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SHEIN vs. Its Hyper-Fast Chinese Rivals

With Chinese fast fashion brands winning over Western consumers' wallets, EDITED charts how three key players stack up against the superpower of SHEIN.

SHEIN was crowned 2022’s most popular brand, thanks to eye-watering sales generated from its low prices, lightspeed design turnaround and supersized product drops.

As more Chinese fast fashion brands experience global success, we investigate how they compete on product, pricing, discounting, and speed-to-market.

Key Takeaways

  • SHEIN continues to dominate with product size and diversification, offering an almost limitless selection of goods alongside several subbrands. Its assortment is designed for repeat consumption, investing in tops and accessories which are updated more frequently than jeans and outerwear.
  • The sheer size of SHEIN may hinder its speed-to-market and pricing, with baby sister brand ROMWE effectively undercutting prices and turning around newness quicker. 65% of styles are less than three months old at ROMWE vs. 45% at SHEIN.
  • Newcomer Cider differentiates itself from other fast fashion players by offering smaller quantities to minimize waste, and grades its plus size ranges larger than both SHEIN and ROME to cater to an often excluded customer base.
  • Often dubbed the “Chinese Zara,” Urban Revivo offers premium pricing, 277% more expensive on average than SHEIN for key items, and a smaller assortment, focused on classic and timeless styles and more subtle discounting.
  • While SHEIN has the largest social media presence, ROMWE has a higher TikTok engagement rate. It’s won over a tighter-knit community of Gen Zers through cosplay content showcasing its understanding of core aesthetics and subcultures, including Fairycore, Grunge and Kawaii.

The Largest Offering

China-based brands, such as ROMWE (acquired by SHEIN in 2014), Cider and Urban Revivo, are drumming up global success and, in some contexts, have been referred to as “The Next SHEINs.” One key differentiator is their current product offerings, which are dwarfed compared to the fast fashion giant. Analyzing their presence in UK ecommerce reveals the significant disparity between their womenswear ranges. While SHEIN boasts “#dailydrops: 9000+ new styles added” on its homepage, its sister brand ROMWE promotes “2000+ styles just added,” with new drops every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

For Cider, a tighter assortment size is baked into its strategy. It operates on a “smart fashion” model, factoring demand into its designs based on customer feedback, manufacturing smaller quantities and adjusting production in real time. Cider states this allows it to turn around trends quickly with less waste, an area in which SHEIN has faced much criticism due to its mammoth output. Urban Revivo also operates on a comparatively smaller scale, dropping “hundreds of new styles every week” and “designing over 10,000 styles a year,” according to its website.

The Most Diversified Range

Womenswear options at SHEIN are more evenly distributed across its highest-stocked categories – tops, accessories and dresses. SHEIN’s range has the highest emphasis on accessories, adding to its ability to command its super-accessible price points. In its competitors’ assortments, tops have the greatest weighting, equalling between 38%-42% of options. These brands also dedicate a larger portion of their ranges to bottoms, each driven by investment in different styles. Jeans equal 30% of bottoms at ROMWE, while trousers and skirts are 35% and 41% at Cider and Urban Revivo, respectively.

Cider is the youngest brand, having launched online in 2020, and is yet to expand into categories offered by these more established retailers, such as footwear. Swimwear, underwear, sleepwear and product sets aren’t currently stocked at Urban Revivo, adding to its leaner inventory. At 9.7%, it has the highest proportion geared toward outerwear, which would drive prices upwards. SHEIN and Romwe have also branched out beyond fashion, offering homeware, petwear and stationery. Adding to its extensive portfolio, SHEIN stands out from its rivals with a beauty range and stocking ROMWE and several subbrands on its site catering to different demographics and consumer tastes.

SHEIN’s Plus + Curve collection currently represents 16% of womenswear products and runs to a size 5XL (US 22/UK 26). It includes the option to shop by body types A, O, V and X. However, this falls under the site’s trend navigation subheading and may unintentionally reinforce the problematic notion that body shapes go in and out of fashion.

Plus apparel equals 11% at both ROMWE and Cider. Despite Cider Curve being only added to its site a year ago, it’s the more size inclusive of the two brands considering Cider’s total offering is 31% smaller than ROMWE. Cider also extends to a 4XL, which for the brand equals a US 24/UK 28 vs. ROMWE, which runs to a 5XL and follows SHEIN’s size grading. This is a space in which Urban Revivo is noticeably lacking – the largest sizing in womenswear is only 2XL (US 12/UK 16).

The Trends Promoted

SHEIN
Americana-academy and Lost in Wasteland are some of the latest lookbooks on SHEIN’s UK site. Within the respective themes, sweater vests, letterman jackets and Dune-inspired hooded cropped tops and combat boots are spotlighted. Customers can also shop within trends, such as Dopamine Dressing or cargo, or by styles, such as Y2K, Grunge or sporty. The brand offers extensive licensing collaborations with pop culture merch ranging from Frida Kahlo to The Flintstones.

