China is one of the largest and most rapidly growing e-commerce markets in the world. In 2022, about 27.2 percent of the total retail sales in China were made online, increasing from 24.5 percent in 2021.
Chinese consumers are used to online shopping and often rely on online reviews and recommendations, driving further e-commerce growth. New business models like live-stream shopping, social commerce, and unmanned stores are continually emerging, fueling the industry\’s growth. Understanding the preferences and habits of Chinese consumers in the realm of e-commerce is essential for businesses hoping to tap into the massive market.
China’s e-commerce landscape is dominated by giants like Alibaba (with its Taobao and Tmall platforms) and JD.com. Alibaba accounted for approximately 50-60% of the total e-commerce sales in China as of 2020. Emerging platforms such as Pinduoduo and Douyin are also eating the market share. Each platform has its own target audience and market positioning.
Launched in 2003, Taobao is Alibaba’s consumer-to-consumer (C2C) platform, similar to eBay in the West. It allows individual sellers and small businesses to open online stores and cater to a vast number of consumers. It’s known for its vast product range and is often the go-to place for a wide variety of goods.
Target Audience: Initially designed for consumer-to-consumer (C2C) transactions, Taobao caters to individuals and small businesses looking to buy or sell goods. It\’s comprehensive, offering everything from daily necessities to odd and unique items.
Market Positioning: Taobao is often considered the Chinese equivalent to eBay. It focuses on providing a platform where individual sellers can open online storefronts.
An offshoot of Taobao, Tmall is a business-to-consumer (B2C) platform, where larger brands and manufacturers can set up their own storefronts. It has become the go-to destination for brands, especially international brands, to sell in China.
Target Audience: Primarily middle to upper-class consumers who are looking for branded and quality products.
Market Positioning: Tmall is seen as a premium online marketplace where consumers can purchase branded and authentic products. It assures quality and often hosts official brand stores.
JD.com holds a market share of around 16-20%, as per estimates.
Target Audience: JD.com initially appealed to consumers looking for authentic, quality products. It\’s particularly strong in electronics and home appliances. In recent years, more and more luxury brands are also opening shops on JD as the platform tries to tap into fashion and luxury space.
Market Positioning: JD is known for its B2C (Business-to-Consumer) approach. It\’s often compared with Amazon due to its similar model of holding inventory and emphasizing fast and reliable delivery. JD.com has invested heavily in logistics and infrastructure to ensure quick deliveries. It positions itself as a premium platform ensuring authenticity and quality, which helps to differentiate it from other Chinese e-commerce platforms that might be plagued with counterfeit issues.
Founded in 2015 by Colin Huang, this platform has been a disruptive force in the e-commerce space, focusing on group-buying schemes and appealing to cost-sensitive consumers in lower-tier cities. Pinduoduo had rapidly gained market share, making it the third-largest e-commerce platform.
Tier 3 and Lower Cities: Initially, Pinduoduo targeted consumers in China\’s smaller cities, towns, and rural areas, where e-commerce penetration was relatively lower than in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. Many of these consumers were price-sensitive and looking for deals.
Value-driven Shoppers: Pinduoduo attracted users with its group-buying feature, which offers discounts for products if they are purchased in bulk or with friends. This appeals to users who prioritize cost savings over brand names.
Mobile-first Users: Pinduoduo operates primarily through its mobile application, targeting users who shop on their smartphones. The platform was designed with mobile user behavior in mind, with features like interactive games and sharing functions.
Originally designed for users to share short, creative videos, the platform quickly became a major player in the global social media landscape.
As with many social media platforms, Douyin sought to monetize its massive user base and facilitate online shopping experiences directly within the app. This led to the development of its e-commerce function.
In-video Shopping: Content creators can embed shopping links directly in their videos. When viewers tap on products shown in a video, they’re redirected to an in-app product page where they can make a purchase.
Douyin was targeting a wide range of users for its e-commerce feature. Here’s a general overview of Douyin e-commerce’s target users:
- Young Users: Douyin (TikTok) originally attracted a younger audience, predominantly in the Gen Z and younger millennial demographics. This group remains a core audience for the platform, and many e-commerce integrations cater to the tastes and preferences of these age groups.
- Fashion and Beauty Enthusiasts: Given the visual nature of Douyin, fashion and beauty products perform especially well. Users interested in these categories, often looking for trends, tutorials, and product recommendations, are major targets.
Tech-Savvy Shoppers: As with most social media platforms, Douyin’s e-commerce feature resonates most with users who are comfortable with online shopping and are open to discovering and purchasing products in a non-traditional e-commerce setting.
- Urban Population: In its early days, Douyin’s user base was concentrated in China’s first and second-tier cities. While it has since expanded its reach, urban users remain a key demographic, often being early adopters of new trends and more frequent online shoppers.
