E-commerce in China: when, why, how

In brief
Opening an e-commerce in China is a major step towards building a competitive advantage and enter a market with very high potential, thanks to integrated digitalisation. Here is how.


Doing e-commerce in Cina represents a strategic choice: from luxury brands to food, from fine crafts to the ‘Made in Italy’. Businesses that have bet on online sales, or are looking for new opportunities for expansion, can only look with interest to the Asian market and, in particular, the Chinese market.

–  When to take the big step?

The Chinese market is a constantly evolving, dynamic and innovation-driven, open to new products and new lifestyles: you need to move now, with agility and full knowledge of the facts.

–  Why make the move now?

Despite commercial disagreements between China, the United States and the European Union, the fluidity of the market is such that it offers great opportunities right from the start, with the possibility to establish a position as a first mover and conquer your own target segment and nurture it to success over time.

–  How do I enter this high potential market?

There is no universal method and many variables must be considered, starting from a more holistic approach and the digitation of business processes, up to the technical development of platforms suitable for local demand.

This is brief guide useful for developing a digital commercial presence suited to give Chinese consumers exactly what they are looking for.

E-commerce in China, a true shopping experience

Forget the barriers between online and offline shopping. To be successful at the foot of the Great Wall you need to build a fluid shopping experience not focuses on the product, but on the user himself.

In this approach, e-commerce becomes the focal point for establishing a dialogue between producers, retailers, marketers and customers, with a strategy aimed at  boosting sales by involving the user on several fronts, providing him relevant information, original content and a high-quality product selection, shipping and delivery service, thanks to digital optimisations.

Taking advantage of e-commerce to create users’ engagement

In short, the customer needs to always have fun and be involved by the brand. In this process e-commerce becomes a cognitive, engagement space, as well as a true shop: that’s why every small detail must be taken care of, both from a technical and experience point of view, so as to favour smooth interactions with the user and track any data useful for measuring interests, behaviours, satisfaction.

In addition, an online store can be a good way to overcome the commercial difficulties caused by the spread of coronavirus, as the online service remains active, usable and easily manageable even during the epidemic, as shown in recent weeks. Indeed, an increasing number of citizens will choose to buy online, with a consequent growth in use of e-commerce also in areas of China so far reluctant to digital shopping. At the end of the emergency, the result will undoubtedly be a higher consumers’ propensity for online shopping.


Here are some musts.

1.   The platform must be mobile first

Over 98% of Chinese access the web via smartphone, and that’s why it is essential to think of the own online store primarily for mobile devices. Experience, usability, website design and purchasing process must be created from a mobile perspective first.

2.   The layout should prefer originality

The first step is to forget the typical standards of the western public. The second is to develop a graphic layout in line with local taste so as to better communicate your message and products.

3.   The user experience must be personalised

Chinese web users are advanced users and, as such, have high expectations. Considering parts of your e-commerce website tailored to each one, suggesting, for example, new products in line with the most recent purchases, or even a personalised homepage, is a good way to gain their attention.

4.   Local payment methods

It is essential to provide local payment systems to adapt to the Chinese public’s buying habits and ensure the shop’s reliability and the smoothness of transactions.

5.   Customer service must be available 24/7

Always connected and always on the move. Chinese customers expect quick answers to their questions and must be able to rely on an always active customer service. The dialogue with the vendor must be continuous, day and night and at any time of the year, and perfectly integrated into e-commerce consumer experience making use of platforms known to the local public, such as WeChat and other instant messaging systems.

However, developing an online shop dedicated to China is only one of the stages of a more complex brand’s digitation process which involves different skills and tools useful to successfully reach the new frontier.

How to digitalise yourself to capture the Chinese market

Digitising the shopping experience means developing an engaging and flexible online store, but also opening up to automation processes ranging from inventory management to customer involvement.

Digitisation allows you to collect large amounts of data and analyse users’ flows, as well as the practical effectiveness of platforms and marketing activities in order to build a service tailored to the Chinese customer that really matches the demands and expectations of the local public, intercepting their needs, requests, habits and customs to be translated into purchases. It is also partly for this reason that the possibility of working with the main Asian marketplaces must be carefully assessed.

Integration with Chinese e-commerce platforms

If a careful company digitation helps to dive (and succeeding) into the Chinese market, its integration with the most important local e-commerce platforms can be just as important for the brand identity and sales growth.

Tmall, owned by Alibaba Group, is the largest marketplace for online retail and allows non-Chinese brands to create their own online shop-window and a complete digital store. Having company registration based on invitation, ensures that the quality remains high and the platform extremely reliable. Unlike Amazon, Tmall does not compete with brands, but guarantees companies’ access to all their sales and customers data.

JD.com is expanding very fast and offers a similar and equally efficient service, with a preference for the B2C market.

The path is hard, but it is also rich in stimuli and indispensable to project retail in the near future. Is your brand ready to follow this road full of opportunities and changes?