eCommerce in China promises huge rewards for companies who invest in Chinese millennials and stay on top of the latest technological, mobile and social media trends.
“In China, eCommerce is a way of life”. Jack Ma would know. As the billionaire co-founder of Alibaba, his success has been built on the penchant of China’s 731 million internet users for online shopping.
It’s predicted that around half of China’s eCommerce market will comprise cross-border commerce: that’s around a quarter of the population (source: eMarketer). From nearly thirty years of supporting international brands in China, here are some core considerations to help scale the Great Firewall.
MEET THE MILLENNIALS
In China’s eCommerce world, the millennial is king. 70% of online shoppers are 18-35-year-olds (source: East West Bank). Young and tech-savvy, with no student loans or housing expenses to drain their finances, they’re able to spend freely. However, if you want to gain their attention, you’ll have to fight for it. Luckily, foreign businesses are in a good position to do so. Here’s how:
1. Flaunt the foreign
Due to the poor standard of domestic goods, Chinese consumers often look abroad for quality. However, the common misconception is that a ‘Made in the UK’ or ‘Made in France’ label will suffice. Chinese consumers are actively engaged and highly sophisticated. By all means leverage your brand heritage but in a way that tells a story, captures imagination and, most importantly, gives the consumer a feeling of heightened social identity.
2. Build your brand
Overseas brand awareness is strong, but to convert this into sales you’ll need to get on their level. And be aware that Chinese consumers connect with brands that match their personality, values and dynamism. 49% of Chinese consumers aged 18-25 said they’d advocate for brands, either personally or online (source: World Economic Forum). So, encourage self-expression and turn your consumers into designers or brand participants. Ferrari, for example, asked social media followers to write a poem about the Ferrari brand. Three winners were selected, their poems published via Ferrari’s social media channels, and the creators were awarded a Ferrari watch.
3. Supply the stats
You’ll rarely hear “Less is more” in China. Compare any product on Amazon and Alibaba and you’ll notice stark a contrast in how much information is offered. This stems from a default position of skepticism about product authenticity and quality, owing to significant historical issues over counterfeit goods and substandard quality.
Almost 100% of 14-47 year olds in China own a smartphone (source: World Economic Forum), and most use it to make online purchases, so it goes without saying that any successful marketing campaign will need to be mobile-friendly.
Most online users in China never got into using a PC to shop online, instead jumping straight into mobile commerce, which forms a huge part of the eCommerce market. By 2019, almost a quarter of all online and offline Chinese retail will take place via mobile (source: China Daily), largely due to major state investment in telecoms infrastructure and a relatively underdeveloped retail sector. As such, any successful marketing strategy will need to include smartphones, or its reach will be limited from the get-go. Here are a few top tips to bear in mind:
1. Set up shop
Virtual marketplaces are increasingly popular, hosted on websites like Tmall Global and JD.com. They ditch emails to allow consumers and vendors to interact quickly and directly. By 2021, 25% of China’s population will be using these sites to make cross-border purchases (source: eMarketer), but if you want to capitalise on this interest, you’ll need to make your shopfront mobile-friendly.
2. Open all hours
Traditional shopping hours are changing. Forget Candy Crush: the commute is a prime time to shop online! Consumers expect instant answers to their questions, so to succeed, you’ll need to ditch the 9-to-5 and be on-hand to help at any time. Just look at Alibaba’s Aliwangwang instant messenger, which shoppers and sellers use heavily for real time communications. It’s exactly this quality of customer service, compared to that in physical stores, which is driving more and more consumers online, particularly in China’s rural areas.
3. Pay as you go
Mobile payment platform WeChat Pay is a big deal in China, and is used for both online and offline purchases. The app is available for overseas businesses, and its huge popularity means embracing this payment method would reap real rewards.
The increased use of smartphones means interacting with customers has never been easier. However, young consumers don’t just want to know about your brand; they want to connect with it. Social media is vital for converting brand awareness into brand loyalty.
Social media is as popular in China as anywhere else in the world, but the key players are different. Facebook and Twitter are out; WeChat and Weibo are in. It’s not just the platforms that have changed – the rules of engagement are also different, and if you want to receive positive results from your social media outreach, you’ll need to keep the following in mind:
1. Keep it personal
In China, social media is personal, with communication happening in smaller groups of individuals. Any successful marketing strategy will need to adopt a personal touch, tailored to interact with consumers at an individual level.
2. Encourage participation
An advertising message won’t cut it; you’ll need to engage consumers with your content. Videos, mini-games and competitions are just some ways of attracting attention, but the more creative the idea, the more positive the results.
3. Take it offline
Remember QR codes? They’re still huge in China, and can be used by companies to provide extra product information, offer vouchers or discounts, or even serve as an alternative payment method. Successfully engaging consumers with QR content is an effective way of marrying online and offline content, and it’s a growing trend.
Nearly 90% of Chinese consumers would buy, and buy again, from companies that offer loyalty programmes. So while these programmes may be on the decline in parts of the west, an attractive loyalty offering could be a differentiator for your Chinese audience.
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