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China’s e-commerce goes global

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The rapid development of China-U.S. e-commerce is challenging traditional assumptions about how international business is conducted. Cross-border e-commerce allows American retailers and entrepreneurs to sell products directly to Chinese consumers online. This burgeoning market is expected to increase in value from $40 billion in 2014 to more than $240 billion in 2020. Some of the Chinese players in this area may sound familiar, like Alibaba and JD.com, but others like Ymatou.com and Metao are not as well known. Fascinating dynamics are at play through the Chinese diaspora population’s active participation in this marketplace, along with international companies that may be competing with their existing local outlets in China through a legalized ‘gray market.’ How did this multi-billion dollar marketplace emerge in the first place?

中美电子商务的飞速发展正在向传统国际交易如何进行的想法发出挑战。跨境电子商务使得美国零售商们以及企业家们将产品在线直接售卖给中国消费者。预计这个有潜力的新兴市场将从2014年的400亿美元市值增长到2020年的2400亿美元。你也许会比较熟悉在这个领域中的中国商家们,例如阿里巴巴和京东,但其他像“洋码头”和“蜜淘”并不为大众所熟知。大量华人积极参与这个领域,给市场带来源源不断的动力,此外那些国际公司正通过合法的“灰色市场”与中国现已有销售点相互竞争。那么,这价值数十亿美元的市场又如何首次出现的呢?

From Offline to Online

从线下到线上

Chinese consumers have long been accustomed to purchasing international products from within the walls of the Middle Kingdom. Many employed a common practice known as daigou(代购). Daigou describes the phenomenon when a Chinese consumer pays a friend traveling overseas or an international agent to purchase products on his or her behalf. These “personal buyers” use individual mail or personal baggage to avoid hefty import duties. Traditional daigou is illegal, when the items being purchased are not for the bearer’s own use. It is also inconvenient: delivery times are long, potential for fraud is high, and there is no after-sales service since the purchase is made through an unauthorized channel.

很长一段时间,中国消费者都习惯于在国内购买国际产品。许多人将其统称为“代购”。“代购”这种现象指的是一个中国消费者支付给海外旅行的朋友或者国际代理商,以他们名义购买产品。这些“个人买家”利用个人邮寄或者包裹的方式来避免高额的关税。当所购买的物品并不是供持票人自己使用时,这种传统“代购”是非法的。而且它也不方便:交货时间长,欺诈概率高,而且由于是非正规渠道购买因此没有售后服务。

All of this changed in September 2013 when China launched the first Free Trade Zone in Shanghai. This opened the door for international corporations and individuals to sell directly to Chinese consumers online at significantly reduced costs—and 100% legally. A crop of new Chinese businesses have emerged to take advantage of this market, and new ones continue to go live each quarter. Almost all of them employ ‘marketplace’ models similar to an Amazon or eBay. Chinese consumers browse online stores to shop for in-demand international products like infant formula, vitamins, cosmetics, and a wide variety of other products. On the business operations side, each company has a slightly different approach to building international supplier networks and delivering products to end consumers in China.

而这一切都在2013年9月中国在上海推行首个自由贸易区后被改变。这开启了国际公司和个体对中国消费者在线直接售卖产品的大门,大大减少了花销–这种方式百分之百合法。大批利用这个市场的中国企业逐渐浮现,每个季度都会持续有新的企业上线。几乎他们所有的市场模型都类似于亚马逊或者易趣。中国消费者可以在线浏览商店购买那些受欢迎的国际产品,例如婴幼儿配方食品,维他命,化妆品以及各式各样的其他产品。在业务操作上,为了向中国终端消费者构建供应商网络和运输产品网络,各个公司都有些许不同。

The Current Landscape

目前的情景

The cross-border e-commerce market remains fairly underdeveloped. In large part, this is due to the relatively recent emergence of the drivers necessary to fuel cross-border e-commerce: development of free trade zones, establishment of Chinese cross-border marketplaces, and increase in the number of foreign brands willing to participate. As a result, Chinese e-commerce firms are fighting fiercely to expand as quickly as possible to capture market share and solidify their place as market leaders in this new industry. In 2014, Alibaba launched its cross-border e-commerce website called Tmall Global. JD.com released a competing service in April 2015 called JD Worldwide. Meanwhile, relatively unknown ‘cross-border’ companies like LightInTheBox, Ymatou.com and Metao are competing equally fiercely on this new e-commerce frontier.

