The global pandemic has caused a lot of unrest for the retail sector, shifting consumer behaviour and forcing shoppers to adapt to a new way of interacting with brands. As a larger portion of spending was driven to digital spaces, where customers could find a convenient way of keeping their purchase habits, the eCommerce popularity watched an impressive growth.
But what is in store for eCommerce in 2022?
The answer lies in the East - and in China to be more specific. The global giant in the digital industry is to lead another record-breaking year with aggressive investments in innovation, social platforms and, of course, shopping features.
With some lessons to take on board for the rest of the world, the Chinese eCommerce market will be one to watch in 2022. Here’s why.
China is the largest eCommerce market in the world. It continues to experience significant growth year-on-year and is expected to reach US$3.3 trillion in 2025. In 2021, China was responsible for more than half of all global eCommerce sales.
When you look at the buying habits of its population, these figures should come as no surprise. China has the highest digital buyer population in the world, contributing to its $390 million social commercial market. The country is expected to reach 1.148 million internet users by 2023, further reinforcing its status as the leading eCommerce market in the world.
Who are China’s biggest players?
China is home to several eCommerce and social commerce platforms. Serving a population of over 1.4 billion people, these are multi-billion dollar companies, each offering their unique contribution to the sector. Understanding the breadth of China’s eCommerce offering provides insight into why the market continues to grow so significantly and could provide insight into how other markets across the world can widen their appeal.
Founded in 2015, it has quickly become China’s second-largest e-commerce company. It attracts more than 780 million annual active buyers and is primarily aimed at the agricultural market.
It’s made an impact using WeChat, China’s leading messaging app, to provide bulk-buying discounts to buyers in addition to algorithm-based advertisements and recommendations that serve as a strong alternative to the more traditional passive search model. Gamifying sales as a strategy proved to be incredibly successful for the platform.
Owned by eCommerce giant Alibaba, the platform is China’s leading eCommerce. It has more than 299 million daily active users, driving impressive sales each year. However, due to the introduction of regulatory anti-monopoly measures in China, Taobao’s growth is slowing - which also highlights the competition rivals have imposed over Alibaba in some of the fastest-growing industries of China's e-commerce.
Unlike its biggest rival Alibaba, JD.com markets itself as a retailer as opposed to a marketplace. Securing over 475 million monthly active users, electrical goods are their strength, combined with a highly efficient logistical system - a fundamental differentiator for a leading Chinese firm.
While the rest of the world is largely engaged in Meta Platforms (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp), WeChat remains China’s leading super app. It covers everything from instant messaging to payments, merchant-tailored shopping apps and a whole lot more. Its continued growth means it is now one of the leading online shopping destinations in China, providing everything consumers could need. In 2020, WeChat had over 1.17 billion monthly users, 800 million of whom use WeChat payments.
Technology: what to expect for 2022 and how can other companies keep up?
When it comes to technology, China leads the way and drives innovation across different industries. It's not different with e-Commerce: the country has become a worldly renowned model of advanced solutions following consumers eagerness for new platforms and convenience. Global companies can take great insights from these ever-growing companies.
Continued retail integration
eCommerce businesses in China are experiencing incredible results through platform integrations. Through partnerships, platforms like WeChat, Pinduodup and Douyin (the Asian TikTok) are leveraging each other’s popularity to drive growth in social commerce.
Livestreamed eCommerce first launched in China in 2016, and soon became a source of competition for all the online shopping giants. Notable successes included 15k sales of lipsticks by Jiaqi Li, ‘the Lipstick King’, on Single’s Day in 2020.
Pinduodo gives shoppers an entertaining retail experience, using livestreaming to provide users with the opportunity to interact with sellers and access exclusive offers in real-time. The urgency and the thrill of securing the deal are only available through livestreaming, creating an exclusive experience with high demand.
Global platforms like Instagram and TikTok have started to explore new ways of enhancing livestream shopping in a bid to drive their social commerce growth and impact users' behaviour.
Virtual storefronts, known as China’s “mini-programs”
Virtual storefronts, also known as mini-programs, can allow businesses to show their storefronts in-app, providing an extra avenue for shoppers to make purchases. It’s a model that’s worked well for WeChat, which will serve as the inspiration for international companies looking to leverage this new way of shopping while enhancing their existing platforms.
Instagram Shopping has already been seeing some signs of growth, but it's worth reflecting on how some of the features and integrations that have been so successful in Chinese markets could help it develop further and attract users attention, leading them to embrace social commerce as a shopping option. Facebook Marketplace has already become a leading alternative to Gumtree and platforms like Pinterest and TikTok are also exploring shopping features.
Emulating China's - and mostly WeChat’s - success in this area can be challenging, but payment processes are definitely the foundation behind this ecosystem and a key consideration in order to keep customers in-platform. The fact WeChat has its own banking licence in China has been a fundamental aspect driving the platform to where it's positioned today: one of the country's main e-Commerce references of the world.
Key takeaways and learnings
- China is the world leader for eCommerce, making up more than half of global eCommerce sales as of 2021.
- Successful integrations between eCommerce and social platforms help companies draw sales from China’s 1.148 million internet users.
- Social commerce is a growing market in China, with WeChat leading the way in bringing entertaining and unmissable shopping experiences to consumers.
- Both eCommerce and social media platforms can learn lessons from China in how to make social shopping work - from improved integrations and livestreaming to tech innovations that could lead to better results for global companies.
- Super apps and storefront apps are taking by storm the Asian market, revolutionising the purchasing behaviour of consumers both in the digital and physical worlds.
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