The innovative business model that took SHEIN to the top of the fast fashion industry

The innovative business model that took SHEIN to the top of the fast fashion industry

COVID-19 impacted the fashion industry, contributing to temporary, yet prolonged, closures of shopping centers. Despite tough circumstances, SHEIN, an apparel brand established in China in 2021, continued to grow rapidly. We used VALUES' web behavior analytics tool, Dockpit, to understand SHEIN's strengths.

About SHEIN, the company disrupting fast fashion

SHEIN is a fast fashion brand established in China in 2012 with the concept of "making the beauty of fashion accessible to all." The brand offers a wide range of high-quality, low-priced trendy fashion items, including women's wear, men's wear, children's wear, accessories, shoes, and bags.

SHEIN has no brick-and-mortar stores and sells exclusively online. By owning warehouses around the world, they operate in more than 150 countries. SHEIN is now considered a revolutionary business model that uses AI to increase efficiency and lower prices, and has built a unique supply chain.

SHEIN is also highly popular on social media

SHEIN's popularity is apparent from its social media page.

Looking at SHEIN Japan's Instagram account, it has around 440,000 followers (as of May 2022). Compared to the Instagram accounts of so-called major fashion e-commerce sites in Japan, SHEIN's number of followers and posts are outstanding. This shows that SHEIN has a high level of recognition.

Number of users skyrocketed in Japan

So what changes have actually occurred in the number of SHEIN users and the user base? We used VALUE's web behavior log analytics tool, Dockpit, to investigate changes over the past year. Dockpit's behavior data, which is updated monthly, can be used to analyze competitors’ websites.

Number of website/app users

Trends in the number of SHEIN website/app users
(Period: May 2021 - April 2022, Devices: PC & smartphone)

SHEIN began offering a Japanese-language version of its service in December 2020, and both the web and the app had attracted approximately 300,000 users in less than six months after its release. The number of users has since been steadily increasing month after month.

Here, we will focus on the web version of SHEIN, which has achieved rapid growth to 2 million users by April 2022. What exactly was happening behind the scenes to prompt this rapid growth?

Increased number of middle-aged and senior users contributed to the growth of the website

From here we will take a closer look at the user attributes. Gender, age, keyword searches, and household income gave us better understanding of the growth.

The gender ratio is almost equal

First, let's take a look at gender.


Male-female ratio of SHEIN (website) users
(Period: May 2021 - April 2022, Devices: PC & smartphone)

Although many think of women when it comes to shopping for fashion, there is minimal difference between men and women. While there are approximately 10% more female users, the figures are nearly equal when it comes to SHEIN’s website visitors.

In fact, a look at the reviews among male SHEIN website users reveals that the website gives a refreshingly sophisticated impression to male users, with comments such as "The site has a wide range of sizes since it is an overseas brand," and "The stylish design could be mistaken for a brand-name product."

The website is used not only by young people but also by people in their 50s and older.

Next, let's look at age groups.


Age of SHEIN (website) users
(Period: May 2021 - April 2022, Devices: PC & smartphone)

Despite the dominant image of SHEIN as a website for the young generation, only about 16.2% of all Internet users are in their 20s. Other age groups accounted for about half of the total, with 18.4% in their 30s, 22.9% in their 40s, and 42.4% in their 50s or older.

The site is used not only by "young women and teenagers," as stated on the official brand site, but also by a surprisingly large number of users in their 50s and older. This increase in the number of users in their 50s and older is thought to have led to the rapid growth of the website.

Incidentally, when SHEIN users on the website and the app were compared, the percentage of users in their 20s and 30s was higher for the app. It seems that the app and website are attracting different user segments.

SHEIN users comparison by age group (website/app)

Comparison of age groups of SHEIN users (website vs. app)
(Period: May 2021 - April 2022, Devices: PC & smartphone)

Significant increase in searches for "SHEIN reviews"

SHEIN overlapping keywords

Keyword trends of searches on SHEIN (website)
(Period: May 2021 - April 2022, Devices: PC & smartphone)

A noticeable change was also noticed from the combination of keywords. In addition to "mail order," which used to be the most common searched term, the search of "reviews" has increased sharply. Users who have learned about SHEIN and are interested in the product often research the reviews. From this, we can infer that they are highly considering products for purchase.

Low prices attract a wide range of users

SHEIN (website) users household income

Household income of SHEIN (website) users
(Period: May 2021 - April 2022, Devices: PC & smartphone)

Lastly, we look at household income. The results show that users within the household income bracket of less than 4 million Japanese yen has the largest number of users compared to the total number of online users. We can see that SHEIN's cheap price range is one of the reasons for SHEIN's popularity. Regularly held sales, free shipping for purchases of just 2,000 yen, which is rare for a fashion site, and special offers for purchases have also contributed to the increase in the number of users.