- Content Creators and Influencers: With the introduction of e-commerce features, Douyin has also targeted content creators and influencers by offering them new ways to monetize their content. Through affiliate marketing, product promotions, and direct sales, influencers can now derive income from the products they recommend.
- Brands and Retailers: On the supply side, Douyin’s e-commerce platform targets both well-established brands and up-and-coming retailers, providing them with a platform to showcase and sell their products to a vast audience.
- Niche and Hobbyist Groups: Like other social platforms, Douyin has communities centered around specific hobbies, interests, and niches. E-commerce offerings can target these specific groups, whether they’re interested in tech gadgets, crafts, home decor, or any other specific domain.
Douyin’s e-commerce integrations and features are still in a growth phase, and the platform was experimenting with different strategies to enhance user experience and increase sales conversions.
With over a billion users, practically everyone in China uses WeChat for communication, making every one of them a potential e-commerce customer.
Both local and international brands looking to tap into the Chinese market can establish an online presence through WeChat’s e-commerce functionalities.
- WeChat Mini Programs: Mini Programs are sub-applications within the WeChat ecosystem. They enable businesses to build e-commerce platforms, booking systems, or any service-based application without requiring users to download separate apps.
Many brands and merchants set up online stores directly within WeChat miniprograms, where users can browse products, read reviews, and make purchases.
- WeChat Moments Advertising: Businesses can promote their products or services through ads on WeChat Moments, the platform’s social feed. Clicking on an ad can redirect users to a product page or mini program, facilitating quick purchases.
Customer Service & Chatbots: WeChat allows businesses to integrate AI-powered chatbots for customer service inquiries, order tracking, and product recommendations.
- With the relatively low barrier to entry for creating Mini Programs and WeChat Shops, SMEs find it an attractive platform to kickstart their e-commerce ventures.
KOLs leverage their follower base on WeChat to promote and sell products, often in collaboration with brands.
- Service-based Industries: Beyond traditional retail, sectors like hospitality, entertainment, and fitness have also integrated into WeChat’s e-commerce environment, offering bookings, ticket sales, and more.
The comprehensive nature of WeChat’s e-commerce functionalities has made it a one-stop platform for a wide range of audience segments.
Other niche eCommerce platforms
Suning.com and Vipshop
These platforms have a smaller share but are significant in specific categories. Suning.com is strong in electronics, while Vipshop focuses on flash sales and discounted branded goods.
DeWu (also known as “Poizon” in English), a leading sneaker and streetwear resale platform in China, has positioned itself as one of the dominant players in the Chinese streetwear e-commerce scene.
DeWu eCommerce Functions:
- Buying & Selling Platform: DeWu allows users to buy and sell authentic sneakers, streetwear, and other related accessories.
- Authentication Service: One of the key features of DeWu is its commitment to ensuring the authenticity of items sold on its platform. Sellers send their products to DeWu for authentication before they’re shipped to buyers, which builds trust among its user base.
- Auction System: Just like some other resale platforms, DeWu has an auction feature, allowing users to bid on highly sought-after items.
- Trend Discovery: DeWu offers insights into the latest trends in the sneaker and streetwear market, helping users keep up with popular items.
- Social Features: Users can share their collections, comment on products, and engage with other community members, making it not just a marketplace but also a social platform.
- Special Releases & Collaborations: DeWu often partners with brands for special releases, exclusive drops, and other collaborative events.
- Sneakerheads: Those passionate about collecting and trading sneakers are a significant portion of DeWu’s user base.
- Streetwear Enthusiasts: Beyond sneakers, DeWu appeals to those who are into streetwear clothing and accessories.
- Resellers: Individuals or businesses that buy limited-edition releases to sell at a markup find platforms like DeWu ideal for reaching a broader audience.
- Fashion-forward Youth: The younger generation, particularly Gen Z and younger millennials, who are keen on keeping up with the latest fashion trends, are primary users.
- Brands & Designers: Emerging and established streetwear brands and designers can tap into DeWu’s platform for special releases or to gauge the market’s reception to new products.
- Collectors: Beyond mere fashion, some users treat certain sneakers and streetwear items as collectibles, valuing their rarity and cultural significance.
Xiaohongshu (which translates to “Little Red Book” in English) is a unique platform that emerged in China as a blend between social media and e-commerce. It started as a community for users to share product reviews and shopping experiences, especially from overseas, but has since evolved into a comprehensive platform.
Xiaohongshu eCommerce Functions:
- UGC (User Generated Content) Driven Platform: Xiaohongshu’s primary distinction is its reliance on UGC. Users post product reviews, tutorials, travel logs, lifestyle tips, and more. These posts can include tagged products, directing viewers to purchase options.