跨境电子商务市场仍然相当落后。在很大程度上,是由于近期出现了驱动跨境电子商务的现象:自由贸易区的发展,建立中国跨境市场,以及越来越多的国外品牌加入的意愿。因此,中国电子商务公司竞争激烈,其目的是是为了扩大市场,尽快抢占市场份额从而巩固他们在这次新工业革命的市场主导地位。2014年,阿里巴巴推行它的跨境电子商务网站,命名为“天猫国际”。在2015年4月京东发行了与之竞争的网站命名为“京东全球”。同时,相关的不知名的跨国公司像是兰亭集势,洋码头和蜜淘在新的电子商务前沿中竞争同样十分激烈。

Yet all of these Chinese e-commerce firms operating outside of China face major obstacles. There is a lack of understanding among foreign brands and retailers about what cross-border e-commerce is and how they can leverage it to sell their products to Chinese consumers. This is in contrast to the demand side, where Chinese consumers have long been accustomed to shopping online for foreign goods. The success of Alibaba’s Tmall Global so far has been underwhelming, since they have depended on signing up big brands like Calvin Klein, Philips, and Disney. Many of these brands are concerned about ‘channel conflict’ since they already sell in China through distributors or their own sales forces. To raise awareness about the benefits of cross-border e-commerce, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma traveled to New York and Chicago in June to argue that cross-border e-commerce can support global trade and increase jobs in the U.S. Ymatou.com has taken a different approach, focusing on individual Chinese diaspora buyers to supply overseas products for their marketplace, as well as building its own international logistics capabilities.

然而并不是所有在外国经商的中国电子商务公司都面对着重大障碍。对于外国品牌和零售商来说,关于什么是跨境电子商务,以及他们如何利用它向中国消费者销售他们的产品,这点上理解较为欠缺。中国消费者长期习惯于在线购买外国商品,这恰恰与一需求截然相反。迄今为止,阿里巴巴天猫国际的成功一直并未激起人们热情,因为他们一直依附在注册的大品牌上,例如CK,飞利浦,迪士尼。许多大品牌自从通过经销商和他们自己的力量向中国销售物品以来,都十分注重“渠道冲突”。为了提高跨境电子商务的利益意识,阿里巴巴董事长马云在六月前往美国纽约和芝加哥主张跨境电子商务能够支撑全球贸易并增加就业,洋码头则采取了不同的方式,侧重于中国个人卖家为他们市场供应海外产品,同时构建自己的国际物流功能。

Future Outlook

未来展望

Despite these challenges faced by Chinese firms, cross-border e-commerce between China and the world is set to increase dramatically in the years to come. In addition to private sector efforts to develop this market, the Chinese government is also implementing policies to support its development as a means to stimulate domestic consumption in China. The potential benefits to American business and the U.S. economy are also significant. For the first time, American businesses and entrepreneurs can sell their products in China from the U.S. with fairly limited upfront costs and significantly lower risk than opening a wholly-owned local subsidiary in the Middle Kingdom. The cross-border e-commerce phenomenon is just the latest example of how an increasingly globalized China is changing the traditional landscape of international business. As its corporations, people and commercial policy continue to go global, and as disruptive technologies like e-commerce continue to evolve, it will change how we do business on both sides of the Pacific.

尽管中国企业现在面临这些挑战,但是中国和世界之间的跨境电子商务发展势头必定在未来几年内大幅度增加。另外,私营部门正努力想开发这个市场,中国政府也正贯彻政策来支持其发展作为刺激国内消费的一种手段。潜在利益对于美国商业和经济也很重要。这是第一次美国企业及企业家们以相当有限的前期成本向中国售卖产品,这比起中国开设一个独资子公司,风险明显小很多。跨境电子商务现象只是中国全球化的的新型范例。正如企业,个人以及商业政策持续走向全球化,正如电子商务这样的颠覆性技术持续发展,将会改变太平洋两岸的经商模式。

2016-06-24

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