Editor’s note: A version of this post first appeared on WalktheChat’s website. WalktheChat specializes in helping foreign organizations access the Chinese market through WeChat, the largest social network on the mainland.

Have you heard of Fan Bingbing, that famous Chinese actress known in Hollywood as Blink in X-Men? Which shampoo does she use to tame her mane? How does supermodel Angelababy maintain her fluffy bangs? And, just as important, how does Dee Hsu (that hilarious Taiwanese TV host more commonly known as Xiao S or Little S) achieve the look of a V-shaped face? You must have seen Chinese actor Hu Ge on those Emporio Armani billboards around town, looking all styled up and retouched. But do you know which espresso bar he frequents for his morning cup of joe?

There is one handy place you can find the answers to all the questions above, the Xiaohongshu (小红书aka Little Red Book or RED). Xiaohongshu is also the number 1 cross-border e-commerce app in China.

What is Xiaohongshu?

Xiaohongshu encourages a “safe space” for like-minded consumers to write reviews and share their shopping experiences good or bad.

The app contains an “Explore” section enabling users to explore content on topics such as fashion, food, and travel. However, the most popular category on the app remains beauty and cosmetics.

The app is often used when a user is investigating a new cosmetic product they would like to try, and are curious about the experience of other customers.

The app also has a “Nearby” section that users can use while traveling. While on a business trip to Hong Kong, Xiaohongshu would point me to food, experiences or shopping opportunities around me.

When reading a post, users usually add “hyperlinks” to the page of the brand which can contain an e-commerce section. There is a smooth transition between content consumption and e-commerce.

From a social platform to an e-commerce platform

Before becoming today’s social and e-commerce hybrid, Xiaohongshu started out as a drafting tool for Chinese users to make fashion and beauty shopping lists before traveling overseas, with an interface similar to Pinterest. Essentially, it was just a content sharing platform, targeting Chinese shoppers’ unmet desire of discovering and sharing shopping experiences.

Having accumulated a huge amount of social and consumption data from a largely urban female user base, Xiaohongshu has since developed a closed shopping cycle on the cross-border sale of luxury items.

Instead of choosing a marketplace model like most Chinese e-commerce sites, Xiaohongshu maintains partnerships with foreign brands and keep their own inventory for added quality assurance, shipping directly to users from their warehouse.

Xiaohongshu may be the best platform for shoppers to reach a large group of like-minded individuals, who are most likely to engage with their posts (known in the app as Shopping Notes).

Users don’t have to make their personal experience completely public (like on Weibo, China’s Twitter), or visible only to a closed circle like on WeChat. On Xiaohongshu, Shopping Notes are written by and shared to a relevant crowd that are eager to get informed about shopping and lifestyle.

How little is Little Red Book?

Xiaohongshu is one of the largest and fastest growing social e-commerce apps in China, co-founded in 2013 by Charlwin Mao and Miranda Qu. The women-focused app is now:

  • Valued at $3 billion in its Series D round June 2018
  • Supported by the most prestigious investors including Alibaba, Tencent, Genesis Capital, ZhenFund and GGV Capital
  • Over 100 million registered users
  • 30 million monthly active users, a 40% increase in end of 2017

Xiaohongshu was ranked as the #1 app in the cross-border e-commerce App category with 15.4 million MAUs during Black Friday 2017 according to Analysys. The #2 app Kaola only had 5.3 million MAUs during the same period.

How a leading Japanese e-commerce platform tripled sales to China

According to iiMedia, Xiaohongshu makes up for 5.6% of the total cross-border e-commerce market. Notice that it’s one of the only platforms that’s gaining more market share in Q1 2018.

Xiaohongshu’s user demographics

In a nutshell, most Xiaohongshu users are post-90s urban females who value quality, with relatively high consuming power, and premium taste.

It’s one of the fastest growing e-commerce platforms.

According to Qianfan, Xiaohongshu has a predominantly female audience (88%). It also has a rather young population: more than 60% of its users are 30 years old or younger.

57% of the users live in top-tier cities, the traditional centers of wealth. In fact, a closer look at their spending behavior reveals a large proportion of the users have relatively high consuming power.

