In recent years, China has become the largest eCommerce market in the world. If you’re not selling your products through Chinese e-commerce channels, you’re missing out on a big opportunity. There are several reasons why selling online in China is a good idea, and we’ll outline some of them in this post. Keep reading to learn more!
Reasons to sell your products on online shopping platforms in China
China’s market is huge and the potential is even greater
China has become the largest market in the world. In 2022, China’s online retail sales reached 13,785.3 billion yuan, an increase of 4.0% compared to the previous year. Around 73% of all payments were made via mobile payment modes.
To conclude, no matter what you sell, it is important to take into account the Chinese market. If you want to sell in China, having an online store on a Chinese online marketplace will definitely put you in the game in the Chinese eCommerce market.
The domestic market for E-commerce explodes in China
China is the leader in terms of e-commerce. By 2021, there are 842 million online shoppers in China and for more than 10 years, this number increases constantly. E-Commerce is in its heyday in China, representing approximately 35% of the overall retail market share.
Now, after the pandemic, even more people shop online, as they got used to it during several lockdowns. Technology and business cultures are not reserved for young people anymore. Nowadays even the oldest Chinese visit online stores and Chinese search engines to find the products they are looking for.
And because of that boom in online shopping, the competition between eCommerce sites is high. This competition is to your benefit as platforms make everything possible to be more attractive to both consumers and brands. This means innovation such as new types of advertising, and social e-commerce features. But more importantly, it means it becomes easier to enter China’s eCommerce market.
China’s appetite for Western products
Just as Chinese consumers like to buy online, they love to buy Western products. Western brands are generally perceived as better and safer. According to one study, 61% of Chinese would pay more for products manufactured in the United States. In some categories, the preference is even higher. The World Luxury Association revealed that 86% of Chinese consumers refused to buy luxury goods labeled “Made in China”.
Although it’s complicated for foreign companies to enter the Chinese market at first (many platforms require a Chinese business license and a Chinese bank account to even start), it’s definitely worth the effort, as Chinese consumers are still interested in foreign products.
Reduce the risk of counterfeit products
Chinese buyers are the most suspicious of consumers because China is known for counterfeit products. (imitation of big brands for bags, watches, clothes …). To gain the market and consumers, the most popular e-commerce online platform, Tmall, only sells products directly from a brand owner or an authorized distributor, meaning that consumers can buy with confidence. Tmall is the most trusted Chinese online marketplace for foreign brands.
Reaching a Chinese population in rural areas
70% of the middle class in China live in “small towns” you have probably never heard of, and most of these cities do not have nearby stores that provide foreign brands.
Thus, they buy the products online. There are nearly 200 cities with more than one million people in China, and online access is the simplest and most effective way to reach them. No one will argue that China is an easy market. That’s why you need to build a solid e-commerce strategy in China to reach Chinese consumers.
What are the most popular e-commerce platforms in China?
Chinese customers can easily acquire the items they need by going straight to platforms like Tmall, Tmall Global, and Taobao. Yet for foreign companies hoping to join their ranks on these marketplaces, it’s not so straightforward – stringent requirements must be met in order to secure a place among them.
Businesses that already hold some appeal with Chinese shoppers may have an easier time getting listed while others could find themselves facing steep challenges as they try to gain access.
Pinduoduo, now the second-largest e-commerce platform in China, has made a huge impact on online shopping through its innovative strategies such as social commerce and team purchasing. Contrastingly, JD stands out for its impeccable logistical capabilities and commitment to product safety – setting them apart from other competitors.
The platform you chose will depend on your budget, product type, target audience, and accessibility. If you want to sell luxury products, cosmetics, etc. we strongly advise using Tmall or Tmall Global (for companies wanting to sell cross-border), as it’s the most trusted online marketplace for foreign brands.
Tips for e-commerce success in China
Here are some general rules if you want to sell online in China:
- Tmall represents 45.1% of online B2C sales and is the leader of the Chinese B2C e-commerce market.
- The presence on e-commerce platforms must be part of your strategy
- Use WeChat as a platform for the newsletter
- Social media such as Weibo are intimately linked to online shopping and should also be a key pillar of your plan
85% of consumers use social media frequently to share their online shopping experiences and 55% have participated in a discussion about a foreign brand.
