China is one of the largest and most lucrative ecommerce markets in the world, with a gross market value (GMV) of $2.8 billion. Over the past decade, the Chinese ecommerce market has undergone a significant transformation, a major contributor to which is the rise of domestic Chinese ecommerce platforms.
From the emergence of Alibaba to the rise of new players like Douyin and Pinduoduo, it seems all has happened in the blink of an eye.
There are currently six major ecommerce players in China. They provide businesses with an effective way to reach consumers, making them a crucial aspect of any global ecommerce strategy, but present unique challenges for businesses at the same time.
Let’s take a look.
Pros And Cons Of Chinese Ecommerce Platforms
The Chinese ecommerce market offers vast opportunities but also poses challenges for businesses. Here are the main benefits and drawbacks.
- Large market: China has the largest ecommerce market in the world, with over 900 million online shoppers.
- Diverse demographics: Ecommerce platforms in China serve a wide spectrum of demographics, including young urbanites, rural populations, and senior citizens.
- Advanced technology: Chinese ecommerce platforms often incorporate advanced technology such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence to enhance the shopping experience.
- Comprehensive services: These platforms offer comprehensive services, including payment systems, logistics, and customer support.
- Intense competition: The Chinese ecommerce market in China is highly competitive, with many large players vying for market share.
- Strict regulations: The Chinese government has implemented strict regulations on ecommerce, which can be challenging for international companies operating in the market.
- High fees: The Chinese ecommerce platforms impose a range of fees, which are expensive for businesses and have a big impact on their profit margins.
- Discount pressure: Steep discounts are practically required to boost your ecommerce sales in the short term, but they could harm your brand in the long run—lowering the perceived worth of your goods, sabotaging distribution, and decreasing profits too.
The 6 Top Chinese Ecommerce Platforms In 2023
With an estimated monthly traffic of over 850 million by mid-2022, Taobao is the leading player in China's C2C ecommerce market, offering a wide range of products at competitive prices with features similar to Amazon, such as a credit and rating system and the ability to research products before making a purchase.
Taobao Live, a livestreaming feature within the Taobao app, has become an increasingly important part of the platform's success. The feature has proved to be a lifeline for many businesses during the pandemic, driving subscriptions and revenue for Taobao.
Data shows that Taobao Live’s gross volume of goods sold has grown by 150% per year for three consecutive years, making it a powerful tool for businesses looking to reach and engage with customers in real time.
2. Tmall & Tmall Global
Tmall is the upscale platform for established brands to sell high-quality products directly to consumers, hosting international brands such as Gucci, Burberry, Lancome, and more.
Tmall Global is its cross-border ecommerce platform that provides an opportunity for smaller foreign companies to reach the Chinese market directly. It has been widely used by foreign brands in the beauty, lifestyle, and wellness sectors. And many have enjoyed great success.
While the entry requirements to Tmall Global can be strict—and the initial cost is high—it is one of the most effective channels for brands looking to reach Chinese customers directly.
JD.com is one of Alibaba’s major rivals, originally focused on tech products but now diversified into beauty and groceries.
Well-regarded for its quality products, fast delivery, and innovative approach, JD.com also serves cross-border ecommerce companies through JD Worldwide, which allows international merchants to sell directly to Chinese consumers without a physical presence in the country.
JD's logistics network is a key advantage for its partners. With a network of over 800 warehouses, many of which are fully automated, JD Logistics offers a range of supply chain solutions, shipping and delivery, and after-sales service. This makes JD a reliable and efficient choice for businesses looking to expand in the Chinese market.
The platform's innovative business model, which leverages heavily discounted pricing through ecommerce gamification and group buying, has set it apart from traditional ecommerce players.
By allowing customers to pool their buying power, Pinduoduo encourages viral engagement and repeat purchases. This approach has proven successful, and in the summer of 2019, Pinduoduo surpassed JD to become the second-largest ecommerce platform in China (after Tmall).
Pinduoduo’s rapid growth has even led Taobao to launch its own affiliate program, Taoxiaopu, in response.
Douyin, known as the sister app of TikTok in China, is only available in China and has a lot more to offer than just a short-video sharing platform.
With the integration of group livestreams, voice comments, in-video search, location tagging, and, more importantly, in-app shopping, Douyin has become one of the most powerful tools for businesses to reach their targeted Chinese consumers.
According to Sam Deacon, the Chief Commercial Officer at Samarkand Global, a UK-based cross-border ecommerce company that specialized in launching international premium niche beauty brands in China, Douyin offers businesses a huge market, opportunities for repeat business, and customer loyalty.
Because of the incredible content produced by knowledgeable influencers, KOLs, and live streams, the significant amount of time (on average over 100 minutes a day) users spent on the platform, and the potential of the content recommendation algorithms, "I think it will be here to stay," Deacon said.
6. Xiaohongshu (RED)
The Little Red Book, commonly known as Red or Xiaohongshu in Mandarin, is a social app that’s only available on mobile devices. It was initially created as a platform for women to share and exchange information on various lifestyle topics such as beauty, fashion, food, travel, and wellness.
Today, it has become the go-to social media platform for high-end and luxury brands and consumers in China, serving as a critical component in the pre-purchase journey for many Chinese consumers by providing product context in an entertaining way.
With 200 million monthly active users, primarily affluent young women in first and second-tier cities, Xiaohongshu presents a significant opportunity for ecommerce businesses to reach and interact with potential customers, as well as to gain valuable insights into the Chinese consumer market.
Other Chinese Ecommerce Solutions To Consider
A flagship store on the above ecommerce platforms is great for building brand awareness and credibility. However, smaller international brands also have the option to distribute through other channels.
For example, celebrities and key opinion leaders (KOLs) with a significant following have opened very successful stores on WeChat mini-programs.
Deacon points out that selling through these shops is an effective way, “even more effective than Tmall in some cases, for consumers to discover and understand new brands and products.”
Is Your Business Ready for the Big Chinese Ecommerce Platforms?
Although not previously widely adopted by businesses entering the China market, localizing your official website for Chinese audiences can be a great first step in targeting new consumers in the Asian market.
However, many companies don't bother to launch an official website in Chinese because it does not correspond to the shopping habits of Chinese consumers, who use the aforementioned ecommerce platforms far more frequently than brands' DTC channels.
With the growing accessibility and convenience of international shopping and delivery, though, many Chinese consumers are comfortable with shopping directly from your website.
By making it more user-friendly in terms of language, unique user behaviors, and payment methods, you’d be surprised at the number of visits and purchases you’ll get from China.
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