambassadors’ and brought consumer engagement ‘offline to online’, livestreaming through a WeChat mini program and CRM to connect directly with consumers.

Our ecommerce team has been playing a critical role, and with the collaboration with other teams, successfully pitched Levi’s® x Super Mario on T-Mall’s Super New Product Day. As the first apparel brand to collaborate with Tmall’s Trends Center, we are very excited to leverage their data-powered consumer insights and foresights to repurpose and customize our aging inventories for new product launches moving forward.

Are we making any permanent shifts on how we do business now in these areas?

In stores, we expect to see more emphasis on store hygiene. In addition, we are also hopeful that our retail employees will continue to tap into the knowledge they have acquired during the store closure period and turn to the online platform to complement store sales.

We are also looking to introduce newer and more exciting products to drive energy and excitement for consumers. The one thing we have learned is that consumers now want to spend more on better products – our first product sold when the Wuhan Beacon Store reopened was an LMC jacket!

In addition, this pandemic has taught us many valuable lessons:

  • Always lead with our values – Levi Strauss & Co. was among the first companies to proactively close stores in order to protect employees and customer safety.
  • The art is “and” not “or.” Some of the best moves we made were done when we were deep in the crisis with limited visibility into the future.
  • Embrace disruption, which could be the best stimulus for transformation. Change is usually hard but in a moment of crisis, it is a given. This crisis also gives us unique opportunities to take moves which in normal times could have been impossible.

I have been very impressed by how my teams have stayed strong, focusing on turning crises into opportunities every day. This pandemic has brought us closer together and is enabling us to build new capabilities to win in the future.