ROMWE
SHEIN’s sister brand boasts the most diverse core aesthetics, currently stocking products that span autumnal Fairycore and its winter counterpart, Snow Nymph, alongside established subcultures like Coquettecore, Goth, Kawaii and streetwear. Tapping into the fast-rising Grunge and Indie Sleaze subcultures, band tees are a staple, with ROMWE currently promoting AC/DC and Pink Floyd licenses. Anime and manga inspired a dedicated edit of pleated skirts, chokers, tube tops and oversleeves emblazoned with illustrations, some from emerging artists.

Cider
Cider splits its trends by “moods,” introducing shoppers to the latest aesthetics like “Feeling Dreamy” for Balletcore-inspired corsets and tulle and “Feeling Grunge” for darker, deconstructed options. Its FW22 campaign is segmented by colors and centered on Weird Girl dressing with clashing patterned knits and fuzzy hats. Cider also offers a K-Pop destination for customers to shop products seen on stars like Blackpink’s Jisoo and Ningning, as well as similar items to complete the look.

Urban Revivo
Differing from its competitors, Urban Revivo focuses less on TikTok aesthetics and more on classic and timeless pieces. It currently offers a minimalist edit, featuring straight-leg jeans, high boots, trench coats and split-hem midi skirts. Other trend edits are more commercial, such as preppy, party and occasionwear, as well as its Modern Feminist collection, which spotlights unique pieces like tweed jackets, statement bags and asymmetric necklines.

The Most Affordable

Across each significant category, Urban Revivo commands the most premium pricing architecture, despite average prices not exceeding £100. Higher RRPs are justified at this brand through elevated materials, including handbags with suede uppers, wool-blend coats and dresses with intricate beading. Out of the four, Urban Revivo is the only retailer with a permanent physical presence, so the cost of exporting in bulk to fill stores is absorbed into higher prices.

Cider’s average pricing sits between £6.23 for accessories and £22.81 for outerwear. Though there is only a few pence difference between Cider and SHEIN’s average coat and jacket prices, across every other instance, SHEIN undercuts the newcomer. ROMWE then offers even lower prices per category. However, breaking down accessories reveals SHEIN prices are more affordable on average for belts, formal accessories and scarves.

Maintaining its elevated brand perception, Urban Revivo runs subtler discounts than its competitors, with only 17% of styles advertised as reduced and an average markdown rate of 26%. In the leadup to the festive period, Cider offered the broadest discount proportion alongside an “up to 60% off banner” on its website. On average, reductions sat at 39%, the same as SHEIN, while the steepest discount depth was advertised at ROMWE, with 48%.

SHEIN saved aggressive markdowns for swimwear, tops, and dresses, which exceeded a deeper-than-average depth of 40%. These categories, alongside sleepwear, also experienced the heaviest discounts at ROMWE, averaging above 50%, suggesting overstock or slow performance of these styles across both brands within the parent company. Accessories experienced the deepest discounts at Cider and Urban Revivo, a popular tactic ahead of the gifting period to minimize size-related returns in the new year.

The Fastest

Despite their focus on driving sustainable change, being early adopters of the hottest fashion trends remain firmly on Gen Z consumers’ radar. SHEIN successfully satisfies this shopper’s immense appetite for newness using software that collects and analyzes customer data, informing new designs within as little as three days. It relies on small-to-mid-sized factories nearby that pick up orders daily, allowing small units to be placed, which can then be ramped up when trends go viral on TikTok.

The ability to react in real time allows SHEIN to get fresh styles in front of its audience quicker than its competitors, as established in our previous analysis. Comparing products in stock over the past year, only 9% of styles arrived nine-12 months ago, while 45% are less than three months. A leaner product offering makes ROMWE even quicker – 65% of products stocked are less than three months old. As technology advances and other retailers’ processes catch up, it will be interesting to see whether SHEIN’s tremendous assortment will no longer be an asset and start to slow them down.

Social Strategies

SHEIN has the most penetrative social media strategy with the highest follower count on TikTok, plus, has Instagram profiles for its childrenswear, menswear and curve ranges as well as dedicated regional accounts. However, this doesn’t automatically translate into engagement. At 5.42%, ROMWE has a stronger ER (engagement rate) on TikTiok than SHEIN at 3.11%, according to HypeAuditor. Its feed invokes the cosplay community, advertising Kawaii and fantasy dressing alongside popular character-inspired outfits, such as Wednesday Addams and Marceline the Vampire Queen.

On Instagram, the highest ER is seen at Cider at 0.06% vs. SHEIN’s 0.02%. The brand posts approx. three times per day, mixing memes with mood boards for recent commercial and niche trends, as well as edits to dress like celebrities.

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