- Integrated Shopping Experience: Users can easily purchase products they see in posts without leaving the platform. This integration of content and commerce is a key feature.
- Influencer & KOL Collaboration: Influencers and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) can create content, engage with followers, and even open their own stores on the platform.
- Personalized Feed: Based on user interactions and preferences, Xiaohongshu offers a tailored content feed, ensuring users see products and posts most relevant to them.
- Search & Discover: Users can search for specific products or browse various categories and tags, making product discovery easy.
- Flash Sales & Promotions: The platform occasionally hosts sales events, allowing brands to offer limited-time discounts to users.
- Verified Review System: To ensure authenticity and trust, Xiaohongshu has a system in place where certain product reviews are verified based on actual purchase records on the platform.
- Young, Urban Female Consumers: Initially, the platform was predominantly used by young women, especially in urban areas. They came to Xiaohongshu for beauty, fashion, and lifestyle advice.
- Overseas Shoppers: Given its origins as a platform for sharing overseas shopping tips, Xiaohongshu attracted users interested in international products, especially those hard to find in China.
- Lifestyle & Beauty Enthusiasts: Content on Xiaohongshu covers a broad range of topics, but beauty, skincare, and general lifestyle tips are particularly prevalent.
- Brands and Retailers: Both local and international brands use Xiaohongshu to market their products, leveraging UGC and KOL collaborations for authentic marketing.
- Influencers & Content Creators: Given its UGC-centric model, influencers and regular users alike can share their insights, build a following, and even monetize their presence.
- Shoppers Seeking Authentic Reviews: Users looking for genuine product reviews and recommendations find the platform valuable.
Over time, Xiaohongshu has grown and diversified its user base. Its blend of social media and e-commerce has resonated with Chinese consumers, making it a platform of significant interest for brands and marketers looking to tap into the Chinese market.
China is one of the world’s leading e-commerce markets, and its rapid evolution is characterized by unique platforms, consumer behaviors, and digital integrations not always seen in Western countries. Here are some notable e-commerce habits and trends:
- Mobile Dominance: The majority of e-commerce transactions in China are done via mobile devices. Apps like Taobao, JD.com, Pinduoduo, and Xiaohongshu have intuitive mobile interfaces and functions that cater to on-the-go consumers.
- Integration with Social Media: There’s a blurred line between social media and e-commerce in China. Platforms like WeChat and Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) integrate social content with shopping, allowing users to make purchases without leaving the app.
- Live Streaming Commerce: Live streaming has become a popular way to showcase products and interact with customers in real-time. Influencers, celebrities, and even brand CEOs host sessions, demonstrating products and offering limited-time promotions.
- Group Buying: Platforms like Pinduoduo have popularized the concept of group buying, where users can get discounts by purchasing products as a group. This approach often leverages social networks, as users invite friends and family to join a purchase group.
- Preference for Digital Payments: Almost universally, consumers in China prefer digital payments. Services like Alipay and WeChat Pay are ubiquitous and are used for both online and offline transactions.
- Value-Driven Shopping: While luxury and brand-name products are popular, there’s a substantial segment of consumers looking for value deals, leading to the rise of platforms like Pinduoduo that emphasize cost savings.
- Cross-Border Shopping: Chinese consumers have a strong appetite for international brands and products, often perceived as being of higher quality or prestige. Platforms like Tmall Global and JD Worldwide cater to this demand, offering overseas products.
- High Expectations for Delivery: Same-day or next-day delivery is common in urban areas. Logistics infrastructure, powered by technology, ensures swift and efficient product deliveries.
- QR Codes: QR codes facilitate everything from accessing product information, promotions, and reviews to making payments. They’re an integral part of the shopping experience.
- Customized and Personalized Shopping: AI and big data analytics are frequently used to offer personalized shopping experiences, from product recommendations to targeted promotions.
- Consumer Feedback Matters: Reviews and ratings are crucial. Before making a purchase, consumers often look at product reviews and seller ratings. Platforms like Taobao have intricate feedback systems that influence purchasing decisions.
- Frequent Sales and Festivals: China has its own set of e-commerce festivals. Singles’ Day (11.11) hosted by Alibaba is the largest, but there are many others throughout the year such 618 shopping in June.
- Evolving Regulatory Landscape: The Chinese government has been implementing more stringent regulations on e-commerce, affecting areas like data privacy, anti-monopoly practices, and consumer rights. Companies and consumers alike have to be aware of the changing rules.
China’s e-commerce landscape is dynamic and ever-evolving. Brands and businesses looking to tap into this market must understand these habits and be agile enough to adapt to the latest trends and consumer behaviors. Gab China specializes in assisting brands with successful launches and sales on various eCommerce platforms in China. Contact us for a complimentary consultation.