MBA Internship Insight - Unilever

- How does a global consumer goods giant jump into China’s e-commerce battlefield?

While doing my MBA in Shanghai, in the world’s fastest growing e-commerce market, and as we enter the rapidly emerging age of digitization, I found myself especially interested in the lectures on B2C (Business to Consumer) and Digital Marketing at CEIBS.  So much so, that I decided to change my career direction. Instead of pursuing an analyst career in the IT consulting sector, I decided to focus on strategic marketing management to analyse and interpret customer behavioural patterns and predict the future direction of growth for a business.

I landed a golden internship opportunity this summer at Unilever, one of the world’s largest FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods company), to begin my new career in marketing.  Unilever’s products are already household names around the world thanks to its sales through traditional brick and mortar store channels; now it is planning to expand into e-commerce. Being able to experience first-hand how it is doing this in China, where there is already fierce competition between Chinese e-commerce giants, would be invaluable, and a fascinating and unique way to start my induction into marketing.

As with many industries in China, Big Data Analytics now plays a major role in marketing at Unilever. During my time with the e-commerce/Big Data Analytics team, I created and presented a ‘Path to Purchase’ Model for colleagues on the channel marketing and sales teams that focused on the major high traffic sales events in China, including the ‘cyber Monday’ equivalents of Single’s Day (November 11) and  its December counterpart ‘Double 12’day (December 12).  

Given the value of networks for professional development in China, during my internship I was fortunate to work closely with renowned marketing agencies such as Nielsen and Ad Master to evaluate their pilot projects in the hair care and laundry product categories at Unilever.  I also provided monthly trend analyses for my team that covered sales, traffic, views and impressions. By leveraging skills from my earlier career in banking, I was able to show correlations between price, investment and revenues using data modelling techniques. This structured profitability analysis framework provided both the finance and business teams with a vision they could us to achieve targeted goals.

As an international executive working in China, there are always challenges to face regarding cultural and language barriers. Although most of the members of my own and support teams (supply chain, finance, IT and channel marketing) were Chinese, I received a warm and friendly welcome from the first day, followed by efficient guidance on issues I faced, both small and large, while studying Unlever’s entire e-commerce operations and value chain.

E-commerce platforms in China are evolving at a break-neck speed, and with the promise of high rewards selling to China’s 1.3 billion consumers, an increasing number of foreign companies are keen to get a piece of the action. Compared to many other multinationals in the market, Unilever has established a strong foothold here, partnering with some of China’s e-commerce giants such as JD.com and Alibaba’s Taobao.

This internship provided me with a clear idea of my aspirations and interests going forward, and also gave me a detailed insight into the FMCG sector and the challenges that it faces. In the future I plan to continue exploring the same function area in one of the many industries that are booming in China, with consumer goods at the top of my list.  

Sneha Das MBA 2017