Financial executive Joanie Xie is the next highlight in Jing Daily’s community of individuals who have helped to build China’s booming luxury industry. This section profiles industry leaders who are contributing to the national and global fashion communities through their business practices, from designers and creatives to business executives and influencers.
Female powerhouse Joanie Xie was recently appointed head of the US office at Ant Financial — the world’s largest fintech company and the jewel of the Ant Financial Services Group. The company operates Alipay, which is the world’s leading payment and lifestyle platform with just under one billion global users. Since 2007, it has provided consumers with localized and connected payment experiences when they shop online, and it’s now become active in over 200 markets by working with payment companies, financial institutions, and other industry stakeholders.
Xie joined Ant Financial in 2014 as a founding member of the US office where she built strategic partnerships that they were worth upwards of $10 billion. Her new role sees her execute the company’s current US strategy: to connect US-based businesses with China’s online and offline consumers.
As the world navigates the aftermath of COVID-19, a focus on empowering American business owners across these markets is what’s most exciting to her or, in her own words, “to be helping businesses at a time when retail is suffering.” She spoke with Jing Daily about some of the challenges she’s facing in a post-pandemic world and why Ant Financial is more than just a payment provider.
How do you see retail evolving as a result of Covid-19’s impact?
The pandemic is actually accelerating certain types of business. Online shopping is growing, now that everyone is at home buying online. It has recently become an important part of our lives, and having a good shopping experience is very important to everyone.
The much longer-term impact will be the adoption of contactless payment. The online shopping patterns and customer behaviors now emerging can be seen as an opportunity. For our partners, it’s about how they can leverage this opportunity and grow with us.
How do you see tourism recovering over the next 1-2 years? Will global travel ever be the same?
Right now, I think it’s hard to tell. Some countries still have COVID-19, but we believe it will be brought under control eventually. In 2018, Chinese tourist spending abroad came to nearly 3 billion dollars. We won’t see such a huge spending volume this year, but we’ve definitely seen the desire to buy products.
But when they travel in the future, where and when they should buy is less clear. So we need to help merchants bring their products to consumers, allowing them to keep spending at the same levels online. This is important to do before we return to travel and a full recovery.
How does the company build merchant trust?
We offer different, complementary solutions to retailers. The payment system is a bridge — Alipay makes it easier and more attractive to buyers online. Alipay also has incredible marketing opportunities: We have an app and platforms that generate great insights that effectively reach consumers in China.
Additionally, we have a financing tool that allows users to buy now but pay later, like a virtual credit card. This makes shoppers more comfortable converting payments, and merchants don’t have to take on risks.
What types of merchants are best suited to partner with Ant Financial?
Well, we work with so many different partners across the ecosystem — from finance to tech, online and offline — so we help many different types of merchants. But the most important area is extending the Alipay online solutions for US businesses.
These include businesses I had worked with before, like Google and Apple, who want to gain additional users in developing markets where we have a presence. But we also want offline partners, as we still see this area as an opportunity to develop.
What would you say to a luxury merchant who is not in China but is thinking about adding Alipay as a method of payment?
Alipay is a bridge between a merchant and Chinese consumers. That integration is very simple, and once you are integrated, you can access all these users and consumer insights. It’s a faster way to access new markets.
Also, Alipay is a highly-trusted brand and payment method in China, so when a merchant has it onsite, it automatically creates customer trust — they can pay and not have to worry. Having that familiar and most-preferred payment truly helps, and the experience is simple, seamless, and easy to use.
What are your most popular brand partners or categories currently?
Home needs have accelerated recently, but beauty and luxury are very much in high-demand right now. Chinese citizens can’t travel — they sit at home and buy — so that’s what we’re seeing. We have many high-fashion houses we’re working with as well as retailers, from Farfetch to Estée Lauder. On Mother’s Day, Estée Lauder held a sale that gained a huge spike from Chinese consumers, so the demand is there. Brands like Revolve Clothing and Shopbop are offering Alipay, as well.
In the US, it’s sportswear and apparel (both have huge potential), beauty (we’ve seen a huge demand for skincare recently), and healthcare products. The online demand for luxury items and luxury brands is also massive.
How can retailers use Alipay to gain insights about their business?
We have different consumer metrics, so we know what they want to buy versus what products they actually purchase. With this, we can target the right user for the merchant — by that, I mean the platform is customized with information so that each consumer has their own view.
We have access to 900 million consumers, so we already have data on hand (because they’ve used Tmall and Taobao, we have all their transaction histories.) We understand what categories buyers find interesting and can show them relevant products when they next access the platform.
Can you describe the opportunity for US merchants that utilize Alipay?
China is home to 300 million middle-class consumers (nearly the entire population of America), and that number is growing fast: estimated to reach 850 million over the next ten years. They are young, have stable incomes, and very aware of different cultures, lifestyles, and products. Now, this rapidly-growing demographic is going through a consumer upgrade and is the most well-traveled demographic in the history of China.
But also, we aren’t just a payment company. We have a platform and can host multiple shopping campaigns, from 618 to 11.11, where we can reach out and target potential consumers. We can help brands educate themselves about these festivals, teach them the best ways to market their products, and showcase them on the app. For certain brands and retailers, we have a dedicated hands-on team that works with them to plan their upcoming promotions, so they’re targeting consumers in the best ways.
Finally, where do you think fintech is going to take retail over the next 5-10 years?
Besides what we’ve seen recently in terms of the contactless payment adoption during COVID-19, another big trend is the merging of online and offline experiences and payments. In China, 80 percent of retail is currently offline without Alipay and Alibaba and other online platforms, so the opportunity is still huge out there. It’s about how to bring the two together and provide a seamless experience to users by using tech to produce the best shopping experience possible.
There will also be continued implementation of digital tools and technology, so merchants can gain more insights. This could mean having to acquire more relevant tools while ramping up consumer management.
Lastly, we see a value chain transformation in China across all areas — from designing and merchandising to marketing and inventory — and we’ve seen that tech can enable and play a vital role in any sector where a company needs help.