- The services are important for Chinese customers who appeal before shopping online.
It is best that you have someone to answer queries immediately when your Chinese customers are shopping online – 7 to 8 am until midnight is a good guideline.
- Fast delivery is essential in China
- Payments are not like in most western markets where credit cards are widespread
The Chinese use Alipay and WeChat pay which are trusted online payments. Your own website is not only imperative for online sales, but also for offline sales.
37.6% of Chinese consumers regularly increase their knowledge of the brand through websites. The Chinese market is changing a lot but one thing is certain: selling online is a strategy to adopt.
Brand awareness is essential when selling online in China
Before you enter the Chinese market, you need to be aware of the differences between the Chinese business culture and the market and the other ones. The market is different because the customer’s habits and consumption concepts are not the same as in Western countries. Chinese people care about quality. With the rising affluence, they are ready to pay for high-end products, even if they are expensive.
However, they don’t purchase brands or products that they don’t know. Moreover, before making their decision, they usually search for a lot of information about certain brands in order to ensure that it is a good product. Therefore, your brand awareness is essential for you to gain this market.
Use social media to build brand awareness and sell in China
It concerns completely another digital marketing strategy when you are going to sell online in China, because Chinese netizens don’t use Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any other social platforms you are already familiar with. They use WeChat, Weibo, Xiaohongshu etc. So if you want to sell online in China, you have to get familiar with all those social media platforms and marketplace platforms.
WeChat and Weibo are two of the most popular social platforms in China, in fact, with Douyin and Xiaohongshu, the 4 apps lead the social media market space. They are playing a very important role in Chinese modern lives.
WeChat is more than a messaging app, with over 1.2bn users as of 2023. It has very comprehensive functionalities from basic messaging services to an e-commerce platform with its own mobile payment system.
WeChat provides mini-programs for Chinese shoppers. Without downloading apps, Chinese users can use numerous apps on WeChat platforms. Even Weibo has its mini-program on WeChat. What’s more, this mini-program feature can also be used in online shopping malls. Thanks to this feature, WeChat is becoming another very powerful Chinese marketplace.
WeChat is like Whats app, it is a closed social network, which means you can see one’s content only if you are invited. As a result, users on WeChat are more loyal, and users in the same community share common interests. Therefore, advertising on WeChat can help you to focus on your targeted customers efficiently.
Weibo is an open social platform, with more than 550 million users. The characteristic of Weibo is mass broadcasting. Since everyone on Weibo is free to see others, this social network is also a center for KOLs’ activities.
Companies on Weibo can communicate with their fans, announce their new products, and any other interactions in order to boost their brand awareness. Chinese companies as well as global firms such as L’Oréal, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and Coca-Cola all have an official account. It is without a doubt a powerful marketing platform.
Weibo is also an efficient platform for ads with many formats available and a varied user base.
Xiaohongshu / Little Red Book
RED is a very popular user-generated content platform in China, often called the Instagram of China. Its focus on user-generated content made it one of the most popular social media platforms and the China online go-to place for people, especially women, looking for lifestyle content and tips and recommendations, especially when it comes to fashion, beauty, and travel.
As the majority of users on Xiaohongshu are women (in fact, the platform started as a place for women), it’s the best network for brands targeting young women in the China market. Thanks to word-of-mouth marketing, it also became a very lively platform for Chinese influencers, that promote brands through sponsored posts and live streams.
RED also has its own online marketplace, which is useful, especially for brands engaging in live streaming because KOLs can put direct links to products they are promoting, helping the sales skyrocket in just one day.
Douyin, the Chinese Tik Tok, is actually the mother app of the most famous short-video platform. It’s excluded only to the Chinese market.
Douyin is a great platform for brands that want to target young Chinese consumers, as this is the majority of users that you can find there.
It has its own online marketplace, advertising options, brand pages, and business accounts, offering many great opportunities for brands. It’s also a great platform for live-streaming promotion.
Forums and Q&A platforms will help with your e-reputation
There are a few key reasons why forums and Q&A can be useful for digital marketing in China. Those platforms are very useful because Chinese consumers rely on word-of-mouth marketing more than on brands’ official communication.
They provide a place for customers and potential customers to ask questions and get honest feedback from other users. This can be incredibly valuable for companies, as it helps to create an open dialogue with customers and understand their needs and concerns.
