5 Reasons You Should Sell Online in China and How Best to Do It

SMS Text

Chinese consumers have broken online world records again. Single’s Day on Nov 11, or ‘11,11’, saw China’s online retailers slash prices by up to 70%, drawing  shoppers in their droves.  On China’s TMall and Taobao alone, Chinese filled their carts with $3 billion of goods in 24 hours, eclipsing the $1.25 billion record US retailers did on Cyber Monday.  And that’s just a taste of things to come.

China online retailers
Below are five reasons why you should be on the Chinese eCommerce wagon and some rules of thumb for riding it.

1. China’s Market is Huge and the Potential is even Bigger

China has become the world’s largest auto market.  There are more smartphones sold there than anywhere else; more groceries, beer, antiques and art.  A growing portion of China’s 1.3 billion people are making discretionary purchases every day, and it’s showing no signs of stopping.  By 2020, BCG forecasts there’ll be 280 million affluent consumers in China with a disposable income of $20K to $1m.  Between now and then, average incomes will have trebled, if not more.  In short, whatever you’re selling, it’s hard not to take notice of China. 

2. Ecommerce is Taking China by Storm

ECommerce in China has become a multi-hundred-billion-dollar-behemoth.  193 million Chinese regularly shop online, and by 2015, it’s predicted to grow to 350 million – half of China’s forecasted online population and more than the US, India, Japan, Russia and Indonesia combined.  Even the Chinese Government is putting its weight behind it in the latest 5-year plan, implementing policy in hope of quadrupling annual ecommerce volumes from 2010 to 2015 to $2.9 trillion. 

3. Because Chinese Consumers Love Western Brands

Just as Chinese consumers love to shop online, they love buying western products when they’re there. Western brands are generally perceived as higher quality and safer, with more ‘cool-factor’.  According to BCG, 61% of Chinese would pay more for US-made products. In certain categories, the preference is even higher. The World Luxury Association found 86% of Chinese consumers refuse to buy luxury goods labelled “Made in China”.  61% of Chinese have less confidence in local food than in 2011, and 28% expect to replace their domestic purchases with imports says Ipsos.

4. Reducing the Risk of Fakes

Chinese shoppers are less trusting than consumers elsewhere.  And that’s with good reason.  China is crawling with fakes from the well-known replica handbags and watches, to bogus Subway restaurants and until recently, fake Apple Stores, where even the staff were fooled.  To counter that, China’s most popular business-to-consumer website, TMall, only sells products directly from a brand owner or authorized distributor, meaning consumers can shop with the confidence of buying the real thing.  That bodes well for foreign brands who are much more likely to be copied.

5. Reaching the Inaccessible Masses

Another drawcard for eCommerce is that it reaches markets that can be difficult and expensive to service otherwise.  75% of China’s affluent middle class live in ‘smaller cities’ you’ve probably never heard of, and most of those cities don’t have the bricks & mortar stores stocking the foreign brands they want.  So they buy them online. There are close to 200 cities with over a million people in China, and going online is the easiest and most efficient way to reach them

No one will pretend that China is an easy market.  But if you’re serious about wooing the hundreds of millions of potential consumers, you’ll have a much greater chance with a solid eCommerce strategy.

Tips For eCommerce Success in China

Here are some broad-brush rules to remember if you’re selling online in China:

  • Presence on established eCommerce platforms should be part of your strategy to reach the large portion of the market who rarely shop elsewhere. The biggest player, TMall, accounts for 45.1% of online B2C sales and 360buy is 17.4%
  • Social media such as Sina Weibo is intimately tied to with online shopping and should also be a key pillar in your plan.  85% of consumers frequently use Social Media to share their online shopping experiences and 55% have participated in a discussion about a foreign brand.
  • Service is important for Chinese customers who often chat or call before making online purchases.  Its best if you’ve got someone to respond to queries when Chinese are online shopping– 7-8 in the morning until midnight is a good guideline.
  • Quick Delivery is something online Chinese have come to expect when shopping online.  It should be 1-2 days if they’re buying something close to their city, and a few days if further away.
  • Payments are not like in most western markets where credit cards are widespread.  You’ll want to offer the trusted Alipay and methods such as cash on delivery.
  • Your Website is not only imperative to online sales, but also offline sales. 37.6% of Chinese consumers regularly increase their brand awareness through websites and a further 47.5% claimed official websites increased their purchase intent; much more than the traditional channels like TV, radio and newspapers (see my previous article about getting your website right in China).

