Ecommerce in China: 3 Trends to Watch in 2020

Chinese livestreamer Viya generated 353 million RMB, around 49 million GBP, in sales through livestreaming. In one single day.

Viya is the most successful live streamer of 2019 as she has continuously broken her own records. And livestreaming or live selling is definitely the most popular of all trends in China at the moment. And it will continue to thrive in 2020. But it is not the only trends in China’s complex and fast-changing eCommerce market. The expansion of online shopping into China’s rural areas with the help of eCommerce as well as the connection of online and offline shopping characterizes Chinese eCommerce market.

Elena Gatti, Managing Director Europe of Shenzhen-based Azoya, gives a brief overview of these major trends, which will continue and further consolidate in 2020.

 

  1. Livestreaming conquers Chinese mobile phones

Livestreaming has taken on completely new dimensions in China in 2019: The format live streaming has been around for a while but has only taken off as a new sales channel probably during summer of last year. To give you an insight into the dimensions, let me give you a concrete example: From 17 August to 17 September 2019, almost 35 million people watched live streaming on Chinese eCommerce platform Taobao, according to Chinese KOL Marketing Agency Parklu. During the Singles’ Day shopping festival live streaming on Alibaba’s Taobao live streaming platform generated $2.85 billion in sales — around 7.5 percent of the day’s total sales. This was the manifestation that livestreaming has come to stay.

Alibaba’s Taobao live streaming platform is clearly the leader in live streaming eCommerce and has built a strong base of powerful live streaming hosts in recent years.  Although the most successful one is previously mentioned Viya, who also gained international awareness through a joint session with Kim Kardashian, the most famous live streamer is Austin Li, also known as “Lipstick Brother”. He became popular by trying lipsticks live and selling them at lightspeed. He was also the first Taobao live streamer to make a name for himself outside the Alibaba ecosystem and enter the mainstream market. Austin Li now has a huge audience at Douyin (TikTok) and Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu). However, number one live seller on Taobao, is Viya, who is continuously breaking her own sales records.

Livestreaming is definitely booming and aside from Alibaba, every big eCommerce platform in China has incorporated livestreaming, including Douyin (the Chinese Version of Tik Tok), Kuaishou, WeChat, and soon Pinduoduo and Little Red Book.

The success of live streaming has its roots in the Chinese consumers search for new products and learning more about them. In China, where eCommerce is still teeming with counterfeit products, live streaming ensures transparency and trust. And global brands have also started to use live streaming and are working with well-known live streamers such as Austin Li or Viya to reach Chinese consumers. This trend will continue to grow in 2020.

 

  1. eCommerce expands into rural China

In the first half of 2019, rural China has gained three million additional internet users and has grown to a total of 225 million, around 26 percent of China’s total internet population. With this it has reached a size where it actually provides an interesting new customer base for China’s eCommerce giants Alibaba and JD.com. And it couldn’t come at a better time. Consumer growth in Tier 1 cities such as Beijing and Shanghai has slowed downed significantly – and this is no surprise. China’s major cities have turned into retail wonderland over the past decade – everything is available to Tier 1 consumers at their fingertips. Literally, as they mostly shop on their smartphone.

With the growing online population in Tier 2 and 3 cities as well as the countryside, the race on China’s rural regions has begun. However, unlike urban citizens, most rural citizens have no experience in online shopping. Furthermore, rural China lacks infrastructure and logistics support, which is intensified by the lower population density in rural areas.

But it is not a problem that cannot be solved. China eCommerce behemoth Alibaba has launched a “Rural Taobao” initiative specifically for this purpose. Connecting with the right partners, Alibaba will improve the eCommerce infrastructure in rural areas. China’s second-largest eCommerce operator, JD.co also hired more delivery personnel and the company was one of the first that tested drone delivery services to improve service in rural China.

As the run for rural China has only really begun last year, 2020 should become the deciding year in the battle for its consumers.

 

  1. O2O takes eCommerce offline

eCommerce is going offline. Is that even possible? eCommerce in itself has a very clear definition, namely “shopping online”. However, Chinese consumer’s demand for omnichannel options has prompted retailers to grow beyond their eCommerce excellence by opening physical stores. Because the customer is clearly king in China.

The New Retail concept, first introduced in 2016, has become one of the most important growth areas in Chinese retailing during the past year. This new concept encompasses many aspects, ranging from large-scale data-based merchandise strategies to cashless payments. The most prominent aspect of this concept is the so-called O2O (Online to Offline), which meets the demand of the “Internet generation” and the requirements for fast delivery or experiencing the products. “New Retail” is intended to be a smart extension of today’s eCommerce, and the customer should have access to exactly the product or service he needs at the time that suits him best.

One of the latest coup’s in the O2O sector came from JD.com, as the company launched a 50,000 sqm superstore in Chongqing. On Singles Day. Nicknamed the E-Space store, the massive, 5G-equipped high-tech complex is designed to flex JD.com’s strengths in retail technology, logistics, and services. Over 30,000 customers crammed into the store, purchasing over 10 million RMB worth of products that day.

JD.com’s E-Store reflects JD.com’s future vision for omnichannel retail as it displays over 1,500 brands and 200,000 items across electronics, furniture, home appliances, and smaller categories such as health & wellness, beauty, books, and daily necessities.

It is split amongst 7 different zones and 55 interactive experience zones, with smart robots designed to guide customers to the right area. This layout gives JD.com an opportunity to provide a unique offline retail experience that can’t be replicated online.

For example, the store hosts Apple’s largest authorized offline experience store, a Microsoft smart home experience area, and GE’s first omnichannel home appliances store in China. There’s a special floor designed for immersive virtual reality video games, and there are JD Home sections that display white goods appliances and furniture in different living scenarios. Such a store format is designed to give customers a better sense of what products would look like at home.

And JD.com takes O2O even further – each item’s price tag is equipped with a QR code that customers can scan to order online, through JD.com’s WeChat mini-program.  These smart price tags are electronic, meaning that prices can be updated remotely to keep up with online price changes on JD.com’s e-commerce platform.

Such an omnichannel model is important for large purchases such as washing machines and furniture, especially in a lower-income city such as Chongqing. Customers may be more hesitant to make these purchases as they may account for a large chunk of their monthly salaries. The customer journey is longer; shoppers might see a product in a store but wait several days or weeks to make a final decision. But with this model – once that decision is made – the products can be delivered within 24 hours, complete with installment & repair services. In this sense, JD.com is providing multiple touchpoints between the merchant and the customer, as well as a full end-to-end service.

Although the Chinese retail and eCommerce market at ever changing, these three trends, that have truly risen during 2019, will continue to grow in importance during this year. There should be new developments in each of these areas due to new technologies or innovations but these are definitely three trends we should continue to watch in 2020.

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