Millennial mobile mayhem?

Authored by: Svetlana Ilnitskaya, Brand Protection Team Leader | INCOPRO

What a shift to mobile means for brand protection

Barely a couple of years ago online purchasing was dominated by desktops and laptops. Today, the dynamics have changed enormously. Mobile web usage has overtaken desktop with Millennials turning to their smartphones and tablets to meet their needs, including shopping. This change in behaviour has disrupted the traditional purchasing journey of consumers and is being driven by the ‘m-commerce’ generation.

With Millennials becoming the largest consumer segment, it is no surprise that they are the focus of most businesses’ e-commerce strategy.

When shopping on their handheld devices, Millennials are frequently turning to platforms that combine mobile, social, entertainment and commerce to deliver a truly personalised experience.

One of the reasons China remains the largest and most dynamic e-commerce market in the world is the ability of Chinese platforms to adapt to mobile consumer behaviour, providing innovative social e-commerce models and a secure digital payment infrastructure.

E-commerce is adapting to the purchasing power of Millennials

E-commerce giants such as the Alibaba Group are adapting to Millennials by shifting their platforms to mobile apps where data driven algorithms match sellers with buyers based on their mobile usage. Taobao’s app was China’s largest mobile commerce destination by gross merchandise volume in 20161.

Facebook is also merging the social and commercial experience by introducing a location specific marketplace feature to its app that was not available on the desktop version until recently. Designed as a peer-to-peer platform, it provides users with opportunities to sell products as a full-time occupation with a massive database of consumers within their geographical area.

Platforms such as WeChat have shifted from social media/messaging app functionality to ‘one app for everything’ status, where payment transactions can now be facilitated directly through the platform. This means that sellers can reach their customers more easily and provide a much smoother buying experience.

What this means for brand protection

Innovative brands are embracing the opportunity created by ‘m-commerce’ and social media. Examples include marketing campaigns through ‘influencers’ on social media. Major luxury e-commerce platform Net-A-Porter has also recently hinted at future personalised shopping experiences via messaging platform WhatsApp2.

However, fashion and luxury brands have been slow to capitalise on the opportunity offered by m-commerce especially in China. The counterfeiting issues faced on these platforms are deterring brands from opening official stores on platforms such as Tmall and WeChat.

The counterfeiters, on the other hand, are seizing this same opportunity to reach the consumer. Successful enforcement strategies by brands on platforms like Tmall and Taobao have also driven the infringing product to mobile and social apps. For example, product being offered on Taobao app stores might not be available through the desktop version of the site because sellers are moving their offers to apps to avoid detection.

Other adaptive practices include sellers sharing their WeChat IDs with buyers via the listing’s images to take the transactions off the desktop site. Once communication via WeChat is established, more information, including images of potentially counterfeit product, can be shared and the price can be negotiated. This switch to WeChat limits the visibility of the transaction to brand owners.

This image shared on Taobao says: Enquires via WeChat, We have images of stock, payment upon delivery.


This is an example on TaoBao Xianyu, the message says: ‘the seller has moved the product to XIAN YU APP. Download the APP now and communicate with the seller’.


So, what does this mean for a brand trying to enforce its rights in this new m-commerce world? New platforms are yet to develop efficient and effective IP practices. For example, brands often rely on WeChat users to report the infringing content from their private accounts, rather than being able to proactively search for it. Lobbying these platforms to allow wider access to the data they hold and follow the best practices of other platforms that assist rights owners in their fight against fakes is the starting point for enabling effective protection for your IP.

The online ecosystem is an advantage

Websites, marketplaces, social media and messaging apps not only overlap in today’s online ecosystem but are also merging together to appeal to the Millennials’ need for ‘one app for everything’.

When formulating a successful brand protection strategy, brands need to consider the whole online ecosystem, rather than applying an isolated approach. The overlap between multiple platforms can be used as an advantage in brand protection.

For example, while proactive monitoring of WeChat can be a challenge, as you need to ‘friend’ a private user to see their activity, a study undertaken by INCOPRO for a fashion brand revealed that 11% of infringing posts on social media contained WeChat IDs as a means for communication with the seller. This allows a brand to identify private infringing accounts to pursue on WeChat more easily than trying to discover on the WeChat platform itself.

The best approach to formulating an effective enforcement strategy requires understanding of these developing trends in m-commerce, Millennial behaviour, evolving technologies and changing trends in seller practices. To effectively stop infringers who are operators across multiple platforms, the whole network needs to be understood and ultimately reduced.


1. Consumer engagement driving growth for mobile Taobao

2. Bringing Conversational Commerce to our Customers

To find out more about how INCOPRO can help your brand protect itself in the ever challenging online environment, please contact us.