This makes the platform the ideal channel to target young, affluent female shoppers that have the intent and ability to consume branded products.

User content that informs purchase decisions

High-quality shoppers demand high-quality pre-purchase information. Driven by candid product reviews (Shopping Notes), authenticity is at the core of Xiaohongshu’s user posts.

It is like an illustrated textbook that teaches you to shop, covering such topics as what up-and-coming brands you need to know, how to spot fakes and the best time of the year to shop for the best deals etc.)

Users can make purchases through a shopping note, ensuring a smooth and efficient shopping process that takes place entirely within the platform.

To maintain quality and effective communication, Xiaohongshu’s recommendation algorithm encourages users to interact with topics they are interested in. Profanity, explicit self-advertisement and verbal abuse are all effectively censored.

Also, it is worth noting that there is no forwarding or sharing features on Xiaohongshu, while users can like, comment on, and add Shopping Notes to their own collection.

This in a way prevents users from getting spammed, and to let Xiaohongshu organically push to users the content they believe will be most relevant and useful to them.

Celebrities’ favorite sharing platform

Xiaohongshu is one of celebrities’ favorite social media platforms in China, and there are plenty of stars sharing their latest shopping picks and lifestyle hacks there every day, mixing snaps of their not-so-glamorous side of life.

Consumers feel like they share an intimate bond with celebrities through their personal, light-hearted Shopping Notes. This has created a unique UGC (user-generated content) circle made up of well-known influencers with a massive following.

On a platform like Xiaohongshu, celebrity endorsements come with a special authenticity. Fan BingBing is a classic case of quality over quantity. Dubbed “queen of sales” on Chinese social media, she actually temporarily brought down the server of Xiaohongshu one time, thanks to a shopping note endorsing the latest beauty finds she just published.

Currently, with 9.9 million followers on the platform, every face mask she ever endorsed on the platform is reported as sold out. Even the actress joked about quitting the platform, so she can at least find her favorite products in the store.

Marketing on Xiaohongshu

Unlike other platforms, Xiaohongshu does not provide display ads services. It relies on a vibrant network of social interactions and KOLs which can help promote brands.

For products that are listed on its e-commerce platform, Xiaohongshu has different sales campaigns to generate sales, stores and brands can sign up. It also runs a 4-hour count down sales events 3 times per day platform-wide. These discount events are focused on cosmetic product, health product, food, household items, formula. It also runs a “Stylish girl” event which hosts cosmetic product only.

Smaller brands can benefit from Xiaohongshu’s growing network of celebrity users to drive brand recognition through KOL campaigns. A simple way to begin partnerships is to send products to influencers that are within the brand’s niche and have them authentically post their thoughts.

Is Xiaohongshu a good investment?

Xiaohongshu is not a cheap platform to operate. It charges a large 15-20% to brands. On top of this, a company helping you run campaigns and operate your store will often charge an additional 5-10% of sales.

That’s 20 to 30% of your sales you have to give up, without taking into account fixed operating costs (often 10,000 to 60,000 RMB per month).

So is Xiaohongshu worth the money? It is, but not only as a sales platform: as an information platform.

Chinese Luxury customers make exhaustive research before purchase. They have the largest number of touch points before making a purchase decision, and especially if you’re in the beauty space, Xiaohongshu will be one of them.

Even niche cosmetics brands can have thousands of mentions on Xiaohongshu, and customers who see your products on Xiaohongshu might very well end up buying it on Tmall or WeChat a few hours or days later.

In short:Xiaohongshu is worth it. But with its huge engagement rates and significant organic traffic, you should see it as a marketing channel rather than as a sales platform.

Conclusion

As part of the e-commerce revolution for purchasing better products, Xiaohongshu’s unique positioning as a trustworthy, celebrity-approved distributor of overseas products is a great channel for brands that look to capitalize on the social commerce trend.

The nature of Shopping Notes makes it not only authentic but also useful to potential consumers. Driving brand recognition and sales aside, a well-established presence on Xiaohongshu allows a business to track customer sentiment over a test period, which can then be used to inform future marketing strategy.