How can British brands crack the Chinese retail market?

In recent years, consumer spending in China has dramatically increased. This retail-rich environment has led to many British businesses choosing to open up shop in the region.

For some British brands, this move into the Chinese market has been hugely successful. The China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) has commented that this could be thanks to the buzz generated by the popular TV Series Downton Abbey and Sherlock, which left Chinese consumers with a thirst for all things British. But how can British brands capitalise on this thirst – and be successful in doing so?

Take British born company Tangle Teezer, which expanded to China in 2014. Tangle Teezer was once the fastest growing British brand on the TMall site. A simple growth strategy led to the Chinese market being its biggest in terms of retail revenue – all within just three years of launching in the region.

So, what is there to learn from the successful launch of a British Brand in China?


Tangle Teezer say that marketing was crucial to its success. Chinese brands often operate on social platforms – such as Weibo and Wechat – to target their consumers. Therefore, British brands need to adapt to the new market by doing the same.


Tangle Teezer’s focus was to tap into the Chinese buying habits of platform driven sales: 90% of online retail sales in the region are through online platforms such as TMall, and only 10% through official retailer websites.

By setting up an official TMall store linking to the social media campaign, consumers could easily go from an attractive Weibo post straight to purchasing the product – allowing the brand to strike while the iron was hot.


One of the key ingredients for a brand to be successful in the Chinese market is ensuring that its products have solid IP protection. China has a first-to-file policy and is incredibly strict on the need for novelty.

The inventor of Tangle Teezer, Shaun Pulfrey, stated in an article for the IPO:

“Register as much [IP] as soon as possible. Registering IP can be expensive, but try to think ahead to your biggest markets and make sure that you are fully protected. I’m so glad that I spent what little money I had on as much IP coverage as possible.”

The key is to make sure you have adequate rights in place before launching in the region, and to think beyond just the brand name.

Many brands protect just translations and transliterations of their brand names in the region – only to find copycats totally rebranding their products and undercutting their price points. In the fast-moving world of consumer goods, protection of the actual product is key. This can be done through a design right, provided you obtain a patent evaluation report, which supports your right’s validity. The alternative to this is a 3D trademark, also known as a device mark. This protects the shape your product and is significantly cheaper to obtain.

Once you have these rights in place, you can exercise them to take down any copycats.

In summary, the vital things to remember when launching in China are: ensuring that your marketing is tailored to consumer shopping habits; brand presence on the key online retail points, whether that’s Tmall or your own .cn site (essentially, making sure you convert those likes on WeChat into sales). The final thing to remember is that you need to protect not only your brand name, but the actual product itself.


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