The reasons behind the increase of users over age 50

Why is SHEIN so popular among those who are age 50 and older? The data suggests that it may be because of the popularity of a particular category of items. Let's take a look at the ranking of pages visited and data of website visitors over age 50.

SHEIN_50 to 70 landing pages

SHEIN (website) landing page for customers in their 50s to 70s
(Period: May 2021 - April 2022, Devices: PC & smartphone)

It was found that people in their 50s and above are interested in specific fashion categories, such as jackets and shoes. It is interesting that the features can be seen in the categories.

SHEIN executed successful advertising measures and increased customer attraction through strengthening affiliate marketing

As mentioned above, it is interesting that the number of users increased sharply from March 2022 to April 2022.

trends in the number of SHEIN (website) users

Changes in the number of SHEIN (website) users
(Period: May 2021 - April 2022, Device: PC & smartphone)

What happened in April 2022 when the number of users grew about seven times compared to the beginning? After comparing the data so far, a certain advertising measure is highlighted.

Let's take a look at the graphs by inflow source from May 2021 to March 2022 and March 2022.

Inflow source for SHEIN (website)

Inflow source of SHEIN (website)
(Period: Left: May 2021-March 2022 / Right: April 2022 Device: PC & smartphone)

The influx from affiliate advertising is visibly increasing. Affiliate ads are advertisements placed on homepages, blogs, e-mail newsletters, social media, etc. and help earn rewards based on achievements. In addition to the display ads and product listing ads that have been implemented, it seems that they are focusing their web marketing on affiliate ads.

Affiliate marketing is a cost-effective advertising measure that is said to have the cheapest CPA. On the other hand, the burden is on the advertiser and in SHEIN's operations, and internal labor costs are high, making it difficult to expand the scale as a company. Despite this, SHEIN has maximized the number of customers with affiliate advertising exhibiting the strengths of a fast-growing company.

Increased customer attraction through listings and display advertising

SHEIN (website) change in customer attraction

Change in customer attraction at SHEIN (website)
(Period: May 2021 - April 2022, Device: PC & smartphone)

The increase in the number of SHEIN users is not only due to affiliate ads. Compared to August 2021, the number of users from listing ads has increased by 5 times, and those from display ads increase by 12 times.

SHEIN's success can be attributed to its digital advertising measures, which help expand the methods of advertising and also increased the number of customers reached.

[Summary] The key to a successful e-commerce website is about how to involve those unfamiliar with the digital world

The results of this research on SHEIN revealed that "the 50+ age group accounts for about half of the total number of users" and that "affiliate advertising has been successful." Looking at SHEIN's website, we saw that it uses young models and that its social media is planned and promoted for the younger generation. However, the actual survey results showed that SHEIN was attracting attention not only from people in their 20s, but also from people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.

COVID-19 has changed the way in which people live in recent years. In fact, according to a household survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the rate of online shopping has been increasing. The same is true for middle-senior households, where the usage rate of e-commerce sites is rapidly increasing for all generations in their 50s and older.

SHEIN has caught up with these trends and has successfully captured the middle and senior generations with fashion items that can be accepted by a wide range of age groups. The SHEIN website is relatively user-friendly, with a simplified process for membership registration, making it easy for those who are not so familiar with digital technology, and they also offer payment methods, such as paying at the convenience store in addition to paying by credit card. In addition, the website offers a large discount plan every season, making it possible to purchase at an even greater discount.

Thus, also considering older generations in addition the younger customers, who are familiar with digital technology, and optimizing advertising methods, such as affiliate, listing, and display ads, will contribute to the success of the business and achieve dramatic growth.

It is definitely worth keeping an eye on SHEIN’s growing customer base and innovative strategy going forward.

[Research Outline]
・Analysis is based on online activity logging and user attribute data of participants nationwide
・Period of monitored activity: May 2021 to April 2022
*The number of participants is estimated based on the domestic net population based on the frequency of Values' own participants.
*Target devices: Both PC and smartphone devices

About Dockpit

The data in this investigation is from Dockpit, an analytics tool with online behavior log data and user demographic information under the permission of panelists in Japan presented by VALUES, Inc.

※The numbers of users are estimated by the data in the monitor and the internet population in Japan.

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  1. disrupt:従来のあり方を一変させるような、破壊による変革を行う  
  3. brick-and-mortar:実店舗  
  5. skyrocket:飛躍的に増加する
  7. when it comes to :~に関して言えば  
  9. incidentally:ちなみに  





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