Benji is a digital marketing specialist based in Shanghai, he writes extensively on digital strategy in China and is passionate about providing solutions for western businesses looking to expand into the aptly named ‘mysterious orient’. For more information see his blog and website here.
Traditional retail shopping in China is in decline alongside the continued growth of e-retail, online activity and digital spending generally. Retail revenue is falling by 15% year on year whilst the digital market grows by 25% per year. Unless businesses realize that the future is all digital they will incur the costs of not developing with the times.
Many malls with mainstream brands are struggling to generate enough revenue and attract a high footfall. There are also an increasing number of ‘ghost’ shopping areas, with many of the entrepreneurial peasant class opening shops with all their family savings only to find themselves closing within a year, the human cost is high. Small businesses are always hit hardest.
It is vital for western businesses to invest in digital first and foremost, ‘clicks not bricks’ should be your new mantra. There will always be some demand for physical shopping but those stores attracting the highest footfall are also implementing successful marketing campaigns on the Chinese internet, digital will always be a key component.
So why is traditional shopping on the decline and online now the solution?
The largest urban areas are increasingly polluted, congested and affected by overstretched public services, it is increasingly inconvenient to travel to shop, especially because of the size of the country. E-commerce offers an infinitely faster process with quality platforms such as ‘Tmall’ associated with genuine brands in a market known for counterfeits. Even if users are looking for copycat products platforms such as ‘Taobao’ are renowned for selling everything under the sun too. Shopping online is simply more convenient with quality not being sacrificed.
2) Pace of life
Fast paced, frenetic modern China is still on an upward trajectory, this is a country (especially on the east coast) growing in a spectacular way. The new wave of Chinese careerists work hard and long hours, therefore the ease of e-commerce services combined with the speed of purchasing is a key factor. Online shopping is largely facilitated by the breakneck speed of modern China, it is a response to changing consumer habits.
3) Alibaba have developed world leading e-commerce platforms
There is the quality of Chinese e-commerce to also consider. Retail outlets are always limited by where they can locate, the space available and high rental costs. Alibaba however grew online without such burdens and developed a world leading network and series of platforms which facilitated this move to digital e-commerce. Tmall, their flagship site is hosting official branded ‘stores’, it is popular with international brands as their target market regularly shop here. ‘Alipay’ the companies payment system also facilities cross border commerce with both RMB and international payments accepted.
4) The nationwide e-commerce infrastructure has grown
With a select number of tier 1 cities boasting the best in shopping services other tier 2 and 3 urbanites were previously left out. Now however with the growth of Alibaba’s national delivery network smaller cities are benefiting from the same range of products on offer. Physical store expansion has inevitably not grown at this same rate due to the far higher costs, Chinese stores therefore need to embrace e-commerce and utilize the range of platforms on offer to grow in the digital sphere.
5) China’s propensity for digital
The digital revolution in China has been unprecedented, this is especially so with the uptake of mass market smartphone technology. With such a strong mobile culture it is unsurprising that users also shop in this way. With e-commerce platforms optimized for mobile, shopping ‘on the go’ is a growing trend. The new wave of Chinese consumers are growing up in a culture where they expect this type of ‘instant gratification’ and e-shopping in such a strong consumer culture is inevitably affected.
6) e-commerce in conjunction with WeChat’s social network has a promising future
It is still early days but businesses can now open micro stores on WeChat which can be linked to their official accounts. With WeChat pay already linked to users bank accounts this facilitates incredible ease of purchase. Marrying e-commerce and social media in this way is a revolutionary step that will further promote the rise of e-retail over traditional store shopping. When one door closes another one opens.
The good news is that for every Chinese merchant stuck in the offline paradigm, there is at least one getting there online game on. McKinsey has estimated 46m new online jobs will be created by 2025 against to 31m lost. It is timely that, with the Chinese states drive to move from a manufacturing economy towards a creative and innovative tertiary economy, that such digital growth has been witnessed. China is hurtling towards the future and commercial activities need to embrace new digital solutions to grow in this changing environment.