Forums and Q&A can also help to build trust and credibility with potential consumers, as they can see that the company is willing to engage openly and honestly with them. They can also be a great way to generate new leads and customers, as people who are actively searching for answers may come across your company’s content or product recommendations.
We advise using forums like Zhihu (the most popular Q&A platform in China) or Baidu Tieba, where you can find topics relevant to your sector, or create new ones, focused on your brand and products. Those interactions will also boost your visibility on Chinese search engines, which is helpful for search engine optimization.
Live-streaming platforms increase your brand exposure
In recent years, live streams have become very popular in China, especially during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Chinese people don’t need to go to physical shops, only with their fingers, they can go window-shopping.
Online live streams boost online shopping, especially if they are done on platforms that provide the option to link directly to sales pages. No matter who you are, or where you are, you can use this new model to sell your products online. This brand-new way of e-commerce has even reached peasants living in rural mountain areas.
The combination of live streams and e-commerce has clearly manifested in the past three years, and traditional shopping platforms have also opened live-streaming channels.
The most famous now are Douyin and Kuaishou (the biggest competitor of Douyin), but some giant e-commerce platforms like Taobao and JD have also their own live streams.
One thing you need to know is that live streams are always linked with KOLs, together with KOLs, these platforms serve as a powerful tool for your successful marketing campaign.
KOL marketing in China, what is it? and why do foreign companies need it?
KOL marketing is a type of influencer marketing where businesses work with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) to promote their products or services. These KOLs are influential individuals on social media who have a large following and can help to increase brand awareness and drive sales.
There are different types of KOLS:
- Stars of brand ambassadors: movie/music stars and so on.
- KOLs: Your typical influencers. They are market influencers and the biggest name such as Li Jiaqi are trendsetters
- Micro-Influencers: small influencers with less than 10k followers. Great for small brands with low budgets and to test out new audiences. This KOL usually has more time to engage with followers and is endorsing fewer sponsors making them look more reliable.
- KOC (key opinion consumers): affluent consumers or affluent communities of super consumers.
Create a Chinese website to boost your online visibility
Chinese customers love to surf the Internet to find out enough information before purchasing. So your website will be a very efficient channel to educate viewers about your brand image, the company concept, products exhibition, etc.
International brands will need:
- Locally-hosted sites: foreign-hosted sites tends not to fare well in terms of loading speed, which impacts their bouncing rate and overall ranking on Baidu.
- Mobile-friendly sites: most Chinese people shop on their phones
- Social media Contact info: a company without social media presence won’t be trusted in China
- Live chat if possible: Chinese people are used to a fast customer service
- Links to major eCommerce sites where you are operating
They may not make an order directly through your website, because they prefer to use Tmall, JD, and other Chinese eCommerce sites, but it is very important to have a well-designed Chinese version website in order to show them that you are professional and serious. Only if you make them feel like that, you shall get their confidence, and confidence is the key to winning the Chinese online market.
Take care of your Baidu SEO
If we talk about SEO, we must refer to Baidu. Baidu is the largest search engine in China. You should know that the Chinese don’t use Google, Bing, or other Western search engines that you know. So if you want to optimize your website, Baidu is the first choice.
To be able to rank on the first pages on Baidu SERP, you need to optimize your website with the right keywords, meta descriptions, backlinks and more.
Apart from the website, the use of forums that we mentioned earlier will also boost your visibility online. Baidu is a big ecosystem of websites and platforms, just like Google, and it helps to use it for your advantage.
856,000 companies are using Baidu marketing now, including those big firms like Cartier, Channel, and Burberry.
You are a new market entrant that wants to sell in China?
If you want to know more about Chinese e-commerce and how to do your digital marketing in China, Contact GMA, a digital marketing agency, that specialized in the Chinese digital market, we will be very happy to help you.
- A team of 70 digital marketing specialists in China
- Experienced & Professional in supporting companies in their development in China
- Deep knowledge of the Chinese lifestyle and shopping behavior
- A passionate international team
- Official Company registration package on Social media & eCommerce apps
Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or contact us to discuss your options in China. We offer a free consultation with one of our experts, that will learn about your brand and offer you the best solutions for your market entry. Let’s keep in touch!