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Experts: Social commerce in China is a decade ahead of the West


Just how dominant is China on the global economic stage? Writer Joseph Stiglitz put it into perspective recently when he stated, “2014 was the last year in which the United States could claim to be the world’s largest economic power. China enters 2015 in the top position, where it will likely remain for a very long time, if not forever.” 


Brands should take note. For the first time, Chinese-language users now outnumber English-language users for accessing the internet. It’s now the biggest smartphone market in the world.


Experts say China is, conservatively, 10 years ahead of the West when it comes to social commerce. Think about that: a full decade ahead.


This means it’s imperative for brands to pay close attention not just to statistics about tech penetration in China — but have a strong grasp on how new technology is impacting the way consumers are behaving. Clients that study these changing social commerce trends in China and then prepare for them stateside will have a leg up. Here are six eye-opening examples.


Burberry’s shoppers are on average 20 years younger in China than in developed markets.


Marketers, especially retailers, have had to create an entirely new playbook for understanding the China customer. Take Burberry, which entered the China market in 2011 and was surprised that its fans were far younger than in other markets. The fashion label embraced a younger, hipper look and feel. They altered store layouts, outfitting them with digital signage and tools. While other Western luxury brands have been shunned by the Chinese for being too “flashy,” Burberry appealed to its new customers for being fresh and modern.


Alibaba is doubling down on mobile commerce.


Alibaba Group, a leader in China commerce and owner of platforms such as Taobao, has made clear that it wants to be accessible across classes and geographies. In rural areas of China where citizens can’t afford expensive computers and laptops, Alibaba is partnering with China Telecom to sell smartphones at prices as low as 299 RMB. This is Alibaba’s smart tactic for creating roots deep in China. And it won’t be long before Alibaba takes on Western markets.


388 cars were sold on WeChat in three minutes.


The sheer size of the Chinese ecommerce market is breathtaking. Last August, on social app WeChat, Smart Car held a flash sale selling 388 cars in just three minutes. This jaw-dropping stat is as much about the propensity for the Chinese consumer to purchase online as it is about the ease of ecommerce through WeChat.


Shopping doesn’t start on search engines, it starts on TMall.


TMall sales are estimated to account for 80% of all online purchases, and increasingly those purchases are being made on phones. 


Double 11 is 357% bigger than Cyber Monday.


Last year’s Singles Day smashed all records in online sales, generating a whopping $5.7 billion. That’s more than triple what U.S. sees on Cyber Mondays.


Social shopping in China demands accountability from retailers.  


A Nielsen survey in September 2014 found that 40% of online shoppers in China would be happy to share their shopping experiences and pen product reviews through WeChat or other types of messaging tools. Simply put, they are creators of content. Retailers can literally disappear from the listings based on poor store reviews.


Studying social commerce trends in China is enlightening — and something that all Western marketers should take more seriously. For Chinese consumers, the desktop is old-school, while in the U.S. it remains the dominant mode of making a purchase. Their mobile behaviors could help signal the type of apps and services for phones that Western marketers need to make available to keep consumers engaged.


And while not all of the behaviors will transfer culturally from China to the West, the e-commerce platforms will, so learning as much as we can about them know is critical.



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