Author: Ann Bierbower, Senior Marketing Manager of Shanghai-based China Skinny
There is no lack of headlines about the rising power of eCommerce in China. A rapid growth in personal income paired with the ease and flexibility of shopping online has resulted in eCommerce becoming not just a way to shop but a way of life in China. More than ever before Chinese consumers now have the ability and curiosity to buy everything from imported meat to cosmetics, bags and more. Below are three considerations for eCommerce in China.
Compared to the West, eCommerce pages in China are very different. Online shoppers in China live in cities that are full of activity, and their preferences online reflect this too. Busy product pages with lots of information is required in China while similar pages in the West are typically simpler and cleaner. For example, take a look below comparing an Amazon page and Tmall page for a simple hairbrush. Extensive information regarding the product, uses, and reviews are available on the Tmall page to highlight every imaginable feature of the brush.
A detailed eCommerce page is a must for Chinese consumers looking for information for a new-to-them brand or product.
One reason for significantly more information on product pages is that Chinese consumers do much more research than their counterparts in the West. Due to a general lack of trust, history of fakes, and general newness to consumer products, Chinese consumers require more in-depth information. The customer journey in China is more nuanced with almost 90% of Chinese doing research before making a purchase1. Their research ranges from reading product pages on eCommerce, brand websites and communications to exploring social media, forums, and offline touch-points.
For example, researching a country of origin is often a top consideration for purchase decisions. Take dairy; it is a product where Chinese consumers are very concerned with country of origin information. Brands should share country and region origin for as much of their product as possible, and also share the story of why those origin places are important. A consumer considering French or Swiss cheese or Australian dairy may not know the difference between these places, so highlight how the cows are raised, what they eat, the supply chain and why it’s truly superior to other available products and origins. Brands will do best by sharing detailed product information and the unique selling points.
Increasingly the world is merging from online to offline and back again. It’s a blurry line. This is immensely true for Chinese. One reason for the boom of eCommerce is the adaption rate of the internet in China, much of which is happening on mobile. Even with the eCommerce explosion, malls in the mainland are becoming more like entertainment centres rather than retail points2 and offline is still a key piece of the customer journey. Chinese consumers want to see, touch and if possible try products offline. But Chinese consumers are also more engaged online than in other countries. A PWC survey3 last summer found that 85% of Chinese consumers chose a digital channel as the first step in researching a new product and 58% of Chinese consumers stated that when they made a purchase that research was done online, compared to 47% globally. Providing an integrated brand experience offline and online is expected. Many fashion brands do this well in China. For example, fashion brands Michael Kors and Burberry provided live feeds of their fashion events allowing fans to experience the brand, something that was once only reserved for VIPS.
Online success can also take a brand offline as well. Starting online may be a good way for a brand to gain experience and confidence with Chinese consumers. New York brand Otte invested heavily in Weibo and WeChat, two of China’s main social media platforms. Developing a website within WeChat allowing customers to buy directly in the app, providing quality content and style advice in addition to answering private messages personally and developing a VIP club has made Otte a revered brand for Chinese consumers. Due to their effective social media strategy for Chinese consumers the brand plans to open a shop in Shanghai this year. Understanding and influencing how consumers think about your brand or product is key to developing an effective online/offline strategy.
Go into your average restaurant in China and you’re likely to get laughably bad service. Poor service in some sectors is a legacy of the Mao era economy and a traditional emphasis on price competition, rather than service competition. It’s one of those China peculiarities that can become endearing after time. This is no longer the standard everywhere in China, especially online. One reason shopping online is so popular is because of the amazing service available. Consumers talk with store owners via online platforms and WeChat, asking many questions before and after purchasing, and they expect instant answers. Sellers are available from 9am to 10pm with some sellers giving instantaneous responses until midnight.
An example of this is Alibaba’s Aliwangwang instant messenger, a heavily used feature allowing shoppers and sellers to communicate in real time chats. This is not just seen as transactional with many sellers forging real relationships with shoppers who then become repeat customers. Sellers often address potential customers as “dear” and answer questions within seconds. With service like this, compared to the often dismal offline service, it’s not wonder eCommerce is popular with Chinese consumers.
Instantaneous online is the norm in China
eCommerce is not just a way to shop, but a part of Chinese consumers’ lifestyle. It is essential to see how and why products from abroad suit various target market groups in China. The eCommerce landscape here is really like nowhere else on Earth and getting noticed takes thoughtful and dedicated work. eCommerce’s importance goes far beyond being a sales channel in China; it is also a powerful marketing tool for research-hungry consumers. Done well, it will be one of the most effective components of a marketing strategy for businesses entering China.