The Chinese market is always changing and there are no 100% fail-safe rules for selling in it; but if one thing’s certain, it’s that you should be selling to them online. Good luck!

Image credit: China TMall – courtesy © Delphimages – Fotolia.com

Mark Tanner
Mark Tanner is the founder of China Skinny, a service helping western businesses better understand Chinese consumers. He has been in the marketing game since 1998 in North America, Europe, Australasia and most recently, China, with a short break in Africa paddling down the Nile. His company China Skinny provides a free weekly newsletter giving insights into Chinese consumers. Subscribe at chinaskinny.com.
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • http://ignitevisibility.com Ignite Visibility

    Selling in China! Yes please! This is a cool post. I don’t see many people talking about this. What are the regulations though? Also, shipping has to be a huge concern. It would be nice if you were selling online downloads.

    • http://chinaskinny.com Mark Tanner

      Hi Ignite Visibility. Thanks for your kind words. Import regulations are generally more difficult than western markets, but nothing insurmountable. It all depends on your product category and the specific trade agreements between your country and China. There can also be labeling and other requirements. Consumer laws are generally more lax and less enforced than western markets, however Nike was recently made an example of for breaching advertising standards. Shipping is important as Chinese consumers expect to have products delivered quickly, so you’ll need to ensure you have stock in China.

      In reality, it is all worth it to tap into the potential of this large and curious market. I could talk for hours on this, so please give me a call if you’d like to know more – details above.

      • Frank

        What I’m looking for they just small entrepreneurs in China, I do not need containers to ship 10 pounds at a time equal enough for me.
        Where can I find these people


  • http://www.inboundmarketingbuzz.com.au Inbound Marketing Buzz

    If all the western online retailers starting to sell within China’s online market who is going to supply them with the content written in Chinese? Could a service offering Chinese Online Content be something valuable?

  • chijioke john

    most of online shops in china are not reliable. more so, there is no trusted website that could list reliable china online shop that one can do business with including this one. if there is, where is the website.

  • james

    Selling in China is extremely complicated. You have to deal with all kinds of importing regulations based on different product categories. Product “all in” landed in China will cost at least 60% of the USA price… maybe more. You will likely have to set up a company, JV, or license your product to a Chinese company. Chinese partnerships are risky and generally end badly. You will be running a business in China and this involves extensive dealings with the government — tax department, so you will need an incredibly good and networked accounting firm. Getting your money out of China is problematic. While the market is huge people should be made fully aware of the risks. Selling in China is not easy.

  • Import Export Pro

    For new entrepreneurs, importing products from China and selling it either online or setting up a store is one of the best way to start these days. Specially with the never ending demands of products everyday that you can find for a very affordable price in China, it will only require small capital to set everything up and running.

  • Frank

    Can someone help me a bit on the way?
    If I want to sell in China, using the market in China and goods, and I’m quite a while to find out which site can I best look to ordinary middle class to find stores and buyers

    • http://chinaskinny.com Mark Tanner

      Hi Frank,
      We’d be more than happy to provide insights, strategy and execution for selling to middle class Chinese consumers. You can find a lot of information on our site, chinaskinny.com, and our contact details if you would like to discuss our services.
      Cheers, Mark

  • Frank

    What I’m looking for they just small entrepreneurs in China, I do not need containers to ship 10 pounds at a time equal enough for me.
    Where can I find these people