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China’s online shopping culture offers a glimpse of the West’s future

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eBusiness Institute Team

The West may be embracing eCommerce in a big way – especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic – but China’s online shopping culture is on a whole new level.

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While eCommerce, social commerce and livestreaming are all catching on in a big way in the West, we sometimes have to remember just how much more deeply entwined online shopping is in Chinese and East Asian daily life and culture.

The West may be swiftly embracing eCommerce but it’s already a cornerstone of modern Chinese and East Asian culture – Image source: Dia Do Solteiro

A Chinese perspective

Take, for example, the two-part TikTok currently doing the rounds among Western eCommerce experts about how incredibly invested and wrapped up in online shopping people living in China and surrounding countries really are.

These videos feature a Chinese consumer Roger Wu (TikTok username @roger311) speaking – in English – to Western followers about how extreme Chinese online shopping habits can be[1].

Consumers negotiating prices for FMCG products?

For instance, he begins by showing us just how cheap items can be, like t-shirts for as little as RMB 9.9 – equivalent to $1.4 USD. 

But that’s not his main intention here. 

It’s actually to call attention to the fact that Chinese people will look to barter and negotiate online even when prices are so low – and that Taobao gives buyers the real-time chat tools to negotiate prices with vendors directly.

Taobao allows online shoppers to chat with sellers in real-time and negotiate prices – Image source: TikTok (user @Roger311)

While some elements of European or American society might shy away from the idea of bartering for products that are already so incredibly cheap, this kind of negotiating is something that some Eastern cultures are very comfortable with. 

And Taobao providing this bargaining facility demonstrates the platform’s willingness to cater for differing human and cultural behaviours.  

Will it catch on in the West? Will Amazon provide similar tools? Perhaps.

What it does show is how ‘one size definitely doesn’t fit all’. And that there are always ways to improve UX and the online shopping experiences to reflect geographical, group or individual demands or behaviours.

Not just price – Chinese people love the variety 

Variety of choice (or assortment) is – along with price; the ability to shop anywhere, anytime; convenience; and personalisation – one of the five key drivers of the massive popularity of online shopping globally.

And, in China, consumers can use a platform like Taobao to buy almost anything[2]. 

Not just in terms of products, but also people offering services like house cleaning, massages and pretty much anything else you can think of (including teammates for online gaming – a concept that a Generation X-er might think ludicrous, but which a Chinese or even Western Millennial is totally cool with). 

China’s online shopping culture driving the wider economy

It might be tempting to think ‘labour exploitation’ when you hear how cheap products (or services) on Chinese eCommerce platforms can be and that almost all purchases come with free shipping. 

But don’t be so quick to jump to such conclusions.

The sheer volume of transactions racing through platforms like Taobao (and do remember the gargantuan size of rivals like JD.com and the challenger Pinduoduo) fuels a healthy economy of its own in which couriers can earn more than many white collar workers[3].   

The near-limitless quantity of items being purchased online means that the cost of single shipment is incredibly low (with most deliveries taking place within two days)[4]. 

For instance, Chinese people were so spellbound by last year’s Singles’ Day festival of jaw-dropping consumer online spending – which exceeded a mind-boggling $38 billion USD[5] – that high-speed rail was contracted to keep up with the demand for express deliveries of consumer products.

Chinese eCommerce going from strength-to-strength

Grocery platform Meituan Dianping, Alibaba and JD.com have all reported strong earnings for the second quarter of 2020[6].

Disruptive social shopping platform Pinduoduo is valued at $114bn – higher even that global banking giant HSBC[7].

Both Alibaba and JD.com are making huge investments in their logistics capabilities to fulfil the goal of delivering packages to anywhere in China within 24 hours, and anywhere in the world within 72[8]. 

Consumers in China are absolutely mesmerised by livestreaming and the thrilling online shopping experience it provides. 

And a whole set of new Chinese eCommerce innovations are on the horizon[9].

For instance, consumers are expected to place more trust in Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs) – average consumers that create videos and posts to share their own product reviews and recommendations – than they do celebrity KOLs, because they think of them as being more authentic advocates. And ‘Recommerce’ – the buying and selling of previously owned goods – is also set to become increasingly popular[10].

The point is that China has been enjoying a meteoric rise for years that shows no signs of losing velocity.

China’s high-speed rail network had to be contracted to help keep up with the enormous demand for express deliveries of consumer products emanating from Singles’ Day 2019 – Image source: Ecns.cn

In conclusion – China is trailing a blaze for the West to follow

What do all of these eye-opening insights into China’s online shopping culture tell us?

They give us a glimpse into the potential future of the Western eCommerce and retail landscape.

eBusiness Institute is at pains to continuously remind readers and clients how much more advanced China’s eCommerce culture is than the West’s. 

And we’ve been doing that – and will continue to do so – because China’s present could very well be our tomorrow. 

Western brands and eCommerce players need to prepare for this future in order to succeed – and our experience and expertise puts us in the perfect position to help them.


This article was written and created by the eBusiness Institute team.

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Sources

[1] https://www.tiktok.com/@roger311?source=h5_m

[2] https://www.alizila.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/2.-Factsheet-Taobao-Marketplace-EN.pdf

[3] https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201901/22/WS5c46d08fa3106c65c34e5da0.html

[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/13/for-chinas-online-shopping-giants-delivery-is-a-new-battleground.html

[5] https://www.practicalecommerce.com/alibabas-2019-singles-day-38-4-billion-200000-brands-78-countries

[6] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/24/china-e-commerce-boosted-by-shift-to-online-shopping-after-coronavirus.html

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/aug/22/a-bubble-the-stellar-growth-of-china-e-commerce-upstart-pinduoduo

[8] https://technode.com/2020/08/21/insider-chinas-e-commerce-giants-are-about-to-overtake-us-logistics/

[9] https://theconversation.com/how-china-is-revolutionising-e-commerce-with-an-injection-of-entertainment-131728

[10] https://coresight.com/research/retail-2020-10-trends-for-china-e-commerce/

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