China’s e-commerce industry

According to iResearch, national e-commerce transactions generated about 11.8 trillion RMB in sales in 2019, recording a 10% increase compared to the previous year. Social progress, technological innovations, and increasing household disposable income have shaped new shopping habits. A great variety of e-commerce modes, like live-streaming e-commerce, social e-commerce, and cross-border e-commerce, have emerged. Although large e-commerce platforms such as Taobao and JD.com have long dominated the industry, strong competitors, like Douyin and Pinduoduo, are now giving them a run for their money.

Daxue Consulting boasts a strong expertise in helping clients orientate within China’s e-commerce ecosystem and be aware of potential risks through in-dept competitor, distribution, and marketing analysis.

Owned by Alibaba Group, Taobao is the biggest C2C e-commerce platform in China. According to Alibaba Q4 2020 report, monthly active mobile users reached 902 million and annual active consumers reached 779 million with an increase of 22 million in a single quarter.

Alibaba’s Taobao Live holds around 80% share of China’s live-streaming revenues, recording a gross merchandise volume of above 400 billion RMB in 2020.

TMall is the largest B2C e-commerce platform in China. Taobao and TMall are both Alibaba’s affiliates but they have worked separately for long. Nevertheless, the Hangzhou-based parent company announced that the back-end operations of the two platforms will be soon merged to improve user experience.

All goods on TMall are authentic and the average price is relatively higher than Taobao. Despite the higher price, many consumers prefer to shop on TMall rather than Taobao, due to Taobao’s lacking anticounterfeiting measures. In addition, TMall offers a cross-border e-commerce service providing Chinese consumers living far away from Tier-1 cities with a trustable and straightforward channel through which purchasing international brands.

Before TMall was established in 2008, JD.com used to be the largest B2C marketplace in China. JD.com mainly sells 3C products (computer, consumer electronics, and communication), such as smartphones, laptops, and home appliances. Thanks to its reliable and timely delivery, JD.com vaunts a strong competitive advantage within Chinese e-commerce ecosystem.

Founded in 2015, it took Pinduoduo a short time to become one of the most popular e-commerce platforms in China. Social shares and a gamified shopping experience are at the basis of Pinduoduo’s astonishing success: consumers are prompted to invite their friends to join the platform in order to get discounts, thereby encouraging many people to get involved.

By the end of 2020, the number of active shoppers on Pinduoduo reached 788.4 million, surpassing Taobao for the first time. Nonetheless, the average amount of annual consumer spending was slightly over 2,115 RMB, compared to an average spending of 9,076 RMB per shopper on Alibaba’s platforms.

As China recovered from Covid-19 pandemic, imports soared boosting cross-border shopping. As of 2020 H1, about 138 million cross-border e-commerce consumers were recorded in China. TMall Global, Kaola, JD Worldwide and VIP International are the main players in this field.

At the beginning, Kaola’s operations basically consisted of purchasing and reselling imported goods to its customers, but then it decided to open its doors to independent merchants and work as a marketplace. Kaola was acquired by Alibaba Group in 2019, granting the group the unchallenged domination of the market.

Established in 2008, VIP.com targets high-income consumers offering certificated branded products at bargain price for a limited amount of time. It is often used for buying fashion apparel, shoes, and bags, cosmetics, home goods, etc.

Nowadays it is impossible for brands operating in China ignoring the power of social media both in terms of reach and potential sales.

Xiaohongshu, also known as RED, is a social commerce especially popular among young female consumers living in higher-tier cities. Users can easily purchase the products posted by their favorite KOLs browsing through the e-commerce section, labeled as RED Welfare Club. This platform is mainly used for sharing content about beauty, fashion, and food.

Along with Xiaohongshu, Dewu is one of the most beloved platforms by Gen-Z consumers. It is both a C2C and B2C marketplace where users can share pictures and impressions on their purchases, thereby fostering a strong sense of community. Dewu is especially renowned for its community of male sneaker-lovers and its anticounterfeiting efforts.

Douyin is one of the most popular short-video platforms in China. According to QuestMobile, young people between 19 and 40 years old, living in New-Tier-1, Tier-2, Tier-3, and Tier-4 cities account for about 80% of Douyin users. The platform is on the verge of enhancing its own e-commerce ecosystem and online payment solution, thus cutting reliance on third parties as well as encouraging users to spend more time on the APP.

The Direct-To-Consumers (DTC) is a business model allowing brands to gain more independence, react faster and get direct access to a large amount of data by selling directly to end-consumers. In the past, DTC was mostly used by small enterprises, but it is now imposing itself as an increasingly important channel for multinational corporations as well. For instance, in 2019, Nike generated about 40% of its turnover through DTC channels. WeChat represents one of the most popular platforms for DTC in China.

China e-commerce business insights