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5 ways to tap China’s US$800 billion e-commerce market

China may be one of the most difficult markets for global consumer brands to tap, but it’s also one of the most lucrative.

With more internet users than any other country, China is the world’s largest and fastest-growing e-commerce market – driven by the rapid pace of mobile adoption.

Retail m-commerce sales in China will top US$1.64 trillion by 2020, representing about 23% of total retail sales, eMarketer predicts. And Chinese consumers are among the most engaged online. The Boston Consulting Group finds that China’s consumers spend almost 30 minutes a day on Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace, three times longer than a US consumer typically spends on Amazon.

Huge opportunities await brands prepared to win over Chinese consumers, adapt to local market nuances, and put strategies in place which effectively adjust to a dynamic – and mobile-centric – e-commerce environment. But how?

These are our five most important points.

1. Lead with a mobile-first strategy

Mobile is having a transformative effect on online shopping worldwide, but in China, its impact simply cannot be ignored. More than 95% of Chinese digital consumers are on mobile, according to McKinsey – while 72% of online shopping transactions were made on mobile devices in Q3 2016, up from 48% in Q1 2015, according to iResearch Consulting Group.

With mobile now the dominant way to shop, brands must optimise content accordingly to win. This means shorter product titles and descriptions, common eye-catching keywords, and fast-loading images with clearly visible features and benefits.

2. Test with Tmall and JD.com

For brands looking to test the Chinese waters, make absolutely sure it’s with one of these two e-tailers. Together, Tmall and JD.com capture 83% of China’s e-commerce sales. They’re the only ones that matter — at least for now. Establishing a flagship store on Tmall is a must-have for an overseas brand.

3. Ensure authentic ratings and reviews

Consumer-generated ratings and reviews carry a lot of weight with Chinese consumers. The basis for this overarching sentiment stems in large part from unfavourable experiences many Chinese consumers had with Alibaba’s initial retail marketplace, Taobao, which gained a reputation (warranted or not) for distributing fake products.

Brands must take this inherent skepticism among Chinese shoppers into account and work that much harder to monitor reviews for negative sentiments, and ensure ratings and reviews are authentic.

4. Leverage seasonal and shopping festivals

Singles’ Day is the largest online shopping event globally. It first began as a shopping holiday in 2009 by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba as a way for young Chinese people to celebrate the fact that they’re proud of being single. More than 40,000 merchants representing thousands of brands participated in last year’s Singles’ Day (11/11). Alibaba netted US$7 billion dollars in the first two hours, eventually generating US$17.8 billion across the day, surpassing the previous year’s US$14.3 billion.

Having a presence during this massive global shopping holiday is a no-brainer for any brand looking to win in China. But it’s not enough. Frequent content changes — images, pricing, promotions — and a personalised shopping experience – are both required to win during the 24-hour event. Brands must be prepared with analytics to learn and adapt quickly.

5. Frequently update online content

In China, there is a word that means “thousand people thousand faces.” In the online space, this basically means each consumer on their smartphone is presented with a personalised ‘face’ or e-commerce page.

Each consumer’s Tmall landing page is customised to display their favourites. One big implication of this intense focus on the individual is the amount of change brands must manage to win. In fact, China’s digital marketplace is characterised by rapid-fire changes in content, offers, products, promotions and more. Monitoring this constant barrage of change requires a flexible strategy as well as a flexible e-commerce analytics solution.

Angela Lui, director of strategy & insight China, Profitero.

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