Rahul Sachitanand
Jul 21, 2020

'This is a pivotal moment in ecommerce history': Lazada Group CMO

Mary Zhou is employing brand connections, shoppertainment, virtual malls and the ecommerce giant's Super Brand Day concept to drive growth in Southeast Asia's cutthroat online-retail sector.

Mary Zhou
Mary Zhou

In a tightly contested ecommerce market in Southeast Asia, Alibaba-owned Lazada wants to stand out from its competitors by leveraging its strong brand connections, pivoting to livestreaming, helping offline malls and stores get online and leveraging access to the technology stack from its parent.

The company’s group CMO, Mary Zhou, also believes Lazada’s Super Brand Day (SBD) promotions are second only to its 11.11 sales day, where 26 brands recorded sales of over $1 million across the region in 24 hours. 

Despite Zhou's bullishness on Lazada’s position and capabilities, the ecommerce operator has struggled recently to compete with its rivals, the Sea Group-promoted Shopee and local upstarts such as Tokopedia, ironically also partly owned by Alibaba. Even as Lazada has struggled to break even, the company has seen three CEOs appointed in three years, with Chun Li, the former head of the Indonesia business, the latest to take up this hot seat. He will continue to be chief executive of the Indonesia business. 

Chun Li: Lazada's fourth CEO in three years.

Despite these challenges, Zhou believes Lazada, which has backing of over a billion dollars from its parent, has several factors in its favour in the battle for supremacy in Southeast Asia’s ecommerce market. To arm itself for a bruising battle, Lazada has signed up with GroupM to give its clients preferential access and pricing for the ecommerce platform's marketing assets, as well as best practices for managing the online store experience.

This move comes on the back of a sharp acceleration in consumers converting from offline bricks-and-mortar retail to ecommerce during the pandemic. In Lazada's case, Zhou says the shift was nuanced. “In the early months in March and April, we had a huge spike in basic grocery orders, as people got used to being confined at home,” Zhou says. “(Since then), we have seen a broader increase in orders from categories as diverse as school equipment and exercise gear, as we’ve have focused strongly on customer acquisition and our assortment.”

Given this growth in Lazada's numbers, brands have begun to bite. For example, L’Oreal ran its ‘Bring Beauty Back’ campaign on Lazada across the region. This was a three-day Beauty Online Marathon Event that included livestreaming, games and augmented reality.

In Zhou's case, the onset of the pandemic was personal. “I experienced SARS firsthand when I was young, and this pandemic has changed the way we live,” she says. “This is a pivotal moment in ecommerce history.”

As consumers get used to being at home, events such as SBD may hold greater currency for marketers and brands. Super Brand Days are dedicated and exclusive campaign tie-ups with labels such as Estee Lauder, Pampers, Samsung and Adidas.

These 24-hour events are co-curated with brands to deliver a unique online shopping experience and Zhou says this includes innovations such as Shoppertainment and promotions through Lazada’s technology and resources. In 2019, Lazada held 13 SBDs. 

Brands have recorded up to 1,600X more sales compared to daily average, almost 8x more sales compared to mega campaigns like 11.11, and up to 6x follower growth in their brand stores, during SBD, the company clarified.  

For example, for L’Oreal, SBD was a time to launch new products such as 2019’s L’Oreal X Karl Lagerfeld limited edition cosmetics range, or collaborate to roll out innovative technology, such as beauty tutorials that utilise L’Oreal’s AR Modiface technology, which was featured on the Lazada app.


Another brand success story is Xiaomi, which set a record for the most sales in its category during its recent Philippines' Super Brand Day event. It not only beat the 2019 record this year, but was also crowned Lazada Philippines’ best-selling brand. This due to the success of its Redmi Note 9 3+64 handset, which sold out in minutes on Lazada.   

“The boundary between offline and online has gotten thinner,” says Zhou. “Our livestreaming app Laz Live has helped strongly drive customer engagement.” Part of the company's “shoppertainment” strategy, this idea has gained heft at a time when consumers are confined in their homes and one app can help them watch content, play and be entertained.

Zhou touts new technology that Lazada has developed to try to steer ahead of the competition in Southeast Asia. in this evolving shoppertainment battle. For example, a new dual screen feature has also been developed on LazLive, which allows two talents in different locations to livestream within one frame. With this technology, brands and users can host “Sing It” karaoke shows, where fans are able to perform a duet with their idol in the same stream.

In addition, the launch of virtual tourism in Thailand, which brings viewers to meet the elephants at the Elephant Nature Park, is also another innovative addition to LazLive. The partnership with the Tourism Authority of Thailand has allowed attractions across the country, for example Nhongkai province in the northeastern part of Thailand, to host virtual tours on LazLive from the end of May.

As offline retail has struggled to stay above water in times of confinement and lockdowns, Zhou wants Lazada to become the go-to place for an online alternative. LazMall hosts over 18,000 international and local brands on the platform, a nine-fold increase since launch in 2018.

Electronics, FMCG and beauty companies including Estee Lauder, Adidas, P&G, Unilever, Dyson, and Philips, have all signed up, she adds, and in the pandemic are expanding their presence on the online plaform. Many brands have selected LazMall as their gateway to Southeast Asia’s ecommerce market to launch their presence and reach consumers across the region, she adds.

Beyind typical categories such as electronics and apparel, Lazada has looked to scale up the range of high-value items for sale on this platform. According to her, LazMall has recently hosted breakthrough ecommerce category launches across the region including BMW’s 1 Series cars in Singapore for 9.9 in 2019, as well as Thailand real estate player Sansiri’s 45 residential units from nine property projects.

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